Summer Heat Can Make You Sick

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 6, 2016

Heat Stoke GraphicI recently heard from a reporter who had gotten sick covering a story in Texas.  The more I learned the more I realized this person had suffered heat exhaustion, which is a very dangerous condition.  This happens every summer to reporters and can happen to any of us. It’s usually avoidable by taking a few steps to take care during the summer months.

Summer can also be hard on your voice with summer colds and allergies.  If you want to stay healthy and sound great this summer, try these ten tips.  I’ve provided links to some of my other blog posts if you want to read more, but here’s a list for a quick reminder:

  1. Keep your vocal tract moist by drinking half your body weight in ounces of nonalcoholic fluid a day (for more on fluid intake check out this post). During the heat carry a thermos instead of just a water bottle so that you can drink cold water. You can also freeze water bottles and drink them as they melt in the heat.
  1. Eat foods that help keep you hydrated. For example, a slice of watermelon contains 10 ounces of water. A peach or a cup of strawberries has 5 ounces. Other foods high in water are cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and raw squash.  Soups, tea, and coffee are also good for hydration.
  1. If you have allergies or get a summer cold, limit throat clearing and coughing.  Did you read this post on the dangers of coughing? And limit your use of antihistamines because they are diuretics.
  1. To help avoid Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke, check out these cooling bandanas that really help you stay cool.  I’ve tried this one, http://www.mycoolingstore.com/chill-its-temp-control-cooling-bandana.html, and it works well without getting your clothes damp.
  1. Keep up an exercise program, but if you’re exercising outside and it’s hot, do it early in the morning or late in the evening.  Why exercise?  It helps develop good breathing, but it does much more.  Check this out.
  1. Use SPF 30 or higher sun block every day and reapply it every few hours!  And if you’re outside much of the day, you can purchase clothes that are SPF treated, or you can actually make your clothes sun proof with Rit Sun Guard.  It’s a washing powder that stays in through 20 washes and blocks more than 96% of harmful rays.  You can also find SPF umbrellas to use.
  1. Ramp up your protein intake for better overall health and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.
  1. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night for better health and vocal energy.  That’s the minimum that doctors recommend.  Go for more when you can.  And remember that computers and tablets emit blue light that mimics sunlight and can keep you awake.  Dim them down at least an hour before bedtime. For more on this, click here.
  1. Spend some time relaxing this summer even if you can’t take a vacation. To quote the author, Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you.”
  1. And finally, have some fun this summer! Fun goes a long way toward decreasing your job stress.

BSGCoverBlueWant more tips like these?  Ck out Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.99 and loaded with voice and lifestyle tips!

 

 

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Please Don’t Fade Away!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 1, 2016

dark streetI’m frustrated! I’m hearing more and more voiceover artists fading away towards the end of each sentence, which means the listener has to strain to make out the last couple of words in that sentence. I’m not just blaming voiceover people for this because it can be equally true for broadcasters.

Let’s tackle this problem. What causes the slow fade? Basically it’s because the person is not sustaining their breath for the duration of the sentence. They are not practicing good breath support.

The bottom line is that breath support must be built. I feel anyone making money with their voice should be doing breathing exercises on a regular basis if, for no other reason, because as we age our breath support gets more difficult.

I’ve written many posts on breathing and provided a video. Here’s a link to some great breath support exercises. Pick one or two you really like and do them often.

My basic advice to clients is to make the last word of a sentence as strong as the first word. That’s an easy way to avoid fading away. You can practice this with any printed text or even while making up sentences while you’re driving.

Along with good breath support comes the challenge of not letting air leak out when you pause in a sentence. To practice this, read the sentences below making the last word as strong as the first and pausing without letting any air escape at the slash marks. (These are not necessarily places you would ordinarily pause in these sentences.)

I enjoy biking/ skiing/ swimming/ and fishing.

I enjoyed visiting Italy/ or France/ or Germany/ in your world travels.

