Combat Anxiety With This Toolbox of Tips

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on November 12, 2020

No one would argue that 2020 has been a hard year, but there’s now proof it’s been especially hard on broadcasters. An October 2020 study of 1406 journalists in 125 countries done by the International Center for Journalists showed that 70% report some form of psychological toll during this past year. At the top of the list is anxiety (42%). I bet you voiceover professionals would agree. Catastrophizing, or imagining the worst possible outcome, seems to be a new sport for most of us.

I’ve put together a toolbox for broadcasters and voiceover provessionals of 4 techniques that can help deal with anxiety whether it’s from fear of infection, work pressure, family struggles, or insecurity about your job. These are easy, tried and true techniques that can make a real difference.

  1. Dump your anxiousness by writing about it. This can be a simple brain dump on your phone notes or a journal you keep. No restrictions on this. Write whatever you’re feeling. Some people like to hit delete when they’re finished to ensure privacy. Use writing to get feelings out of your head. It helps, I promise.
  2. When you feel overly stressed, ground yourself. Here’s a quick way to do that, one you can practice at your desk, as you’re waiting to get a live shot, or when you’re going into the booth to tape. Place your feet flat on the floor and your palms flat on your thighs. Feel the weight of your palms touching your thighs and the solidness of your feet. If you’re sitting feel your buttocks touching the chair. Next breathe in, thinking, “Calm,” and out, thinking, “Down.” Take several slow breaths. This will calm your anxiety.  To learn how to take nice, deep breaths, watch this short video of mine on breathing diaphragmatically.
  3. Another remedy is simply moving. If you’re sitting, get up and take a short walk. If you’re lying in bed unable to sleep because you’re anxious, get up and walk around the house or sit and read something pleasurable until you feel calmer. Moving can help, and going outside in fresh air can really help. Really look at your surroundings.  Getting a fresh view can come from looking at a different environment.
  4. Finally, thinking of someone other than yourself helps. For instance, write a short email to someone who needs your thanks or take time to stop and really thank the grocery check-out person or the barista when you’re getting coffee. Gratitude helps you stop thinking of your anxiety, and it helps another person as well.

Keep this toolbox of anxiety busters handy to help you through the coming months.  And check another recent post, Calm Down So You Can Carry On, for a couple of additional coping tools.

Also, my book, Broadcaster’s Survival Guide, includes tons of information about getting through stressful times.  Click here to download it for only $4.99.

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COVID Crankiness Can Hurt Your Vocal Delivery

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 13, 2020

Crankiness and boredom can mean the death of a vibrant vocal delivery, and many of us are getting worn out by this new life of continuous pandemic news. But whether you’re a voiceover person or a broadcaster, you have to keep your delivery fresh and interesting. Lots of you found last month’s blog post interesting so I want to give you some more ways to pump up your delivery.

First, don’t let the ends of your sentences trail off because it gives the impression of boredom and a lack of energy.  A tip I give clients is to 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. Imagine the words in bold just as they are in the above sentence. You can mark them on your script yourself by underlining or bolding them as a reminder.

Also, if you’re doing articulation warm-up exercises regularly before tracking or anchoring you may have gotten bored with the same old phrases day after day.

Before I list some new phrases to practice, let’s do a quick review of their benefits.

The vocal mechanism is almost all muscle, especially the articulators, which include the lips, the tongue, the jaw, and the teeth (okay, the teeth aren’t muscle).  In the same way we stretch and warm up our leg muscles before running, we should warm up our vocal muscles before voicing.

Some of the best sounds to use to warm up are called “plosives” or “stops” because they each require a burst of air for their production.  Plosives in our language are /t/ /d/  /p/ /b/ and /k/ /g/.

If you hold your hand in front of your mouth, you should feel a puff of air as you say any of these sounds. Try it.  Hold your hand about three inches from your lips and make a “p” sound several times.  Do you feel the air hitting your hand?

Here are some new phrases to use to warm up.  Begin by exaggerating the plosive sounds.  Really blast the air out on the plosives.  That will warm up your articulators the quickest.  Use these warm-up phrases every day before voicing, and they might help break any bad habits of sloppy articulation that are creeping in.

