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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Don’t Let a Cold Wreck Your Holiday or Your Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on December 5, 2017

There’s no time quite like the holidays for getting sick with a cold, and it can not only make your holiday miserable but also wreck your voice for on-air work.

Why are the holidays a threat? For a start, we’re going into enclosed spaces with crowds of people. Next, we might be on an airplane, which is the perfect breeding ground for viruses. And finally, we’re stressed and exhausted. Can you think of a more vulnerable time? I can’t, but fortunately, there are ways to cut down on the risk.

First, let’s look at the crowds of people we encounter whether shopping or on a plane.

The hustle and bustle of shopping and going to social functions puts us among lots of people.  The trick to avoiding those cold germs in these situations is to keep your hands clean either with sanitizers or good old soap and water.  And between cleanings, don’t touch your face at all.  One way I become more aware of this is to keep my gloves on when shopping.  With gloves on I’m less likely to touch my face.  Cold viruses are mostly spread by our hands conveying germs to our nose, mouth, or eyes, so take steps when you’re out around lots of people.

And on airplanes, I go all the way by using a sanitizing wipe on surfaces around me as soon as I’m seated. That includes the arm rests, seat belt buckles, and tray tables. People around might stare, but putting up with that is better than getting sick. And despite what the flight attendant announces, I also avoid touching anything in the pocket in front of me.

Don’t give those bugs a way to get into your body, and you’ll have a good chance of avoiding a cold.

And how do you save your voice if you do get a respiratory infection? Coughing is the most problematic for your voice. Check out this former post of mine that gives you good information on dealing with the cough that comes with a cold.

There are three basics to treating a cold that always help: Drink lots of fluid, get as much sleep as you can, and eat healthy meals.  For more on treating a cold, look at this post of mine that has more general information and tips to use if you get a cold.

And remember to get a flu shot. The flu can knock you out of work for a couple of weeks, and you don’t want that. Also, don’t take antibiotics for a cold. They are worthless on viruses. If you have a sinus infection, which can be a bacterial, they could be appropriate.

And for more tips on keeping your voice healthy, check out the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, which you can download instantly!  Have a wonderful holiday season!

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More Relief for Your Voice in Stressful Times (Part II)

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on November 2, 2017

SlowDownLast month’s blog post (see below) began the process of exploring what you can do to help cope with the stressful times we’re living in right now. This process is based on the mnemonic of RELIEF.

The first three letters of RELIEF are explained in last month’s post. Today we’re going to look at the remainder of the process.

The I in RELIEF stands for IDENTIFY YOUR FEELINGS. This may sound like an odd step to take, but it is often the one that is the difference between coping well or not coping. And you can’t perform well at work if you’re feelings are left unexplored. Anger, for instance, can come out at the wrong time and to the wrong person if you suppress it.

One of the best ways to identify your feelings is to write for a few minutes daily about how you feel. This can be in a journal or on your phone or computer. No one else needs to see this so you can feel free to really express yourself. You might want to use this as a starting point to talk to friends or family about your feelings. Be sure you select someone who you think is a safe person to talk to about how you’re feeling so that you get supportive feedback.

The E in RELIEF is about Eating Well. The advice I give clients for eating in times of stress is the same as eating every day. Here are the guidelines:

        Eat four or five small meals a day.

        Do not exceed four hours without eating.

Aim for two-thirds carbohydrates and one-third protein every time you eat. Make sure each time you eat you get at least  ten grams of protein.

To distinguish protein from carbohydrates remember this: Carbs grow out of ground and protein walks on the ground or swims in the water (the exception are nuts, seeds, and beans, which are all great sources of protein.)

Drink at least half your body weight in water or decaffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids each day.

Finally, the F in RELIEF stands for FOCUS ON FUN. This is the easy one. Don’t let yourself get caught up in working longer than you have to because you feel guilty if you don’t. During a crisis time, it’s good to step away and think of pleasant things for some of each day. Otherwise, you may not be able to think objectively. You may also open yourself up to getting sick or having an accident because you’re overtired.  Find ways to have fun every day, even just for five minutes. Take a walk in nature, go for a swim, play with your kids or pet. Find ways to remember that crisis is not all that’s in your life.