I started out lifting light weights/ but as I got stronger/ I increased the pounds I lifted.

These exercises will get you started on a better voice that doesn’t fade away!

For even more breathing exercises, check out the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. It’s available to instantly download on my website.

 

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Sound More Conversational

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on May 3, 2016

MenTalking When you’re in front of a microphone, sounding conversational is one of the biggest challenges whether you’re a voiceover artist or a broadcaster. That’s because none of us is trained to sound comfortable talking to a wall, which is usually what we’re doing when we go into a sound booth.  To sound conversational, we need the interaction of another person.

The best delivery sounds like a conversation with a good friend.  I call it “enlarged conversation” because you should be a bit more careful with your articulation, but the general feeling should be one of conversation.

If you think you don’t sound conversational enough, try creating the other person in the conversation.  Right now imagine a person. This person should not be a vague, nebulous image.  Pick a real person who you are comfortable talking with and can imagine very vividly–a sister, friend, coworker, or next-door neighbor.

The most important aspect of this exercise is for you to imagine the feedback the person gives you when you talk to them.  Do they nod?  Do they look interested?  It’s this feedback that will allow you to adjust your delivery to sound conversational even if you’re reading.  When the listener’s feedback is missing, we forget some of the essentials about how to sound conversational.

Remember, you’re always talking with just one person, not to a whole audience, because we listen one person at a time. The secret of a conversational delivery is putting a person in your head when you voice to get a comfortable delivery.

If imagining a person responding to you seems like a hard thing to do, I’ll give you a hint.  You already do this every time you talk to someone on the phone.  We instantly see the person we’re talking to in our mind.  This is a technique you already have perfected.  Now just start doing the same thing when you’re in the sound booth!

Read lots more about this in my ebook, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK (see chapter 6 on sounding conversational).  It’ll help you put this into practice.

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Let’s Revisit Vocal Fry

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on April 20, 2016

BaconFryingVocal fry voices are being heard more and more from young tv and movie stars like Kim Kardashian and Zooey Deschanel to average teens and college students. I hear this problem often in clients who have just finished journalism schools and bring the sound into their first on-air jobs.  Let me explain.

The problem is a learned pattern of speech called vocal or glottal fry.  How does it get its name?  The glottis is the opening between the vocal folds, which is where this sound originates.  This condition may be called “fry” because it sounds like bacon frying with its popping sound.  In the past, it might have been called a raspy or gravely voice.  It’s caused by a syncopated mode or double-vibration of the vocal folds.

The popping sound of a glottal fry is usually heard toward the ends of sentences. At the end of sentences it usually indicates that breath supply is low, and the pitch is near the bottom of the pitch range.  Some speakers have glottal fry elements throughout their speech.  Normally, however, a glottal fry will begin a few words before the end of a sentence.

The pervasiveness of glottal fry with young women may be an adapted style that helps them fit in and connects them to stars that are using this style of speech.  The characteristics most associated with glottal fry speech are tiredness, disinterest, and boredom.  Can you relate those to teens???

Increased air supply and a slight rise in pitch will usually eliminate a glottal fry as long as it’s a functional problem and not caused from a pathological issue such a contact ulcer on the vocal folds or a thyroid problem.  To correct a glottal fry I have clients work on breath support in ways that I explain on this video.  I also encourage them to make the last word of a sentence as strong as the first word like I talk about in this post.

Below are some more sources of information on vocal fry as well as a link to two workshops coming up in the next few weeks in the Washington, D.C., area offered by one of my Associates, Cathy Runnels.

UPSPEAK & VOCAL FRY: INTRODUCTORY WORKSHOPS ON CHANGE.  Bethesda, MD, Thursday, April 28, 2016, from 11:30 AM to 1:00 p.m. (EDT)  Friendship Heights, MD, on Saturday, April 30, 2016 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 p.m.  Click here for more information: EVENTBRITE.COM and check out April Events.

Read Melissa Dahl’s article that explains a study done in 2011 that focused on vocal fry voices.

