Speak From Your Diaphragm!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 4, 2018

By Dara W. Allen, M.S., CCC-SLP

Have you ever been told to “speak from your diaphragm”?  Most broadcasters and voiceover artists have heard this piece of advice many times over, yet few of us really understand what it means.

In truth, we do not speak from our diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that rests high in the ribcage.  When you inhale, the diaphragm descends, putting pressure on the organs in the abdominal cavity, and they are pushed down and out to the front, sides and back of your body.  When the diaphragm goes down, it draws air in through your vocal cords into your lungs.  There should be an expansion of your ribcage to the front, sides and back.  There should never be any expansion in the upper chest, shoulders or neck area during inhalation.  This process is called abdominal/thoracic breathing.

The great thing about utilizing abdominal/thoracic breathing is you will feel better physically, and you will sound better!!  Breathing in this manner causes the larynx to relax.  When the larynx is relaxed, you will get a fuller and richer sounding voice, and what broadcaster or voiceover artist does not want that?

So how do you do this?

Allow your lips and teeth to part slightly.  You do not have to suck in the air or take in a loud breath. Imagine if you were underwater and you opened up your mouth; the water would just flow in. It is the same on land; open your mouth and allow your tummy to release and the air will flow in. Imagining that the tummy is releasing, melting or softening when need a breath allows the diaphragm to descend.

“But I don’t want to look fat!”  Boy, do I hear that all of the time!

Many people spend a good amount of energy “sucking in the gut” so they look good.  But, hear this!  You cannot take in a full breath if you are holding in your stomach!

Yet, you also do not want to push your stomach out!!  Pushing your stomach out will only create more tension and have a negative effect on the voice.  It is a release of the tummy that allows you to take in a full efficient breath.

I promise that releasing your tummy to breathe will not make you look bigger than you are!  Breathing in this manner will actually help your tummy muscles! (To see Dr. Utterback demonstrating breathing techniques, chect out this video.)

One more thing…

Learn to relax the upper and middle chest. This does not mean that you allow your chest to collapse! On the contrary, good posture is crucial, but you do not want to be stiff or rigid.  If you sense tension in your upper or middle chest, imagine letting it go from the inside out.  Talk to it, move it, or touch it, trying to encourage a release of the muscles when you breathe in AND when you are talking.

Tension in the abdomen and chest areas prevents us from breathing efficiently. Do not be fooled into thinking that you do not have tension in these areas – most of us do! The trick is to become conscious of it and then let it go.

Happy Breathing!!

 

DARA WHITEHEAD-ALLEN, M.S., CCC-SLP helps professionals in the radio and television news industry find, free and develop their best voice. She works with clients from all over the United States and the major network affiliates, including NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, The Weather Channel, and AccuWeather. In addition to her work with broadcasters, Dara is owner of the Austin Voice Institute, where she offers services related to the management of voice and speech disorders, as well as presentation coaching. Dara is available for individual and group sessions in person, or via SKYPE. She can be reached at dara@broadcastvoicecoach.com.  Find her website at: https://www.austinvoiceinstitute.com/services/broadcast-voice-coaching/

 

 

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Three Ways to Spice Up Your Vocal Delivery

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 6, 2018

One of the hardest parts of voicing is to give stock or repeated phrases some spice to make them sound conversational.  Whether it’s a sign off at the end of a broadcast or a toss, these phrases are a constant challenge for reporters and anchors.

For voiceover artists it might be a repeated phrase in an audio book recording.  If you say these phrases exactly the same way each time, they become stale and uninteresting.  Worse, if you voice these exactly the same each time, they can become a bore for you and the listener.

So how do you avoid this pitfall?

First, for your sign off or tosses, take out a piece of paper or your phone and jot down as many ways of saying this phrase as you can think of.  Let’s say it’s a toss to the weatherperson.  You might say, “And here’s Rob with the weather,” but that’s not very interesting.

To give it freshness every time, you could jot down some options like these:

“So when’s the sun coming back, Rob?”

“What’s with this rain slated for the weekend?”

“It’s a beautiful day out there, Rob!”

Any of these works better than a boring toss.

If it’s a repeated phrase in an audio book, you can consider stressing different words with volume or inflection each time.  Let’s say the phrase is, “She knew she’d die from fright.” The first time you say that sentence stress, “die,” and the next time, “fright.” Vary the stress to keep the sentence from getting too boring.

