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Boy shouting into microphone

Be yourself. Be an actor. Which is it?!

self-development Jan 19, 2021

BACK IN TAOS, New Mexico, I served for a while as part-time DJ for one of the local radio stations.

Looking back, I can’t help comparing what I learned about being on the radio to success in any area of life: some of the lessons feel interchangeable.

During that time I received training from a DJ who's been in the biz for more than 20 years. When this voice talks, people listen. He can make stealing a donut from the staff room sound scintillating.

Here I'll share a few of the tips I received from this veteran of the airwaves. See if they speak to you at all in relation to your own pursuit of success (in any endeavor).

Be yourself.

Previous to this little training meeting, I was in a rut I didn’t know how to move out of. I was playing it safe. My speaking voice sounded OK, but I didn’t have “a voice.” I was just announcing stuff. No personal style.

When I asked my mentor what I should do to find my voice, he commented that it’s not a straightforward thing. Hmm. Without a clear model for how to do it, I realized I was going to have to be experimental and take some risks.

We don’t fully know what we’re capable of, or who we are, until we take some risks.

After that private talk, I ventured out to the scary edge of safe trying to find my voice. I sometimes sounded awkward, sometimes goofy, sometimes a bit fake—and sometimes I nailed it just the way I was hoping to.

I discovered how exhilarating the challenge was. Exhausting, too. I poured intense amounts of energy into exploring my own frontiers. Eventually, if I had stayed in radio, I fully expected to circle back to sounding like myself.

I know, right?

Seems like a crazy journey when I could just be myself from the beginning. But when we get up on any kind of stage, very few of us know how to be ourselves right off the bat.

Be an actor.

Wait a minute. I thought he said “Be Yourself”?!

Well, he did. But you have to do both. Showing up every day to talk on the radio was not always an activity that automatically matched my mood. However, I was presenting “AC” (Adult Contemporary programming) and I couldn’t afford to sound depressed or rattled by life’s little train wrecks.

The answer is to fake it till you make it.


Sit or stand up straight.

Throw your shoulders back.

These simple actions immediately made a difference to how I was sounding. Even if I had to force my grin, it still made me sound happy and upbeat.

Even smiling away to myself all alone in the studio, the smile was infectious. After a few minutes I wasn't faking it any more. Smiling helped me connect with the music (which, to be honest, was not my favorite genre) and the underlying idea that my listeners needed me to cheer them through their work day.

I learned that forcing a smile can work magic.

Some days I went to the station brain-tired from a bad night’s sleep, or feeling horrible about something that was going wrong in my life. By the time I left the studio at the end of my show, I was energized and cheerful.

Have an attitude.

I discussed with my mentor my fears of not feeling qualified enough to be given a radio show. And also not having the right type of voice for AC programming (my voice can sound too mellow, in my opinion). He said I should acquire an attitude that goes “Listen to this! I’m doing this for you.”

He added that I could even do a heavy metal show with my very same voice.

It’s all in the attitude.

Speak to a real person.

This is traditional advice in the radio industry. The DJ is advised to pick out a person in her life that she has a good rapport with. Someone who would be interested in what she's doing, and supportive of her efforts. Then visualize that person every time she speaks. Talk directly to that one-person audience.

This personalizes what otherwise could be directed at anybody and everybody.

Next time you're rehearsing for success, try it. Pick someone friendly and receptive to pitch it to (even if it's all in your head). This is so much more encouraging than imagining a hostile critic or the sound of crickets.

Have you ever changed a negative mood by being forced to pretend you were happy?

Do you think smiling in the face of your worst fears could ever cause a breakthrough?

Copyright © Milli Thornton

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Republished with permission. Original version is posted at