If you want to hear some examples of vocal or glottal fry, ck out this video from the Today Show:

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Don’t Let Poor Sleep Sabotage Your Performance

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on April 5, 2016

sleepwalkerSkimping on sleep can be a ticket to disaster whether you’re a broadcaster or a voiceover artist.

I’ve written posts on the importance of sleep before, but a client recently reminded me how it can lead to major problems. This client, like many others I’ve coached, works a morning show, which means she must be up around 2:30 a.m. For her to be at her best, she should be asleep by 7:30 p.m. This is a hard schedule to keep, and she began cheating on it. Consequently, she hit the wall and got sick, but not before she’d had a couple of days of less than stellar work.

This is an all too familiar scenario, but it’s a dangerous one. New research shows that cognitive function is impaired when we don’t get the recommended 7+ hours of sleep, and it’s more than just having fuzzy thinking. There is evidence that lack of sleep over many years can lead to memory loss and possibly irreversible brain damage (Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, AARP Medical Advisory Board).

How could lack of sleep have this catastrophic effect on the brain? It’s because there are parts of the brain that work several times harder during sleep to clear toxins from the brain. Also, crucial chemicals are released during the deeper stages of sleep that help repair the body in numerous ways. Preventing these processes from happening can sabotage more than just your performance.

Missing those 7 hours of sleep has been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, heart problems, strokes, high blood pressure, and obesity. It also can lower your immune system making you more susceptible to all those viruses and bacteria out there.

You may think you cope well without much sleep, but studies show that people who think this actually have reduced cognitive function and don’t know it.  Much like a drunk doesn’t think he’s impaired, lack of sleep can make you feel like you’re functioning fine.

So getting a good night’s sleep is a must. But how do you make that happen? First, be sure you ramp down your screen time at least an hour before you plan to sleep. If you must stay on your ipad or laptop, turn down the screen brightness. For more on this, ck out my post, Power Down for Better Sleep.

And avoid texting in the hour before bedtime. It has been shown to decrease good sleep both because of the screen light and because your brain is more active during texting.

From a previous post here are are 5 more tips:

  1. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
  2. Keep your sleep times as consistent as possible.  If you have to get up early 5 days a week, try and keep your same bedtime on the weekends even though going to bed early is a drag.
  3. Do at least thirty minutes of aerobic exercise every day for deeper sleep.  It’s been shown to improve good sleep by 65%.
  4. Lower the lighting in that last hour you’re awake. This signals the brain it’s time for sleep, and it makes the body secrete melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone.
  5. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals at night.  Any of these will disrupt sleep.

Follow these tips, and you should reap the benefits of good sleep!

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A Simple Tool for Better Breathing

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on March 7, 2016

I’m always on the lookout for aids to help with voice problems.  One came up on my personal Facebook page a couple of weeks ago that amazed me in its simplicity.  I immediately shared it on my professional Facebook page.

I’ve been teaching breathing for 40+ years, but I wish I’d had this tool years ago to use to help clients understand good breathing.  There’s something about this simple gif that illustrates it beautifully.

The gif helps you use breathing to relax (see below: Source: http://i.imgur.com/Huou7Gh.gif).  I’ve rotated the gif to help show you how this can impact your vocal delivery.

Breather

Imagine the top of the diagram is at the base of your breastbone.  Next, expand your stomach by inhaling, following the manner and speed of the gif.  Then exhale with your stomach coming in at the same speed.

One of the first things I notice using the gif is that it’s timed perfectly for a comfortable inhalation and exhalation.  I feel able to follow it with ease for a few breaths without feeling like I’m hyperventilating.

Another thing I notice is that it encourages me to slow down my exhalation.  This may not be true for you, but for me slowing down added to my relaxation.  I can feel my stomach coming in on the exhalation for a longer time with the gif.

Also, I notice that it focuses on taking air in by expanding the abdominal area completely, not just in the front, but in the sides as well.  By incorporating the sides into our inhalation, we get a greater supply of air.

