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Fight Pandemic Frustration with 45-Second Breaks

Most of us would love to take a long vacation from the stresses and frustration of the pandemic about now.  I know I would.  But since it looks like we’re back struggling with rising numbers and a nasty variant, what about settling for adding some 45-second breaks in your day to lower stress?

The break I’m proposing can be done anywhere, in your car, at your desk, before you go into the sound booth, or just about anywhere.  It’s a good way to let go of tension throughout the day.  It’s sort of like rebooting your computer when it’s not working at its best.  So let’s look at how these work.

These 24-second breaks are basically deep breathing breaks.  Most of us restrict our breathing during the day without even noticing it.  Instead of taking deep, relaxing breaths like we would when going to sleep, we move our breathing into the upper chest, which automatically makes it shallower.  For a demonstration of this, watch this short video of mine: https://onlinevoicecoaching.com/?p=209

Now that you know a bit about abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing, try this short exercise right now.  Slowly count from one to four, while taking a deep inhalation, engaging the stomach so the diaphragm is working.  Once you reach four, exhale beginning at four and continue until you reach one again (if you begin to feel any dizziness, make the breaths slower.)   Are you feeling more relaxed?  Doing this only four times can help, but aim for 45 seconds if it feels comfortable.

If you want to add to the relaxation, close your eyes if you’re in a place where you can, and do the exercise above, imagining something you love, like a person, pet, pretty flowers, waves on the ocean, etc., while you do it.  This helps your brain slow down and really works to lessen tension.

For really tense situations, I count the inhalation/exhalation in a different way.  This breathing comes from a Yoga breathing exercise in which you inhale to the count of four, hold your inhalation to the count of four, and exhale to the count of six.  These breaths have been shown to lower blood pressure temporarily and provide a deep relaxation.

So when you just wish this whole pandemic thing would disappear, and we could all get back to our normal lives, take 45 seconds to step into a calmer space.  Add these throughout the day for not just a better hour but a better day.

 

 

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Eight Tips to Beat This Summer’s Excessive Heat

This summer is breaking records for high temperatures.  Heat can be hard on your voice and your body.  You can sound parched and look wilted on camera.  If you want to sound great and look polished, try these eight 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.  Most important, keep your vocal tract moist by drinking at least 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.  Use SPF 30 or higher sun cream every day and reapply it every few hours.  And if you’re outside much of the day, wear SPF clothing (you can actually make your clothes sun proof with Rit Sun Guard). Be sure an include a hat or cap to wear (not during on-camera work unless approved by your news director).

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

5.  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.

6.  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.

7.  The heat can burn off lots of energy. Ramp up your protein intake for better overall energy and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.

7.  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.)

8.

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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Do You Hear Yourself? Resonance Is Confusing: Part II

If you love the sound of your recorded voice, this blog post is not for you, but I bet most of you broadcasters and voiceover artists still cringe when you hear your voices.

Recently I read an interesting article on this topic that I’ve blogged about in the past (click here to read Part I of this article).  This new article explores both the resonance issue of why most of us hate our recorded voices and the psychological issue.  Check it out.

Why do we hate the sound of our own voices? by Dr. Neel Bhatt, University of Washington

As a surgeon who specializes in treating patients with voice problems, I routinely record my patients speaking. For me, these recordings are incredibly valuable. They allow me to track slight changes in their voices from visit to visit, and it helps confirm whether surgery or voice therapy led to improvements.

Yet I’m surprised by how difficult these sessions can be for my patients. Many become visibly uncomfortable upon hearing their voice played back to them.

“Do I really sound like that?” they wonder, wincing.

(Yes, you do.)

Some become so unsettled they refuse outright to listen to the recording – much less go over the subtle changes I want to highlight.

The discomfort we have over hearing our voices in audio recordings is probably due to a mix of physiology and psychology.

For one, the sound from an audio recording is transmitted differently to your brain than the sound generated when you speak.

When listening to a recording of your voice, the sound travels through the air and into your ears – what’s referred to as “air conduction.” The sound energy vibrates the ear drum and small ear bones. These bones then transmit the sound vibrations to the cochlea, which stimulates nerve axons that send the auditory signal to the brain.

