Tips for Improving Your Commentary Performance
Most of the content in this document comes from the early days of my radio career, guided by the DJ who was put in charge of training me to speak on the air. I was somewhat suddenly put into the position of News Director with very little training, so I had a few days to get ready to be on the air. While I was a professional broadcaster for a few years, I want to point out that these tips are just suggestions and I am not the ultimate authority on broadcasting, nor do I claim to be particularly great at it. Broadcasting and public speaking in general are skills which require a lifetime of work and cannot be acquired overnight.
In all cases you should be recording yourself and then listening to the recording. This can be very awkward even for professionals. A lot of people dislike the sound of their own voice, but the best way to improve at public speaking is to listen to yourself and determine what you like and dislike about your performance. You will probably feel silly doing this, but it's important.
Tip #1 - Choose a sample text to read aloud
Find a book, play, or even a website and record yourself reading it aloud. Start with something you're familiar with and interested in, maybe a favorite section of a book, and start reading it aloud. *Every* time you mess up, start over. Messing up includes mispronouncing a word, skipping a word, slipping in an 'um', and pausing too long. Read at a smooth, consistent pace, aiming for a performance which you would enjoy as a listener.
When you listen back to yourself, think about what you enjoyed and what you disliked about your performance.
Once you're comfortable with your "familiar text", move on to something more difficult. I find that older texts from the late 1800s and early-to-mid 1900s are good for this. Those texts often use longer words which are less common today. The idea is to get comfortable with a variety of words and sounds.
Tip #2 - Do personal commentary
Find a Worlds Collide stream, turn the audio off, and talk about what you're watching. You'll almost certainly feel weird doing this. Record it and listen back to yourself. Pretend that you're describing what's going on to someone who can't see the screen, and treat that person like your friend. Speak in a moderate pace, giving them information about what's going on without overloading them with details. You don't need to say things like "Xelpher is walking up, now left, now he opens a chest and finds an Experience Egg. Now he's walking right", but rather being generally informative. Say something like "Xelpher found an Experience Egg in Mount Kolts".
Practice talking about what you see, and then start adding "color" to your commentary. Maybe something like "Xelpher found an Experience Egg in Mount Kolts, could that give him an edge this early in the game?". Focus on speaking clearly with an even tone. Sometimes races get very exciting, and it's good to communicate that energy to your audience, but avoid overdoing it.
Tip #3 - Listen to other broadcasters
Find a broadcaster (of any type) which you enjoy and really focus on what they're doing when they perform. What do you like about their style? Are they lighthearted and casual? Are they maybe a little sterner and focused, providing excellent technical insight? What do you dislike about their style? Don't try to imitate anyone, but when you're trying to find your voice in broadcasting, it can help to pull from a range of different influences.
Tip #4 - Practice with a friend
Find someone with whom you feel comfortable and jump into a Discord voice channel with them (or better yet do it in real life). Practice reading sample texts, doing mock commentary, or just speaking in general. Ask them to (gently) call you out whenever you say something like 'um'. Watch a stream or vod together and practice doing commentary with them. Observe how often you talk over each other or when you're both silent for a long time. It's a good idea when doing commentary with someone else to speak for a few seconds, laying out your idea, and then pause for longer than you would in a normal conversation to allow them to respond. Stream delays and other internet issues can mean a longer lag time for audio. This longer pause gives them a chance to respond and to keep the conversation feeling well-paced and not rushed. Also keep in mind that you don't need to talk constantly. It's okay to have periods of no commentary. Remember that the viewers will have game audio and that sometimes there isn't a whole lot to talk about.
Get yourself a Commentator role in the role-request channel or from a Moderator or Community Helper. Sign up for commentary in the restream-team-signups channel. If you get accepted for the restream, congratulations! Make sure your audio equipment is working well before the restream starts. You definitely don't want to have audio issues during the broadcast. On the day of the restream, show up 30 minutes before the race starts. Join the official race channel and then join the voice channel for the restream. Normally it will be the one with the restreamer sitting in it. If you're not sure, ask the restreamer. If you're going to be late or unable to make the restream, let everyone know AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Life happens, but if you just forget the restream, you're going to waste a lot of time for several people.