If you’re confused about using the diaphragm for breathing, watch my video to see how I work with clients.  I focus more on expanding the stomach in the video, but the sides are important, as well.

Try using the gif to take three breaths before you go on the air.  Wondering what difference this breathing will have on your delivery?  First, by using it before you go on the air you’ll be more relaxed.  Secondly, you’ll  have more residual air in your lungs so that you can talk longer on one breath of air.  And finally, you’ll get more comfortable with abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing.  All three of these things will improve any voice so put this gif to work for you!

If you’d like to see more breathing exercises, ck out this post, and you can get many more in the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK.  Find out about downloading it by clicking here.

 

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What’s Your Favorite Vocal Warm-Up?

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 17, 2016

Here’s one of my fav posts from five years ago.  I hope you’ll read the comments section, and, also contribute to it!

I think we all have a vocal warm-up we love.  For me it’s yawning.  Why do I like yawning?   Yawning has been used for centuries as a technique to relax the throat and improve the voice.  Go ahead.  Try it.  Yawn like you do when you’re so tired  you can’t keep your eyes open.  Can you feel that your neck and throat seem less tense?  A good yawn relaxes the larynx (voice box) and throat and also promotes deep breathing.  In addition, it forces you to open your mouth widely.  All of these things will make you sound better when you begin your broadcast.

I’ll give you one example of the benefit.  Do you ever hear those pesky audible intakes of air when you’re recording?  They are  the result of not opening your mouth and/or constricting your throat.  Yawning before and during breaks in your recording might just eliminate them.  The breath stream should come up through an open, relaxed throat such as you get when you yawn.  To learn more about this, check out my video.

Now it’s your turn.  Leave a comment below to pass along your favorite vocal warm-up.  Share with other readers and tell us what you like…..

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Riding the Waves of Vocal Pitch

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 3, 2016

surferI’ve never been on a surfboard, but I know that surfers look for the biggest waves possible. They head for the thirty-foot waves on the north shore of Oahu, and not a calmMt. Lake lake in the mountains.

We do the same thing when we want to express strong emotions with our voices. We go for the highest and lowest pitches we can make.

Imagine you’re recounting to someone that you just won the million-dollar lottery. Your pitch would no doubt be all over the place, wouldn’t it?

Now imagine your pitch variation when you’re telling someone about the death of a loved one. Your pitch would most likely be much more controlled.

Now think about how you’d tell someone about having to sit home all day and wait for a repair person to come. You’d probably drone on about what you did to pass the time.

That last example most likely had you speaking in a voice close to a monotone. By definition, monotone has very little pitch variation. We can compare that to the mountain lake that’s perfectly still.

Vocal pitch range is defined as the number of notes above and below your most comfortable, normal pitch (to find that spot, ck out this post).

We have the ability to go for the highest (and lowest) pitches we can make, much like the big waves a surfer goes for. This gives us the most emotional delivery.

We can also go for very little pitch change, and we’ll be using a monotone.

You can’t have an expressive voice without pitch changes, and the wrong pitch can wreck a good read. Even a limited pitch change (only three notes up and down) can signal an apathetic voice, according to voice specialist, Hilda B. Fisher. To you, three notes up and down might seem like an emotional delivery, but that’s because you may not be using your full range.

Fisher advises that for a good voice you need a minimum range of at least four notes up and three down. Try this simple test to see if you meet this goal.  Starting at your comfortable pitch, say, ” I can make my pitch go up, up, up, up,” raising your pitch with each, “up.”  Now go back to your comfortable pitch and say, “I can make my pitch go down, down, down.”  (Using your hand to indicate the steps up and down may make this exercise easier for you.)  If it was difficult to reach the highest or lowest pitches, you may have a limited pitch range.

There are many exercises you can do to expand your pitch range. Ck out these in a post I wrote recently. Doing exercises to expand your pitch can really improve your delivery.