And a third approach for either broadcasters or voiceover people is to employ the idea of talking to a person.  If you think about how you say hello to a friend on the phone, you’ll realize it’s always a bit different.  That’s because you’re picturing your friend when you say it.  Here’s a link to my post on PREP that explains this approach in more detail.

The biggest mistake you can make is to not recognize the repeated phrases in your copy and make them robotic.  Instead, try using one of the 3 options above.  You’ll sound more interesting and relate to your listener more effectively.

If you don’t have the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, download it now to read more about how to spice up your delivery!

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Preparation Is The Key To Vocal Success

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 7, 2018

Lots of people have approached me over the years saying they’d love to quit their jobs and become voiceover artists because everyone tells them they have great voices. Well, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know that it takes lots more than a great voice to be a success in voiceover work or broadcasting.

One of the things it takes is the commitment to keep your voice in great shape so it continues working well for you every time you approach a microphone. Daily preparation is essential for a long career in the business of voicing.

Here are some of the quick, daily preparation techniques I’ve taught all my clients over the years.

First, something simple like 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, which can improve your resonance.  All of these things will make you sound better.

And you can continue this open mouth feeling by using this simple exercise every time you get ready to voice:

Put one hand on your abdominal area just below your waistband.  Now take a deep inhalation, pushing your hand out as you inhale.  Sustain these three vowel sounds at a conversational volume for as long as you can as you exhale:

“ah” as in spa (open our mouth as widely as you comfortably can)

“awe” as in caw (pull your lips forward)

“e” as in see (smile widely)

Repeat these sounds in order for 30 seconds stretching your mouth in the described way.

And finally, you need to warm up your tongue. Begin by exaggerating the plosive sounds (t, d, k, g, p, b) in the phrases below.  Really blast the air out on the plosives.  Exaggerating will warm up your articulators most effectively.  Repeat these warm-up phrases several times before voicing.

  • Pat sat flat.
  • Heat the meat.
  • Ted had lead.
  • Bed spread
  • Pop the top.
  • Deep sleep
  • Rob will sob.
  • Grab a crab.
  • Kink the link.
  • Took a look.
  • Snug as a bug.
  • Big pig.

If you’d like to learn more easy ways to warm up your voice and keep it in the best shape possible, download my ebook, the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. Click on this title, and you can download it instantly!Book Cover for Broadcast Voice Handbook

 

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10 Tips to Stop Frying Your Voice This Summer

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 11, 2018

Honeymoon, Day 4Summer can be hard on your voice and your body with the heat and humidity.  You can sound parched and look wilted on camera.  If you want to sound great and look polished, 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 decaffeinated, nonalcoholic fluid a day (for more on fluid intake check out this post).

2.  If you have allergies or get a summer cold, limit throat clearing and coughing.  Did you read this post on the dangers of coughing?

3.  Be careful not to yell in noisy environments such as outdoor sporting events or clubs.  Yelling can permanently harm your voice.

4.  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.

5.  Get at least seven hours of sleep each night for good 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.

6.  Ramp up your protein intake for better overall energy and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.

7.  Use a pitch that is comfortable and does not cause vocal fatigue.  If you get hoarse after a day of voicing, you may be using an unnatural pitch. (Check out this blog post to learn more about pitch.)  See a physician if hoarseness, pain, or odd sensations in the throat last for more than two weeks.  Take hoarseness seriously.

8.  Practice abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing to decrease tension in the laryngeal area. (Check my video or my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, if you’re unclear on what this type of breathing is like.)

9.  Use SPF 30 or higher sun cream every day and reapply it every few hours!  And if you’re outside much of the day, 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.  Doesn’t change the look or feel of your clothes.  I use it, and it’s great!

10.  And the most important tip of all:  Don’t smoke or expose yourself to the smoke of others.  Watch this video if you’re a smoker.  It might help you quit!

aaaaBSGCoverSMALL copy 2Want 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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Chill Out this Summer

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 5, 2018

Summer is supposed to be the most carefree time of year, but what if stress and worry spoil that? No one can do their best on-air work when they are feeling the pressures of the world. Here are some ways to find your happy place this summer.

First, identify your demons. You can’t clear the worries from your mind if you don’t know what’s got you stressed.

One way to do this is to write down what’s bothering you. It may sound simplistic, but writing it allows you to clearly identify what’s going on. Once you’ve identified your worries, you can set them aside more easily. This keeps your brain from multitasking like worrying and trying to do your on-air work at the same time.

