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Need to write a toast or a script? Here are 7 tips to let your voice shine through

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

This story originally appeared in NPR's Student Podcast Challenge newsletter. Subscribe here.

When I (Abē Levine) started interning here at NPR, I worked nights as a wedding server. And one thing always made those shifts longer: speeches.

Those toasts honoring the newlyweds were often stuffy, over-rehearsed and thirsting for personality.

If you want to channel your authentic self, ditch the podium. That's a piece of sound advice I got from the guide "Sounding Like Yourself," among other podcasting resources at Transom.

When it comes to making a podcast or drafting a toast, you're not here to write an essay or give a presidential address. You're writing for the ear. This means writing in a casual, conversational tone – like you're telling a story to a friend, or even your pet iguana. Your goal is to tell your story in a voice that's true to how you talk.

To get some help with this, I talked with Life Kit host Marielle Segarra. Her first piece of advice is to be economical with your words.

Sometimes, a 25-cent word is better than a $2 word

Fancier isn't better in radio. "So it'd be like saying 'the vehicle' instead of 'the car.' Why would you say that? No one talks like that," Segarra says. A $5 word, on the other hand, isn't necessarily a big or small word. It's one that fits the situation just right, like when you say "that slaps!" to describe a song that makes you vibe on a molecular level.

One idea per sentence

Run-on sentences going in many directions are your enemy. For a listener trying to understand you, it's like herding cats. Keep your sentences focused by saying what you mean.

Say it aloud

Say your ideas out loud – once before you write them, and again after you've written them down. Ask yourself: Do I sound like me? Take a breath, relax your shoulders, and try again.

Segarra sometimes starts her sentences with, "Hey mom ..." to get herself into a comfortable space. She'll record her narration – we call this "tracking" – and then she'll delete the "Hey mom" later, when editing the audio.

She also recommends including terms that you use every day, you know what I mean? Putting phrases like "I guess..." or "It's sort of..." before, after, or between two ideas can help you sound more conversational.

Mix up your tone

Change how and where you stress sounds and emphasize phrases, Segarra says. Instead of getting louder, try getting quieter or adding a rising curious tone to certain words, for example. If you're just giving a news update, you might need to sound more neutral, but if you're telling a story, you're using your voice to keep people on their toes.

Use more contractions

Apostrophes are your friend. To sound less formal, use "won't" instead of "will not" and "don't" instead of "do not." Avoid long, complicated sentences; listeners don't need to hear all that noise.

Get jiggy wit' it (wiggle, wiggle, wiggle)!

After doing your first reading, do it again – but outrageously, dramatically, all extra like! Let yourself go into new dimensions of whimsy and weird. Hit record and get bigger. Even if you don't ultimately go with that version of yourself, you'll have stretched your range beyond your classroom reading voice.

Remember your audience

Whether you're making a wedding toast or creating a podcast, you're starting a conversation. Your friends, family, teachers and everyone out there is listening. Just talk to us.

People are hungry to hear your voice, so raise it.

Visual design and development by: Beck Harlan
Edited by: Janet Woojeong Lee, Steve Drummond and Danielle Nett

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Abē Levine
Abē Ross Levine (he/him/她) is a second generation Chinese and Jewish kid straight outta Boston. He is a writer, cook, audio maker and instigator of verbal mischief. As a boy, he could be seen eating spinach out of one hand and holding worms in the other. He is both a lover of flavor and a seeker peering into the secret lives of bugs and their terroir.