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Make Your New Year’s Voice Resolutions!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on January 5, 2016

calendarIt’s the first of the year again…time to make resolutions that we seldom keep.  My hope is that you will keep the three that I’m recommending.  If you are making money with your voice, these resolutions might just mean you’ll be employed longer.  Your throat will thank you as well as  your wallet!

1)  Resolve to do some vocal warm-ups before you begin voicing a script.  These take only a few seconds, but they can make the difference between a good read and a great read.  Nothing kills a great read like poor articulation.  There are many exercises you can do.  I like to prescribe some stretching exercises and some precision exercises.  Stretching might be repeating the phrase, “You see Oz,” exaggerating the mouth position for each vowel.  For precision, repeat phrases with lots of plosive sounds like t’s and d’s.  Try the phrase, “The fat lazy cat.”  Repeat this, exploding the t’s.  For more articulation exercises, check out this post of mine.

2)  Resolve to drink lots of water. If you watched my video on vocal health, you heard me talking about the benefits of staying hydrated.  Water (or decaffeinated, non alcoholic fluids) keeps the cells in our throats plump and healthy, and it helps the mucous in our throats stay at the consistency that is right for protecting the delicate vocal fold tissue.  Want to know how much to drink?  Click here for that info.

3)  Resolve to keep your volume down. Not many of us think about how delicate the vocal folds (cords) are in our throats.  I think about it all the time because I know what can happen from simple things we do in our life like yelling at a football game or raising our volume to talk over a band in a club.  Even talking loudly in a noisy restaurant can cause damage to our throats.  One of the things that can happen very easily is the formation of a polyp on the vocal fold.  Polyps can be caused by a small blood vessel breaking from the force of loud speech.  This creates a host of problems you don’t want to have, so avoid them by not raising your volume.

You don’t see concert pianists hitting their hands with hammers when they’re not performing do you?  Loud speech, or really any of the three issues this blog has presented, are the equivalent of doing just that to your throat.  Make 2016 the year you resolve to do something healthy for your throat.

Want to learn more about having a healthy voice?  Ck out the new, fifth edition of my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, for 390 pages of great info!

 

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Shorter Is Better For Urgency!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on December 1, 2015

FOX reportersOne of the biggest killers of a breaking news story or a short voiceover script is compound, complex sentences. I was reading through Hilda B. Fisher’s book, Improving Voice & Articulation (yes, I do read voice books for fun), and I was struck by this phrase:

“The shorter your phrases, the more emphatic your speech will be.”

Why should you avoid long sentences in your copy? Basically, we just don’t use many of those in conversation. This is especially true of urgent conversation such as when you call your friend or significant other after a fender bender. You don’t say:

“After rear-ending a red Toyota that was stopped in front of me, I got out and gave my information to the driver I hit, before calling you to find out what you feel I should do.”

You’d more than likely say:

 “I rear-ended somebody. I got their info. What else do I need to do?”

We do this instinctively when speaking, but when it comes to writing copy, we often forget. I’ve seen sentences in news copy that were half a page long! No one, not even the best broadcaster or voiceover artist you can think of, could read a sentence that long in a conversational way.

According to Fisher, “As you speak you present to the mind of the listener units of thought like packaged ideas. The listener assimilates these thought units and accumulates them to compose larger concepts.”

It’s not our job when writing to accumulate them for the listener into long sentences. This is especially true when you are reading something (or doing a live shot) about an urgent issue.

To practice writing in a shorter, more emphatic way, take a story from a print source (newspaper or magazine), and rewrite it in shorter sentences. Record it both ways, and see for yourself what the shorter sentences can do. My guess is you’ll find yourself sounding more conversational and emphatic, which is just what you need in those urgent stories.

And there are two chapters in my ebook, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, about how to sound more conversational in front of a microphone.  You can download the book instantly by clicking here to get to my website.

For more tips on broadcast writing, check out this post by acclaimed writing coach, Merv Block.

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