Despite what you might think after listening to a two-hour recording, podcasters often don’t actually like the sound of their own voice. It’s cruel having to play back a recording of your rambling and endure the unavoidable cringeing that comes with it - but it’s part of the job.
I don’t care what people have to say about it, listening back to your voice does not get easier. No matter how often I make an appearance on the PodPod podcast, I’ll still listen back and think, "Oh wow, Reem, did you really have to say the word ‘like’ five times during that sentence," and "How many times can a person go ‘umm!'’' But I have gotten a little more used to it.
After a certain number of episodes, the ability to care that much about how your voice sounds starts to disappear and you start to realise that nobody around you really cares either. It’s almost like your mind goes on auto-pilot: plug in your mic and headphones, wait for the recording to start, talk for 20 minutes or so, black out and erase it from your memory, and then repeat the cycle next week.
Still, there are days when you find yourself being too critical and in my case, my accent has always been a particularly sore spot. Ever since I first moved to the UK when I was 17 and studied journalism in my undergrad, it always felt like I was capable of doing anything… except presenting, because my accent was different.
It’s not even the fact that my accent is that thick or hard to understand at all - it’s a mix of being raised in a Lebanese household while going to an English-system school in Abu Dhabi - but I’ve always grown up on the idea that while European accents can be considered ‘charming and cute’, the same does not apply for Middle Eastern or other non-European accents - thanks to blatantly racist representation I’ve gotten used to seeing across western TV and film.
I don’t know if it was a result of the general lack of representation for non-European international accents across the UK audio industry or the fact that the ‘role models’ I had to look up to were all British middle-aged white men, but these factors didn’t exactly provide a supportive environment to make me think that my dreams of becoming a presenter in the UK could be a reality.
It wasn’t until we recorded an episode with Masala Podcast’s Sangeeta Pillai back in March that I really started to make a proper effort to stop being ashamed of my accent. During the recording, I asked Pillai about a previous episode of her podcast in which she talked about changing accents with her guest in order to fit in with others, and whether she applied that with her own podcast.
“When I recorded the first episode [of Masala Podcast], I remember listening to it thinking, ‘Gosh, I sound so Indian’... In my head, there's some conditioning that says to sound Indian is worse than to sound British, so I had to check myself, because we are products of the world that we live in,” Pillai replied. “I had to have a conversation with myself - and I remember doing this very distinctly - to say yes, I do sound Indian and yes, that's amazing, that's okay, and that's going to be my podcast. I'm going to be exactly who I am and I think that is very, very valuable.”
During the same episode, I shared my personal experience dealing with my accent and I remember receiving words of encouragement and validation from both Pillai and PodPod host Rhianna Dhillon that I was doing fine. There was nothing to worry about and me being critical was all in my head.
Having Pillai be a podcaster that resonated with me and made me feel represented and proud of having a different accent made me realise that I could also potentially do that for someone else listening to the PodPod podcast; someone who could also use that type of representation.
With practice and my never-ending journey of learning about the podcasting industry, I’ve also realised that I’ve just become more confident overall engaging in conversation during our recordings. It doesn’t matter if I have quirks and that not every sentence sounds articulate and professional; at the end of the day, I know the material we’re talking about inside out, and that matters more.
While I’ll still go back to my first point and reiterate that no, listening to the sound of your own voice does not get easier and I will inevitably continue to cringe every time I listen back to a recording, the impulse for me to care about it and criticise it has certainly almost disappeared. I no longer feel ashamed about my accent or feel that I am undeserving of being in front of a mic - I’m proud of my international accent and the fact that I sound different to everyone else.