  • 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.

 

 

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Pump Up Your Pandemic Delivery

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 2, 2020

As the pandemic grinds on, we’re all getting tired and unmotivated. That’s just where we are right now. But you don’t want to let your vocal delivery reflect that. All your broadcasting or voiceover work needs to sound like you’re as involved and interested as you’ve ever been.

What might happen if you let your delivery slip? For voiceover people, one day of low energy can keep ad agencies from calling. And in a voiceover audition, you might be told you’re not good enough for a particular assignment. One friend who voices audiobooks said she was once told to her face that her performance in the first few minutes of a book was “flat,” and it must be re-voiced. Ouch! That’s a blow to anyone’s confidence.

And for broadcasters, a bad day can happen on the day the GM is paying special attention to your performance. You know what that means.

One of the easiest ways to pep up your voicing is to give stock or repeated phrases some spice.  Whether it’s a sign off at the end of a broadcast or a toss, these phrases need to sound fresh. To make these more interesting, look at your stock phrases and write down some optional ways to say them. Employ those in your next broadcast.

If it’s a repeated phrase in an audiobook, 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.

You also can’t have an expressive voice without pitch changes. 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). A limited pitch change (only three notes or less up and down) can signal an apathetic voice. Now 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.

Try this simple test of your pitch range.  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.”  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 this post on expanding your range.

Try using one or all 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 improve your delivery.

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Getting Weary? Start Walking!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 15, 2020

I recently read that the first sign of burn out is weariness. Can you relate? I certainly can. The longer we are forced to deal with the pandemic, racial strife, and the upcoming election, the more we may find ourselves feeling weary.

Fortunately, there’s a sure-fire way to deal with weariness and stress, and that’s exercise. I’ve blogged many times about this (check out my most recent blog by clicking here. ). But the situation we’re in today makes exercise even more important.

Read what one expert says about the relationship of COVID and other diseases and exercise: “We know from research that physical activity can build a healthier immune system and overall wellness, which help minimize harmful effects of illness and disease,” said Barbara Ainsworth, chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board (USA Today, 7/14/2020).

The benefits of exercise are almost too numerous to count. It helps with sleep, improves your memory, protects against many chronic diseases like heart problems and diabetes, and it boosts your immunity. There’s really no downside to exercise. I even found a great website that lists “60+ Benefits of Exercise” if you’re not convinced. Check it out at fitnazz.com.

Perhaps the most important benefit of exercise right now, though, is it boosts your mood. A 2019 article in Depression and Anxiety reported that regular exercise has a calming effect by cutting anxiety levels. That sounds good to me!

Let’s look at the simple act of walking as an example.

Walking is something that’s easy to integrate into your day because you don’t need special equipment, you can do it anywhere, and you don’t have to walk for hours. A brisk, 30-minute walk outside, on a treadmill, or in a building can do the trick. And, as with all exercise, it doesn’t have to be done in one block of time. Break it into three, 10-minute walks or two, fifteen-minute walks or whatever fits into your day.

Of course, feel free to explore other types of exercises that are more strenuous. If gyms are closed in your area, there are great videos online.

Any movement that slightly raises your pulse rate will give you the great mental and physical benefits of exercise. But, especially during this tough time, nothing beats walking for a quick boost to your mood. So stand up, and get walking!

To learn more about how exercise can help your body and your voice, too, check out my ebooks, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK and BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE (only $4.99). Available to download instantly on my website.

 

 

 

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Calm Down So You Can Carry On

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 10, 2020

Last week an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was released that showed 80% of Americans feel our country is out of control. There’s no doubt all of us are experiencing more stress and anxiety right now than at any time in the recent past, and our bodies may be suffering in many ways.

When our minds spiral rapidly from the dangers of the pandemic to the economy to the recent racial unrest, we may experience headaches, trouble sleeping, stomach pain, and many of the familiar responses to stress. But one thing that might surprise you is your voice may be suffering, too. Stress and anxiety affect breathing, pitch, resonance, and articulation.