I hope these ideas will help you find RELIEF in the coming months and years.

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Relief for Your Voice in Stressful Times (Part I)

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 5, 2017

rope_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorgueFileWe’re living through a very stressful period right now. Whether you’re a broadcaster reporting on it or a voiceover person trying to ignore it so you can work effectively, the constant stress of politics, weather emergencies, and global disasters seems to be pressing down on all of us.

After 9/11 I wrote a book entitled, Broadcasting Through Crisis.  (It’s no longer available for sale, but Broadcasters Survival Guide offers tips.)

In my next two blog posts, I will focus on some ideas I presented after 9/11 to help you cope with the present difficult period. These tips take very little time, but they make a difference in your day.

This is based on the mnemonic, RELIEF. In this post I will concentrate on the first three letters REL. You’ll get the IEF next month.

The R in the work relief stands for RELAX. That seems an obvious thing when you’re stressed, but it can be very hard to accomplish. Here are some easy techniques to use:

To lower blood pressure and create a sense of calm, spend a few seconds concentrating on feeling your breath passing in and out of your nose as you breathe. It might help to close your eyes.

Go outside for a few minutes and look at nature. This can be for 5 minutes or 30. Combine a walk with this and get extra benefit.

Stop checking your newsfeed first thing in the morning. Instead grab a cup of coffee or tea and listen to some soft music, look out your windows at the new day, or play with your dog or cat if you have one.  As little as a 5-minute break can reduce stress for hours.

The first E in RELIEF stands for Exercise. The studies on the benefits of exercise for stress relief and mental sharpness increase every day. There is no disputing its effectiveness. Just 20 minutes of exercise has lasting benefits all day long. And it doesn’t have to be a killer workout. Simple walking is enough to get the stress relief benefits.

Doing your exercise first thing in the morning will help you with stress all day long, or you can break it into 10-minute short cycles.

Do things like walk around your building either inside or out, go up and down stairs, run in place, or use some exercise equipment or a bike.

The L in RELIEF stands for Let Yourself Sleep. Lack of sleep hurts our bodies and our minds.

Here are some suggestions for good sleep:

Cut back on caffeine at least 4 hours before sleep.

Stop your screen time an hour before bed or at least dim the screen down to reduce the blue light.  It has been proven to negatively affect sleep.

Stop any eating and drinking alcohol at least two hours before bed. Keep the same bedtime and rising time straight through the weekend so your body clock will not be upset.

Try a few of these things during October and see if you feel a difference in your stress level. Check back for my next post to complete the idea of RELIEF from stress.

 

 

 

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Creating a Richer, Fuller Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 30, 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA thin voice is one of the problems new directors contact me about most often.  They ask me if there is anything that can be done about it.  I always tell them that it’s one of the toughest problems to fix, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  I have heard almost 100% improvement in some clients, but it takes a devoted person who will work diligently to make the change.

Why is it so hard?  There may be multiple reasons why the person is using a thin voice.  Some of them are physiological and some of them may be psychological.  Consider Marilyn Monroe’s voice.  It was thin and childlike for a reason.  It made her appear vulnerable and helpless, which fit most of the roles she was given.

But let’s look at the physiological reasons for a thin voice.  The problems are in the position of the tongue and the openness of the jaw.  Both of these contribute to the amount of air that can resonate in the oral cavity. The more air that resonates, the richer and fuller the voice sounds.  If the tongue is raised high in the mouth, as it usually is in a thin voice, then it takes up more room.  Likewise, if the jaw is not open (especially at the back) there is less air in that resonating cavity.

