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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10 Tips to Survive 2019’s Sizzling Summer

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 6, 2019

Heat Stoke GraphicI originally published this blog in 2015 when I thought we were having a hot summer.  But this past July set a new global heat record worldwide so I think it’s time to take another look at the dangers of high temps and how to protect yourself and your voice.

Back in 2015 I had 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 (just be sure and leave room in the bottle for the liquid to freeze without damaging the bottle).
  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 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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Exercise to Improve Your Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 9, 2019

I have said many times that breath is the energy for speech. Want a way to improve your voice and your health at the same time? Think exercise.

While you’re increasing your aerobic capacity with exercise, you’re also improving your breathing.

Lately, loads of new scientific evidence is showing that exercise has more benefits for health than we knew before.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion released new guidelines for physical activity recently. The new benefits they list for exercise include a reduction in eight types of cancer. That’s six more than we previously knew about. This along with the increase in breathing capacity, are real winners.

And the moderate intensity exercise that has been suggested since 2008 now has been revised to say ANY exercise counts no matter how long it is. So, for instance, you could climb a set of stairs during your workday, and that would count toward the 150 minimum minutes recommended for the week.

Even a short exercise period will result in an immediate reduction of stress hormones like you feel when facing a deadline. It will also increase alertness so you can handle that deadline better. And with daily exercise your blood pressure will be lower and your sleep better.

But how does all this help breathing? Exercising until you have to work slightly hard at breathing is what expands breathing capacity. So why not reap all the benefits of working out along with improving your voice? It’s a win-win!

And while you’re doing this exercise during the summer months, remember to stay hydrated. That’s true every day. Find ways to work fluid intake into every day by carrying water with you or having some in the sound booth (if permitted).

To entice yourself to drink more water, drop some sliced strawberries or sliced cucumbers in a bottle at night and chill. What a pleasant treat for the next day, especially these hot days in July or August. And aim for half your body weight in ounces of water every day with a glass or two more when you’re doing aerobic exercise.  If you want reminders of when to drink fluids, there are tons of apps for free that will do just that!

And if you’d like to know more about nutrition and how it can help your voice, check out the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK which you can download instantly by clicking here.

 

 

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Don’t Delete Medial Consonants

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 6, 2019

I’ve written several posts on plosive consonants in ending positions and in clusters.  But a colleague of mine recently asked about the dropping of medial consonants.  She said she hated the recent trend to say, “impor’ant,” instead of  “important.”  I agree with her on this so I thought I’d give you some ways to work on this problem.

First, if you omit these sounds you run a couple of risks.  You can sound not as smart as you are, and you might be difficult to understand.  Let’s say you omit the /t/ sound in “certainly.”  If you’re speaking fast it could come out as “surly.”

Now, I must tell you, as I told her, that fixing the problem of medial consonants is not as easy as some of the other consonant issues.  Ending consonants are super easy to fix.  Check out this post for some tips on that.  Consonant clusters are a bit more of a challenge, but there aren’t many of those in speech.  But almost every word has at least one medial consonants.  Granted not all of these cause problems, but certain words that we say often do call for these consonants to be distinct.  Here are a few:  county, country, important, center, winter, picture, painting.

Some of the words above can actually become different words when you drop the medial, plosive consonant.  For example, “winter” becomes “winner” and “center” becomes “sinner.”  I don’t think any football center wants to be called a sinner!

So how do you do the work to change these errors?  First, you have to be sure you know how to make a consonant plosive correctly.  I cover this in a blog post so click here to read about perfecting your cononant production.

Next, record yourself, and listen for any medial consonants that you might be dropping.  Or you can have a friend do this for you.

Finally, it works well to divide the word you’re working on into two different words for practice.  “Important,” for example, would be practiced first as “impor” “Tant.”  Repeat the word this way many times each day exaggerating the /t/ sound.  After a few days of this practice, merge the words together, and see if you can still keep the /t/ in the word.  If you can, repeat the process of saying the word over and over for a several days until it sounds natural.  At first it won’t, but don’t despair.  If you keep up this practice, your medial consonants will stop being stumbling blocks.  Lots of practice with this pays off.

There is lots more information about articulation problems in the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK.  Download it instantly by clicking here.

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Tools to Correct Your Pronunciations

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

Want to tank your career as a broadcaster or voiceover artist?  One of the quickest ways to lose credibility with your listeners, producers, or anyone who hires you to do voiceover work is to mispronounce a word.  This is especially true of names of cities, streets, products, and people.

And we all know it happens all too often.  I have had to correct more than one client here in the D.C. area when they pronounced this street name, “Grosvenor,” incorrectly.  It is pronounced “Grove-ner” and not “Grows-ven-or.”  Broadcasters new to the city always get it wrong!

So how do you avoid these mistakes?  For reporters or anchors, I suggest you start a practice list of difficult words as soon as you move to a new market.  Ask someone local to pronounce a difficult word for you and record it.

The same applies if you get a script to read for a voiceover assignment.  Don’t guess!  Ask or go to a source to get the correct pronunciation!  Trying to wing it will sound much worse than pausing to correct it before you read.

For general words that might present a challenge, I love the Apple app, (How to) Pronounce. It’s an easy way to quickly check words. Be sure to change the voice to American English, though, because the default seems to be British. In addition, this app allows you to hear words pronounced in numerous other languages.

There are also many on-line dictionaries that now have audio pronunciations of words.  Check this one out Dictionary.com

For names and places in the news, The Voice of America offers VOA’s Pro*nounce  where you can hear native speakers saying 7000 words and names in the news.

For medical terms, go to the Merck website, where you will hear pronouncers for lots of medical terms.

Tell me where you go to find correct pronunciations?  Leave a comment below, and we’ll share our sources.

And you’ll find a list of Frequently Mispronounced Words in the Appendix of the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. 

Get it instantly by ordering on the Voice Book page.Book Cover for Broadcast Voice Handbook

 

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Three Ways to Slow Down This Month

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

As a broadcaster or voiceover artist, often your life has to be lived at a “pitch near madness,”* in order to get everything done.  But if you want to enjoy the holidays and continue to do your job well, how about trying some ways to slow down during December.

First, don’t even think of giving up exercise, because it’s one of the best stress-busters.  If you’re not doing it, now is a good time to start.  But instead of running or going crazy on the elliptical machine, take a walk outside.  That way you combine exercise and nature, both of which cut stress.  And you might want to use your walking time to think about gifts to purchase or people you you would like to see over the holidays.  We actually think more creatively when exercising.

Next, make the first few minutes of your day (or longer if possible) free of digital devices or newspapers.  Just by looking at the news first thing in the morning, you are depriving your mind of any relaxed time.  Even a quick look at the news or emails puts our minds on stress alert.  And if the mind is stressed, the body is too.  So take a break each morning.  During this time you might try doing the third thing explained below.

Breathe!  It sounds simple, but just concentrating on your inhalation and exhalation for a couple of minutes can have a positive effect on your entire body.  And you can use this all during the day.  I find it especially helpful when I fall into catastrophic thinking.  There’s sure to be lots of that this month with travel, gift buying, family visiting, and other holiday pressures.  So make it a habit to focus on your breathing several times a day.  Repeating “Breathing in” on the inhalation and “Breathing out,” on the exhalation works for me.  If you want to learn more about breathing, watch my video by clicking here.

Slowing down this month may seem a contradiction, but if you try it, I think you’ll find it not only makes for a better month, but it helps you keep going at work!

For more on stress relief, check out my book by clicking here.  At just $4.99, this book makes a great, inexpensive gift for anyone.

*Taken from a poem by Richard Eberhard by the same name.

 

 

 

 

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