So how can we cope better to lessen the effect of anxiety and stress? I’m going to give you a couple of simple ways that you can use today.

The first way to cut stress is to give your mind a short vacation. When you’re feeling anxious look around you and focus on one item you can see. Look at the detail of it. If there are colors in it, look around you and find that same color somewhere else. This simple process takes your thoughts off the stress you’re feeling and calms your mind down.

Another way you can calm your thoughts is to use the phrase, “I’m okay now.” For example, if you’re anxious about getting infected with COVID, stop your obsessing and repeat that phrase. Then ask yourself, “How can I keep myself safer?” Make a mental or written list of those things. This not only calms your mind down, but it also gives you some action steps to create a feeling of control.

Both these techniques work by taking your mind off what’s making you anxious in the present moment.

There are lifestyle changes that help as well. Too little sleep makes our bodies more apt to feel anxiety so try and get as much sleep as possible during this stressful time. For more on the importance of sleep and handling stress read this post of mine.

Aerobic exercise has also been repeatedly shown to lessen stress in the body. In fact, BMC Public Health reports that 30% of those who exercise for 30 minutes a day report they are happier compared to those who don’t. Check out this blog post I wrote on the value of exercise.

So be careful out there, and carry on by using some of these ways to eliminate stress and anxiety. We will get through this!

 

 

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Surviving the Stress of the Upcoming Months

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on March 5, 2020

We’ve known about the stressful election coming up in November, but now a new stressor is sweeping the country, the coronavirus (COVID-19). For broadcasters and voiceover artists, it’s not just a matter of dealing with the stress. It’s a question of how the stress may affect your voice and therefore your ability to do a good job at the microphone.

So what’s to be done? We’ve all read, and you broadcasters have covered, the fact that we need to wash your hands often, stay away from crowds, and limit travel. But there are additional things that can be done to keep yourself healthy, so let’s look at a few of those.

Advice that I give for all broadcasters and voiceover artists is to strive to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Sometimes it may seem impossible, but research shows that getting under seven hours of sleep puts you at a higher risk of illness.  Click here to learn more.

Being more vulnerable to illness is certainly not something you want while the coronavirus is circulating. There are the obvious reasons for this like you’re going to miss work if you’re sick, and you’re going to feel lousy. But with the coronavirus, it also means you may have to self-quarantine for as long as two weeks. In addition, there’s the possibility of a severe case that would result in pneumonia. Pneumonia could cause a need for a ventilator and intubation. Anytime a person is intubated there’s a chance it can cause permanent damage to the vocal folds. That’s not a risk you can take.

In addition to getting at least seven hours of sleep, it helps keep your immunity up if you eat well. It happens that the last post I wrote deals with healthy eating for broadcasters and voiceover artists. You can find that article by clicking here.

And don’t omit the very important payoff of relaxation and escape during a time of constant stress. That means taking some time each day and turning off your phone, not reading articles about what’s happening in the world, and simply enjoying life. This might mean exercising, playing with your kids, going to a movie, reading, meditating, or just spending a few minutes thinking about your last enjoyable vacation. During a crisis, this often feels like wasting time, but it’s just the opposite. It’s a way to unwind and get a fresh perspective on what’s happening.

In the months ahead remember that the world is not coming to an end, and getting into the “chicken little syndrome” will only put you at a greater risk of getting sick or simply burning out. So take these steps to keep yourself feeling good and sounding great in the next eight months. It might just become a lifelong habit!

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Voicing Under Pressure

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on January 30, 2020

With so much coverage of the impeachment trial taking place, I’m reminded of what it takes to be a broadcaster at the network level during a period when breaking news events go on for weeks. The pressure is great, and the demands are high. This is also true for voiceover artists as they advance with their careers. So what healthy and helpful habits can all of us learn from the pros?

One of my former clients who is a network correspondent faces the daily pressure of working in Washington during this important time in history. When speaking with him recently I was happy to hear that he still applies some of the things I taught him more than 20 years ago.

