Why Is It So Hard To Read Aloud?


“When this modern monster talks through the loudspeaker installed in its chest, its lips move in time with its speech.”


I talk every single day and I sound natural when I do. So, why, when I read narration, does “natural Rob” disappear?

Makes no sense, right? I should be able to just open my mouth, speak, and sound like I always do — a coherent, engaged version of myself, but me. Instead, I have to work really hard to sound something close to natural when I read aloud.

On this Saltcast, it’s all about narration. I offer a few tips for improving narration and we listen to two pieces. The first is the opening scene to “Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold.” The second is “Blind Dog” by Scott Carrier.

Oh, and post your narration tips! Reading narration seems like one of the hardest things to do. The more recommendations the better. Really.

Ciao for now.


PS – For more info about the “Radio Man” robot, click here.


  1. 4 Responses to “Why Is It So Hard To Read Aloud?”

  2. By carmen delzell on Jul 30, 2009

    I love your program most of the time. I live in Mexico and have an XM radio out in the country. The only one I realy DID NOT like was the one about the dog and cat lady. I too am a lonely old dog lady and also a former NPR commentator. Maybe you have heard me on Hearing Voices or This American Life. Anyway, The problem for me was the girls voice . It has a kind of to the manner born tone that I have noticed before from young people. Sort of a laid back sneer that just seeps into her observations. It might be a good topic for discussion in a class. No?

  3. By Rob on Jul 31, 2009

    Hi Carmen, Thanks for the note.

    Narrating is tough. I think one of the biggest difficulties is communicating without non-verbals such as facial expressions. Everything your face expresses — compassion, anger, surprise, boredom — all has to come through the voice instead.

    I wonder if you would have the same reaction to the student’s narration if you *saw* that student reading her narration?

    (For those wondering which piece Carmen is referring to, it’s here: http://podcast.prx.org/saltcast/?p=197)

    When exactly do you hear her sneering? I don’t think I hear it. And, what tips do you have to help avoid the sneer you feel is common among young people?

    Thanks for listening and commenting!


  4. By ari on Jul 31, 2009

    hi rob

    i felt the latest podcast on “tracking” was yet another example of how invaluable i find the saltcast. i learn something about storytelling each episode…and your show (and your tone) never feels didactic.

    a great tip you shared, i thought, was that sounding conversational on the radio starts with writing conversational script.


    …one of the battles with tracking a piece, obviously, is the need (compulsion?) to get it just right, exactly perfect. but i can saw without a single reservation that your narration is right up there at the top. you sound as if you are talking not reading, and your voice sounds relaxed and conversational. if you want my tiny two cents worth of constructive criticism…i would say that once or twice a show i can hear you making an attempt to annuniciate. thing is, you ARE a naturally clear speaker…youre not a mumbler like me. so just let the words come out as they please…and trust they will be understood. now if only I could take this advice…maybe MY own tracking coudl improve!

  5. By Rob on Aug 4, 2009

    Thanks Ari.

    I now think I need to keep the energy but slow down. I may have confused energy with pacing. I can still sound enthused (because I am) and slow it down a tad so I don’t “machine gun” through my narration.

    And the over-annunciation thing may be me slipping into reading voice or it’s me trying to get through some wording that is tripping me up, a clue that I whould re-write.

    Good to hear from you.


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