However, when you speak, the sound from your voice reaches the inner ear in a different way. While some of the sound is transmitted through air conduction, much of the sound is internally conducted directly through your skull bones. When you hear your own voice when you speak, it’s due to a blend of both external and internal conduction, and internal bone conduction appears to boost the lower frequencies.

For this reason, people generally perceive their voice as deeper and richer when they speak. The recorded voice, in comparison, can sound thinner and higher pitched, which many find cringeworthy.

There’s a second reason hearing a recording of your voice can be so disconcerting. It really is a new voice – one that exposes a difference between your self-perception and reality. Because your voice is unique and an important component of self-identity, this mismatch can be jarring. Suddenly you realize other people have been hearing something else all along.

Even though we may actually sound more like our recorded voice to others, I think the reason so many of us squirm upon hearing it is not that the recorded voice is necessarily worse than our perceived voice. Instead, we’re simply more used to hearing ourselves sound a certain way.

A study published in 2005 had patients with voice problems rate their own voices when presented with recordings of them. They also had clinicians rate the voices. The researchers found that patients, across the board, tended to more negatively rate the quality of their recorded voice compared with the objective assessments of clinicians.

So if the voice in your head castigates the voice coming out of a recording device, it’s probably your inner critic overreacting – and you’re judging yourself a bit too harshly.The Conversation

Neel Bhatt, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, UW Medicine, University of Washington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Breathe Your Way to a Better Voice and Lower Stress

I’ve written many blog posts and articles on breathing, but I want to show you how proper breathing has a side effect that’s especially important right now.  Proper breathing actually lowers stress.  Simply by practicing good breathing you have a powerful weapon against the stress of the last 14 months.

What makes deep breathing so effective?  Deep breathing brings more oxygen into your body with the least amount of effort.  Right off the bat when you take a well-placed, deep breath, you’ve relaxed your body because you’re not asking it to work harder than it needs to.  You also bring in more oxygen, and this has a positive effect on your brain, your energy level, your digestion, and your immunity.

So why do we do we breathe incorrectly?  I think it’s a combination of training and stress in our bodies.  The training happens because whether you’re a male or female, society shows you images of people with tight abs.  In order to get that look, we may hold our stomachs in when we breathe.  Add stress to it, and our breathing moves up to the control of the muscles in the upper chest and neck. These are not the strong, ten pound’s worth of muscles like the diaphragm and intercostal muscles that help us breathe correctly.  They are the weaker upper chest muscles like the clavicular muscles and the neck muscles.

Let’s try it and see if the difference is clear to you.  Stand up and hold your hands against your body so your fingers touch at their tips right above your navel.  Now breathe by expanding your stomach so that your fingers pull apart when you take air into your body.  This type of breathing I call abdominal-diaphragmatic.

To feel upper chest breathing, press your hands against your stomach so that they hold your stomach in.  Now breathe in such a way that your shoulders rise as you inhale.  This method will get some air into your body, but not nearly as much as the deeper breathing. Plus, you’re using muscles in your neck, which can have a detrimental effect on your vocal pitch.  Not what you want if you’re an on-air professional.

Once you become familiar with abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing, put it to work to let go of stress.  The simple procedure of breathing in to the count of 4, holding your breath to the count of 4, and exhaling to the count of 4, done a few times, immediately brings down your stress level.  Use this anywhere, at work, in your car, at the dentist’s, or in bed.  Just a few deep breaths to this count can work wonders on stress.

I have several other blog posts on breathing that you can find in the handy Categories section on the right side of this page.  And if you want to see me demonstrating abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing just click here and watch a 3-minute videoAnd you will find lots more on breathing and stress control in my two ebooks, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK and BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE.  Just click on the titles to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

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Speaking Through Masks

As a voice professional I never expected I would be training people to speak through masks, but this past year has been one full of surprises. For reporters in the field masks have been an ongoing challenge. And masks plus social distancing make being heard difficult for all of us at times.

What’s the solution? It’s learning to project your voice well. No matter what type of mask you’re wearing, proper projection of your voice will allow you to be heard.

Vocal projection is how far the sound you create travels when it leaves your mouth.  Projection is not volume.  Projection is the force you give the sound to move it away from you.  It should move like a laser beam, intense and focused.