One of the things he mentioned is that he avoids caffeine. Now you’d think with 12 to 14-hour workdays he would be heading for  some caffeine all day long just to keep going. Quite the opposite, he says that caffeine only makes it harder for him to do good live shots and use his voice effectively. Plus he goes home unable to get to sleep when sleep is a precious commodity.  He knows the importance of staying hydrated, though, and makes water his go-to drink.

This client also diligently does some vocal exercises on his commute to and from the network or while taking a shower. He specifically considers articulation work something he has to be constantly vigilant about. He sticks to the plosive consonant exercises, which you can see by clicking here.

I recently saw some good advice in an interview with Peter Alexander, the NBC White House correspondent, in “Men’s Health” (January 25, 2020). He credits his ability to stay alert and ready for the demands of his 14-hour job to his eating habits. He starts each day with a high protein breakfast including hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and maybe yogurt. He continues this healthy eating at lunch with a large salad.  For some suggestions of more foods that give you a protein punch, click here.

This correspondent says he avoids the unhealthy snacks in the White House vending machines by bringing fruit with him from home and combining it with almonds and cashews at work.  Why is he so vigilant about his eating?  He has to stay sharp: “There’s a hurricane of information coming at you all day long. I have six TV monitors in front of me, and I’m making calls to sources and keeping up with tweets by newsmakers. You have to be prepared to walk in front of a camera on a moment’s notice and answer questions on any of more than a dozen topics.”

Following some of the healthy patterns these two network correspondents use can certainly make you better as a broadcaster or a voiceover artist. Learn from their many years of experience so you can continue to advance in your career just as they have been theirs.

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10 Tips to Survive the Holidays

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on December 4, 2019

Did you know that this time of year may actually be hazardous to your voice?

Chronic stress wears us all down during an ordinary month, but with the pressures of the holiday season upon us, stress can get out of control.  If it does, your health AND your voice can suffer.

During the holiday season, you most likely will spend time shopping in stores or malls where those nasty bugs that make you sick are in abundance!  Mix that with the possibility of snow and frigid temperatures, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for getting sick.  The coughing and sore throat that follow can wreak havoc on your voice.  Why not try these stress-busters to help balance the demands of this busy season so that you might avoid getting sick?  And you can start today!

10 Quick Stress Busters To Use Today

1. Stretch slowly several times during your day today. Click here for some easy stretches.

2. Exercise for at least 20 minutes today.  A brisk walk will do it.  Even 20 minutes of light exercise ups your energy for as long as 12 hours and boosts your immune system and your brain function.

3. Eat 3 meals today or graze on 5 small meals.  Make certain you’re eating some protein at every meal or snack.

4. Avoid the urge to grab something sweet when you’re stressed.  Go for protein instead (e.g., nuts, low-fat cheese, peanut butter). Click here to read about how protein helps.

5. Drink, drink, drink, and I don’t mean at holiday parties!  Drink more water. To find out how much you need each day, click here.

6. Get up and take a break when you’re at your desk for more than an hour. Ck out Sitting is the New Smoking.

7. Close your eyes and take 3 slow abdominal breaths once or twice today.  Don’t know what an abdominal breath is?  Watch this video.

8. Daydream for a few minutes a couple of times a day about your last pleasant vacation.

9. Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, more if possible.  Lack of sleep lowers your immune function and affects mental acuity. If you have trouble sleeping, concentrate on breathing in and breathing out slowly in bed. And prepare yourself for sleep by ramping down.  Click here for more on that.

10.Finally, remember that germs are spread primarily by dirty hands.  Wash your hands often during the day, and be especially aware of this when you’re at work or out at social events.  Hand washing is the best defense against the common cold and other illnesses.

Want more tips on dealing with holiday stress?  Download a copy of my book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, for only $4.99.

Happy Holidays!

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Vicious Cycle of Vocal Abuse

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 8, 2019

The news cycle is moving right now with an intensity we rarely see.  Network anchors and correspondants are working hard not just on the air but off as they talk to sources and update information.  And it’s not likely to slow down for months.  This means extra vocal care is needed.