Writing can also help you at the start of the day. A recent study at Michigan State University showed that students who wrote about their feelings for 8 minutes before a computer test scored higher than those who didn’t write. If you want to start the day laser focused, get those worries on paper early in the day.

But your writing doesn’t have to be as long as 8 minutes to be helpful, and it doesn’t have to be a tell-all journal. It can be as simple as jotting down a memo on your phone or on a napkin at Starbucks. No one is going to see this but you so make some notes and destroy them right after if you like. Just putting your feelings out there is enough.

And, of course, we all know that exercise helps drive away stress. One recent study showed that just 60 minutes a week of any kind of exercise has a significant effect on reducing depression. This large, 11-year study of 33,000 people was reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry. It showed that the intensity of the exercise or how you break up the 60 minutes does not matter. You can take a 10-minute break to climb stairs or go for a short walk, for example. Do this 6 times in a week, and you’ve got your exercise in for the week.

If you’re not making time to exercise, you’re missing out on a real stress-buster. To read more on the benefits of exercise, check out this previous post of mine.

So this summer try writing down your feelings and getting at least 60 minutes of exercise a week so you can kick back and enjoy the summer ahead while doing your best work.

And if you haven’t gotten the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, it makes great summer reading!

Click here to order and download it today!

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Utterback’s Go-To Daily Vocal Warm-Ups

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on May 3, 2018

A journalism student asked me recently what my favorite vocal exercise was. That got me thinking about what exercises I would do just before voicing something. I came up with my Go-To Vocal Exercises that would be indispensible for me if I were on the air every day.

These exercises focus on releasing tension in the upper body and oral cavity. I’ve also included one to increase my heart rate slightly to wake up my brain so I’ll be sharp and ready to voice. Want to give them a try?

Let’s get started!

First, repeat the simple phrase, “You see Oz,” exaggerating the vowels. Purse your lips tightly for “You.” Do a big smile for “see.” And open your mouth widely for “Oz.” Repeat this phrase 5 or 6 times.

Now repeat the phrase, “Fat lazy cat,” 10 times exaggerating the explosion of air in the“t” sounds.

Next, make big circles with your elbows out to your sides. Exaggerate these by making them really big. Do these about 5 times in each direction. (As always with this and the following physical exercises, do them only within your comfort zone.  Don’t do them if they cause any pain.)

Once you’ve done those, raise your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold for a couple of seconds, and then let them completely relax. Do this 3 times.

Now reach up over your head with both arms and pretend you’re picking apples just out of reach. Again do this 6 times.

And finally, march in place like a marching bandleader. Bring your knees up and pump your arms. Do this until you are slightly out of breath.

These Go-To Vocal Exercises take less than 2 minutes to complete, but they have a big payoff. You will have less tension in your neck and upper body. You will be able to articulate more easily, and your brain will be sharper. Not bad for 2 minutes of your time!

There are lots more vocal exercises in the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. You can download it instantly when you purchase it on my site.

 

 

 

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Project Your Voice Like a Pro

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on April 3, 2018

The cherry blossoms will be blooming here in D.C. this month, and the city is teeming with tourists.  That started me thinking about all the tour guides at work here.  I bet you never think of yourself as a tour guide, do you?  Well, whether you’re a broadcaster or a voiceover professional, your on-air work might improve if you did. Let me explain….

Think of a typical tour guide at a museum or on a tour bus.  Tour guides need to command and hold people’s attention. The guides must do this with their voices alone. You’d be pretty disappointed if you went to your local museum and a soft spoken or mumbling guide came to show you around. You might just wander off on your own or seek out a more dynamic guide. Listeners will do the same thing if your voice does not grab their attention.

How do you get a dynamic voice that commands attention?  First, don’t let the ends of your sentences trail off. Always try and make the last word in your sentence as strong as the first word. Keep good energy in your voice all the way to the end of each sentence.

Another way to sound commanding is to project your voice well. Vocal projection is how far the sound you create travels when it leaves your mouth.  If you think of projecting your voice a few feet in front of you, your voice will sound more commanding. I did another blog post and a short video on this that you can see here.

A weak voice sounds like someone talking with a surgical mask on.  All the sound is trapped around the face.  You don’t want to have that voice, so speak up with good vocal projection.

