Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Try Softer

Jay Trachman wrote the following article seven years ago.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of my goals in continuing it is to help keep his memory and amazingly prescient advice alive:

Occasionally, you hear something just at that point in life when you need to. Shortly after I first came to Fresno to work at KFRE-AM (now ESPN radio), I heard a commercial that changed my thinking. It was a Bekins Moving ad -- probably a trade for having moved my belongings here from Ohio -- and the sixty-second spot was one of those little-theater-of-the-mind "playlets." The scene was a big  warehouse where they train new Bekins men. You hear the instructor telling the trainee, "Now I want you to pick up this piano and take it across the room, without breaking any of these eggs we have scattered all over the floor."

Then you hear a grunt as the guy hefts the piano, then takes a few steps, and the inevitable "crunch crunch" of egg-shells (great sfx!). He says, "I guess I'll have to try harder." The instructor replies, "No -- here at Bekins, we try softer!"

What a revelation that was to me -- the inveterate harder-tryer. Sometimes you gotta' try softer... I often work with talents who need to try softer.

Perhaps the same impulse that leads so many of us to become performers -- insecurity about our own social acceptance -- inclines us toward savage self-criticism. With these jocks there's rarely a problem helping them to spot their mistakes. There's always a problem helping them to spot their strengths. "If only I had tried harder, the break would have been perfect."

"He should've tried harder." An epitaph line you can file alongside "He had a lot to learn."

One of the results of this mental set is a tense, back-of-throat delivery that works adequately when your "announcing mode" is called for, as in liner cards and slogans, but prevents you from ever sounding quite "normal."

The ultimate answer is that you have to change your fundamental view of yourself and your listener; to acquire the confidence that your listener doesn't expect perfection, doesn't care about -- often doesn't even hear -- your mistakes, and enjoys you most when you're truly "being yourself."

You have to have enough confidence in your listener to know that he or she enjoys hearing you talk about something from your life which evoked strong feelings.

The ability to be (and thus, to sound) intimate on the air flows from self-confidence. It's a by-product of feeling good about who you are and how well you do what you do. For most of us, this comes with maturity. I don't know any way to rush it. I didn't begin to acquire that kind of self-acceptance until I was past thirty. But perhaps my pointing out to you that this is one of the keys to success as a performer will help aim you in the right direction.

Here are some tricks you can use to sound more intimate; their purpose is to help you speak from your mind and heart to someone you know and care about.  Warning: if you use them just to change the pitch of your voice, instead of as aids to allow you to express true feelings, they will make you sound "affected."

Here's the first: pull off your cans. Those headphones seem to steer us toward deep, throaty resonances, turning us into "boss-jock" wannabees, instead of authentic personalities. Once your hearing is "normal" again, you hear what you sound like talking to "real" people when they're in the room with you. If necessary, pick up one earphone and hold it to your ear. But to the extent that it's practical, get out of those cans, and back into the real world.

Second, get as close to the mike as you can without popping "p's," and adjust the volume so you can speak without projecting. This is the very essence of "trying softer." Then, close your eyes and conjure up the image of your listener.

These devices can make you uncomfortable for awhile. That's the idea. By significantly changing the way you sound to yourself, you find you have to think to make things work, instead of merely coasting on "auto-pilot."

This will provide you with an opportunity to hear yourself being intimate.  But these are just "tricks." I can help you to sound more human. But it's up to you to find your own, unique ways to be human.

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