There are some speaking situations like broadcasting breaking news for days on end or having to put in extra time narrating an audio book that are perfect set ups for what’s called the “vicious cycle of vocal abuse.”  This ominous-sounding cycle is what happens when you have to talk more than usual (and possibly more loudly) and don’t think you can stop and rest your voice. At first you might get a little hoarse, and that’s when the cycle begins.

When you are hoarse and continue to talk you have to force your voice, which makes you even hoarser, and on and on.

Not many of us would run a marathon with tight shoes and continue running the next day despite the blisters and calluses that had developed.  All too often, however, we may insist we have to keep talking even with a hoarse voice.  By doing so, we are damaging our vocal folds (cords), which produce the sound waves of speech in the same way we would damage our feet by running when they are red and swollen. If you’re not squeamish, click here to take a look at vocal folds at work.

Talking while you’re hoarse can have long-lasting effects and may cause permanent damage to the delicate vocal fold (cord) tissue.

Vocal rest is the best treatment for hoarseness and vocal fatigue along with hydration (click here to read more on hydration). It’s better to take time off for vocal rest when you first become hoarse instead of falling into the vicious cycle of vocal abuse.  It’s like the old saying, “Pay me now or pay me later.”  At some point, you’re going to have to rest your throat.

I know you’re thinking that vocal rest is impossible when you make a living with your voice.  Every client reacts the same way.  What I tell them is to only talk when they must, like at the anchor desk or when recording.  The rest of the time, use writing to communicate.  And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  A day or two like this can give your vocal folds time to heal. If hoarseness persists longer than two weeks, see your doctor.

Since your vocal folds are so important to your future as a broadcaster or voiceover artist, I suggest you take steps to take care of your throat as soon as you feel hoarseness developing.  Take hoarseness seriously.  Remember that your job depends on your voice so take care of it!

My new e-book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, is now available for only $4.99.  You’ll get great information in this e-book on how to deal with stress and keep your body healthy so you can sound your best!  And don’t be fooled by “broadcaster’s” in the title.  It’s great for voiceover artists, too.

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All Emergency, All the Time?

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 10, 2019

Most of us have heard Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried wolf.  If you don’t know it, it’s about a shepherd boy who was tending sheep and repeatedly called wolf just for fun so he could laugh at the adults who came running. When a real wolf came, no one believed him.

Now, you may think this has nothing to do with broadcasting or voiceover work.  But in reality it does, and I’ll tell you how.

I’m going to address this to broadcasters first, but you voiceover people keep reading.  I’ll get to you.

We’re living in times that no one could call calm.  The news each day is filled with stories that are alarming, but they’re alarming in different degrees.  I hear way too many broadcasters ramping their deliveries to a level of emergency on every story every single day.

What’s missing from these deliveries is consideration of the level of emotion needed for each story.  Going full-on emergency every day limits where you can go with your voice at times when there is a really big emergency like hurricane Dorian or the weekend that saw shootings in both El Paso and Dayton.  You don’t want the listener to tune you out, as the shepherd boy’s listeners did, when you really have a crisis to explain.

If you’re a broadcaster, don’t trip on the “all emergency, all the time” stumbling block.  In fact, sometimes the most dramatic delivery you can give is the opposite of emergency.  Listen to the powerful delivery from decades ago by Edward R. Murrow concerning the Joseph McCarthy hearings.

Now voiceover folks, you can apply these ideas to your delivery as well.  When you’re reading copy or a novel for an audio book read through it first.  Look for peaks in the copy.  Where do you need to put the climax of the emphasis or drama in the story or copy?  Think of peaks and valleys as you read.  You might even mark these on the copy so you won’t miss them.  It’s a simple thing to do that can vastly improve your voicing.

So don’t be the boy who cried wolf.  Give each piece of copy a serious analysis and decide where on the level of urgency and, possibly, emergency does it belong.  Your listener will thank you.

For more tips on delivery, instantly download a copy of the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK by clicking here.

 

 

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