A good exercise to improve your projection is to hold your open palm about 3 inches from your mouth. Now say the sentence,

“I’m projecting my voice,”

Say this so that you hit your hand with the sound. Next, move your hand out as far as you can with your palm facing your mouth. Say the phrase so that the sound hits your hand in this position. Once you feel you’re projecting your voice to that spot easily, take your hand away. Now pick a point about 6 feet in front of you, and project your voice to there. Once you can project your voice that far, you should have no problem being heard behind your mask. (To watch me demonstrating this, go to this short video you can see here.)

Another point to remember for good projection is to avoid letting 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 projection in your voice all the way to the end of each sentence.

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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A Tense Body Creates a Tense Voice

The new year of 2021 does not seem to be letting up in the stress we felt all through 2020.  We’ve got new mutations of the virus proliferating, questions about what’s safe to do as the vaccine rolls out, and political tension continuing.  Can all this tension affect your delivery?  It sure can.  Let’s look at how.

There are two areas of the head that harbor lots of tension: the forehead and the neck.

Tension in the forehead is a sign that there’s tension cascading down from there into the jaw and neck. These are places you don’t want it to be.

Wrinkle up your forehead right now and observe how the rest of your head feels. Most likely you will find that your jaw is tenser. If your jaw is tense, it’s going to affect your resonance (the richness and fullness of your voice) as well as your articulation. Want to know more about articulation?  Click here.  To learn more about resonance, click here.

When the tension hits the neck it has the potential to make our pitch rise. Not what you want happening every time you’re in front of a microphone.

The vocal folds (cords) are tiny folds of muscle and ligament in our throats (to watch them at work click here). Adding or reducing tension in the vocal fold area creates our vocal pitch. The greater the tension, the higher the pitch.

I often tell my clients who are television reporters or anchors to watch their work and look at the tendons in their neck. If those tendons look like steel cables, they can be assured that their pitch is elevated.

Want to reduce tension?  Try these simple shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders, moving both at the same time. Begin by pulling them up toward your ears. From this position, rotate them back so that your shoulder blades are coming together. Now relax them down. Finish by rotating them forward as if trying to make your shoulders touch in front. Continue this rotation 4 times. Change direction and rotate 4 times. This simple exercise done a few times a day will eliminate tension from your upper body.

My new e-book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, is available for for instant download for only $4.99.  You’ll get great information in it 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.  Ck it out on the “Stress Guide” tab above.

 

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Voicing Emotional Copy During a Depressing Time

COVID predictions for the coming months show that we may see illness and deaths at a level never seen before.  That tells me broadcasters are going to need to convey some very sad information and statistics to their listeners, even sadder than what we’ve heard so far in 2020.

To understand the importance of using the correct delivery at difficult times like this, take a second and imagine you’re at home waiting to hear a loved one admitted to the hospital with COVID.  Do you want the doctor or nurse you finally talk to to sound like they can’t control their own panic about this medical crisis?  Certainly not.  Do you want them to sound cold and distant?  No.  You want to hear a voice that reflects a level of caring about your loved one.

That’s the way the sad COVID stories of the coming months need to sound.  You want to be that compassionate, caring voice that fits the situation.

You voiceover artists face this question often, when you’re voicing a sad section in a novel.  You may need that same level of compassion.

So how do you alter your delivery to relate sad information effectively?

If you don’t think you sound compassionate enough when reading sad copy, try creating the other person who is your listener.  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.

Imagine the feedback the person gives you when you talk to them.  Do they nod?  Do they look interested?  What are they feeling?  It’s this feedback that will allow you to adjust your delivery to sound conversational even if you’re reading a script.  When the listener’s feedback is missing, we forget some of the essentials about how to sound conversational.

If this sounds impossible to accomplish, think about a time you talked on the phone to a friend and had to deliver bad news.  You instinctively did what I just described.  You imagined how your friend would react to the news, and you changed your delivery accordingly.

So as we trudge through the upcoming months, think more about how your listener might respond to the news you’re delivering.  And if you’re a voiceover artist, try applying this technique when you have a sad or upsetting read in a script.  Your listeners will hear the difference.

If you want to read about this technique of voicing in more detail, click here to go to my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, which goes into it in detail.  You can download it instantly.

 

 

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Combat Anxiety With This Toolbox of Tips

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

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

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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