Voicing 101: expert advice from CBC Radio One hosts

Voicing script is often stressful and frustrating ... but always incredibly important. A read that draws the listener in, and assures them they are in good hands, can make or break your segment. We've gathered advice from some of CBC Radio's best hosts: Jeff Douglas, Piya Chattopadhyay, and Anna Maria Tremonti.
It seems so easy, but reading out loud can be tough stuff. Especially when headphones are on and the mic is just inches away.

If you're lucky, you have the reassuring smile and support of a tech or producer on the other side of the glass, who throws out helpful tips, like "be yourself!" and "take it nice and slow!" In case you're not already self-conscious enough they remind you that you can do as many takes as you need. Great.

Voicing script is often stressful and frustrating ... but always incredibly important. A read that draws the listener in, and assures them they are in good hands, can make or break your segment.

We've gathered advice from some of CBC Radio's best hosts to get your voicing up to snuff. Here are Out in the Open's Piya ChattopadhyayThe Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, and Jeff Douglas from As It Happens

Top 5 things to remember when voicing

1.  Listen back

As painful as it can be, make sure to listen back to your tape and recognize things you like and dislike about your read. "If there's something that you hear yourself doing that you don't like then change it," says The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. "And if other people really don't like it well, sometimes that's just personality."

Can't stand the sound of your own voice? You're not alone. "One of the most difficult things to do, is to love your own voice," says Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay. Remember that you are your own worst critic, and despite what you think, your voice has the potential to be "as powerful as the tape you collect."

The craft of writing for radio: 16 tips from a veteran script-writer

Writing is the bones and the sinew of the radio we make. And yet we spend little time talking about the craft of writing for radio. Veteran producer and script-writer Chris Wodskou shares his tips and experience. Continue reading →

In this video Tremonti explains, "Sometimes people spend so much time in the field and then they come [into the studio], turn on the mic and they throw it all away. [Voicing] is as important as everything else you do."

2.  One take isn't good enough

Voicing takes time, especially in the case of documentaries. "It's not going to be done in ten minutes. It shouldn't be your first take," says Chattopadhyay. "Do it, do it over again, slow down, take your time and breathe."

In this clip Anna Maria discusses voicing a documentary called Born of War, a deeply emotive and moving piece about rape victims in Bosnia Herzegovina who took their resulting pregnancies to term. She says the documentary took nearly a full day to voice.

"When you go to voice that's when you do your final fine-tuning on the writing, because you see how it meshes," she says. If a phrase or word doesn't sound right, change it. If you're having trouble getting through a particular section of script, consider a re-write.

Book your studio for a significant chunk of time, bring several copies of your script, and have a pen on hand. Just because you're in the final stages of production doesn't mean you should rush.

3.  Warm up 

Anna Maria sings in the car (or cab) on the way to work. Piya hums and meows. As it Happens co-host Jeff Douglas uses old warm up exercises from his days in acting school.

Whatever you decide works for you, make sure you take your warm up seriously. Especially if you are recording in the morning, or if you're relatively inexperienced in front of the mic. "With less experience you're more nervous, so you tighten up," says Douglas. He suggests using two fingers to gently massage the joint in your jaw just  below your temples.

4.  Be present  

Every night Douglas checks his cell phone at the As it Happens studio door. "It's a distraction," he says, "a bad habit." Be present and emotive while you're reading. Your tone should be authentic and reactive to the script you are presenting.

5.  Take a deep breath … slow down … relax

Tension is audible. Added bonus: slowing down your read will help you focus on what to emphasize in every sentence. This takes some forethought too. Both Piya and Jeff will ruthlessly mark up their scripts, with pauses and underlines all over the text, helping them with the rhythm and cadence of their read.

Remember, just because you are presenting a script doesn't mean you have to be loud. Lowering your voice, and creating intimacy with your own vocal chords can be an amazing tool to pull a listener in. Let's call it the, "psst, lean in, I have something amazing to tell you" approach.

Not right for every script, but sometimes, it can be just the ticket.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.