For more on projection and resonating your voice more efficiently, see Lesson 3 on the MP3 page.  And while you’re there, you can also download Lesson 1 on Keeping a Healthy Voice for free!

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Let’s Talk About Your Jaw

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on March 1, 2018

The jaw is often overlooked when people think of voice improvement, but it’s a very important component.  You want to keep your jaw happy because it plays an essential part in articulation.  Good articulation is vital for successful broadcasters and voiceover artists.

Let me first give a caveat to what I’m writing: I’m writing mainly about American English.  The involvement of the jaw varies somewhat in every language, even with British English.  This is especially true with articulation.  There tends to be less openness of the jaw, for example, in British English speech.

For American English it’s important to have an open jaw, especially for the vowel sound in words like, “at” and “came.”

Unfortunately, the jaw is one of the first speech mechanisms that is negatively affected by stress in the body.  We tend to clench our teeth when we’re tense or angry.  Patsy Rodenburg, a prominent acting coach, says, “…the clenched jaw becomes for the voice what folded arms are for the body: a ‘keep out’ barrier.” This clenching can result in altered articulation of open-jaw vowels.

Clenching or grinding your teeth can also lead to a condition referred to as TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder). We have two TM joints, one in front of each ear.  They are connected to muscles that open and close the jaw. If you feel pain or tenderness in the area in front of your ears, hear a clicking noise when you open your mouth widely, or you have difficulty opening your mouth widely, you could be one of the 12% of Americans who suffer from TMD annually.  This can have a very negative effect on your voice. If you feel you have TMD, you should have it examined by a doctor who understands musculoskeletal disorders, according to the NIH.

So how do we keep our jaw healthy?  Simple, daily exercises can help.  One is to try to improve the openness of your mouth daily by watching yourself in a mirror as you open your mouth.  Aim for an opening that allows you to insert your middle and index fingers on top of each other with the edges touchng.  Gently try for a slightly wider opening each day. Never exceed what is comfortable to you.

Another good daily exercise is to do gentle, circular motions with your lower jaw.  This will loosen the TM muscles before you begin voicing.  When you finish, let the jaw go into the neutral position you should strive for, which leaves the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, the teeth parted, and the lips closed.  Now you’ve got a happy jaw!

Watch for my post next month, where you can read more about problems a tight jaw can cause.  We’ll look speicifically at resonance and projection issues.

 

 

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Sound More Conversational

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 1, 2018

MenTalking With a new semester starting for broadcast professors, I’ve had several requests to republish this popular post.  It’s great for voiceover folks as well.  It also might be a reminder for some of you out there!

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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Stop Talking for a Better Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on January 9, 2018

If you’re a voiceover artist or a broadcaster, you’re probably wondering why a voice specialist would tell you to be silent. After all, you make your living by talking! But in the coming year you might do better work if you observe silence at two important times.

The first time when using silence is important is when your voice feels fatigued. If this is the case, use any time you’re not in front of the mic to rest your voice. Don’t force yourself to make sound when your vocal folds clearly don’t want to.  To learn more about vocal rest, ck out this blog post of mine.

And remember to use vocal rest in the coming year if you are hoarse or coughing a lot. Silence (vocal rest) is what’s called for in these instances.  Let your damaged vocal tissue rest so it will heal faster. There are lots of colds and flu going around right now that are leaving people coughing and hoarse so I tell clients who are sick to talk only if you’re getting paid to do so!  Let your voice rest at all other times.

Vocal rest is important at another time.  Let silence be your friend by spending time each day in silence for relaxation. This has been proven to make you more productive at your job.

Sitting in silence without talking or using any electronic equipment isn’t easy. A recent study at the University of Virginia found that 67% of men tested and 25% of women hated the idea of being silent for just 15 minutes. They said they would actually prefer a mild electric shock to having to sit alone in silence.

This dislike for silence is not a new thing. Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher in the seventeenth century, said, “All human evil comes from this: our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.”

So consider mastering the art of sitting in silence a few minutes each day in 2018. You don’t have to chant, “Om,” or become a mystic, just slow down and tune out once a day.  Click here to read helpful blog post on how to relax.

I encourage you to try letting silence work for you in the coming year. You may find that you are more productive and less likely to have vocal problems.

If you’d like to learn more ways to have healthy voice, read the blog post below.  And if you want a stress-free body, check out my book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE.  It’s available for instant download and costs only $4.95!

 

 

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