Once you're in the voice channel, get with the restreamer to get a voice check. Usually, they will have you talk so that they can dial in your audio levels. They may offer suggestions to you. If so, please follow the suggestions. The restreamer is trying to make you sound your very best. Generally, you will watch the Twitch restream with the audio off (otherwise you'll hear yourself on a delay). You may watch a Discord stream instead. Ask your restreamer if you are in doubt. It's a good idea to use a push-to-talk key when doing commentary. This will help eliminate unwanted background noises which may bleed into your broadcast. I use a USB foot pedal and I really enjoy it. However you do it, try to be in a closed, quiet room if you can.
Most Worlds Collide restreams feature two commentators. When I do commentary, I get with the other commentator and lay out who will "take the lead". That person will perform the introduction of the broadcast to the audience, talk about whatever event is happening, and then welcome the other commentator who will usually run down the flagset. The leader will announce when the race starts and will generally announce what's happening. In sports broadcasting, this is called the "Play-by-play" announcer while the others are called "color commentators". Generally in Worlds Collide, the lead doesn't announce every play, and it is normal and good for the color commentator to point out what's going on from time to time. The lead will also introduce runners for interviews and ask the first questions. They will then ask the color commentator if they have any questions for the runner. If you do ask questions, be friendly and positive.
It's easy to be nervous when on the air. Just keep in mind that this is a hobby and it's supposed to be fun. The world will not end if you mess up. No one will be hurt, no one will lose their job or anything important. Make it fun, don't be afraid to laugh at yourself, and remember that you're there to entertain people as well as inform them. It's okay to mess up.
If you're broadcasting to an audience who might not be familiar with Worlds Collide, be sure to define any WC-specific terms you use. Remember that when you're broadcasting to people who aren't familiar with WC, you're acting as an ambassador for the rando. Point out what's different from vanilla Final Fantasy 6 and what's the same. Try to put yourself in their shoes - there is a lot to WC and it can be difficult to take it all in over the course of one race.
If you have a rough stream, don't feel too bad about it. We were all new once and we all make mistakes. As you do commentary for more streams, you will improve. Don't let one or two bad performances discourage you from doing commentary in the future. Remember that there are plenty of people in the WC community who can help give you tips and work with you on your commentary skills. Just remember that even if you seek it out, it can be difficult to take criticism, so try and learn what you can from the people from whom you seek advice.
These are listed in a number of pinned guides, which you should definitely read, but I will throw them here just as a reminder
- Be 30 minutes early to the restream with your audio equipment in working order
- Don't eat during your commentary. It's okay to drink fluids, but do it on mute
- Be positive about the racers, community, and game. People are there to have fun, and it's okay to question their actions, but do it in a friendly way. Say "Xelpher is making an interesting play by walking in circles for 5 minutes, we'll have to find out what he was thinking during the interview" rather than "Xelpher is walking around like an idiot. Why's he doing that?!"
- Answer questions in chat using your discretion. Never call a question stupid or call the chatter out for poor spelling or grammar. If you don't like a question, just don't answer it. If you do answer a question, read it aloud and then answer it. This can be helpful for YouTube videos where people can't see chat.
- Don't curse. It happens, but really try to avoid it. Keep the commentary PG-13 at most, and preferably G-rated.
- No slurs, politics, religion, etc.
I know this seems like a lot, but as I said above, commentary and public speaking are skills which require practice to perfect. No one is born speaking flawlessly and we can all improve in some way. I hope this guide helps you. Also, thank you to Xelpher for being the runner in this document. He has no idea he's in it.
Thanks to Fantastadon, Ravlin, and RadioGuyPDX for reviewing this document and suggesting revisions.