Let’s try an exercise to feel the tongue issue.  Say the word, “gone,” a few times.  Now say the word, “good,” a few times trying to keep the tongue in the same position on the vowel sound for both.  Switch between the two words to get the feeling of the tongue in the low position for “gone.”  This will help you feel the lower tongue position so you can  carry it over into other vowels.

For the openness of the jaw, I tell clients to think of an inverted megaphone with the large part in the back of the mouth and the narrow opening in the front (the exact reverse of the picture to the right).  This gives you a megaphonenice opening of the jaw.  To practice this, say “ah” and then any word to follow it.  Try to keep the open feeling you get with “ah” as you say the other word.

Both of these exercises are important in beginning to turn a thin voice iinto a rich, full voice.  The bummer is that you have to practice every day and it may take months before you hear a change.

Here’s an added tip that will begin to help immediately.  Avoid smiling while talking.  Smiling works against the small opening of the mouth and actually makes your voice sound higher pitched.  Click here for a post that explains this concept.

And, finally, for you voiceover artists out there, if you need to sound childlike for a job, try humping up your tongue in your mouth and not opening your jaw very much!

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Breathe Easy This Summer

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 1, 2017

three_meerkatsSmallI’ve been an advocate of voicing in a standing position for my entire career.  But is simply standing enough?  No.  You need to stand with good posture for the best voice.

We all know the lungs are involved in breathing, and if you’ve read many of my posts you know that abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing is the best (for more on this type of breathing, click here or watch my video on breathing by clicking here).  Abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing demands that the diaphragm has room to contract downward to assist in a good, controlled inhalation.

Stooped shoulders actually put pressure on the rib cage making it more difficult to inhale properly.  If the stooping is severe enough it can affect the downward contraction of the diaphragm, greatly limiting inhalation.

Should you stand like a little toy soldier with your shoulders raised?  Absolutely not!  You want your shoulders to be relaxed so that you don’t have tension in your neck, which can affect your pitch.  Your body should be relaxed but erect.

Here are some ways to practice this posture (if you have any back or neck problems, do not do these exercises without consulting your physician):

Stand with your feet hip-width apart about six inches from a wall.  Let your lower and upper back rest on the wall.  Roll your shoulders forward and back.  Now imagine there’s a string lifting your head and spine up.  Lower your chin so it’s parallel to the floor.  Gently move your head straight back and try to rest it on the wall (or as close to it as is comfortable).  Keep your chin in the correct position.  Next raise your arms up as you would if a sheriff in the old West said, “Stick ’em up!”  Try to get your upper arms and the back of your hands against on the wall.  Don’t force it.  Just go as far as is comfortable.  Hold this posture and relax for a few abdominal-diaphragmatic inhalations and exhalations.

If you’re having trouble getting your arms back, try lying on the floor with a rolled up towel or yoga mat up and down your spine and neck.  Start by putting your arms straight out from your body with your palms up, resting them on the floor.  If this is difficult, stay with it for as long as it takes until it feels easy and your chest feels open.  If it’s easy, “Stick ’em up!” again with your arms bent on the floor and your palms toward the ceiling.  Rest in this position each time you do the exercise for a few inhalations and exhalations.

Keep these exercises up for several weeks, and your posture should improve along with your breathing.

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Who Said Goofing Off Is a Waste of Time?

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 6, 2017

Boys by LakeRemember the summers of your childhood when it felt like you had months to just goof off? That may seem a distant memory when you’re facing a news story deadline or have a voiceover to finish. Well, it turns out goofing off can improve your life, so what better time to start than right now?

“Time off is what your brain thrives on,” according to Beth Janes’ article in Health magazine (3/17). I’ve been telling clients this for decades. Downtime is when the brain recharges.

Think of the constant onslaught of information coming from the Internet, email, news stories, conversation, and our own busy thoughts. We’re asking our brains to digest all of this every second of every day. We need to shut this off for a time if we want to recharge.

How do we do this? I’m going to offer two ways that can be effective and pleasurable.

The first is meditation. Now don’t panic and think I’m about to send you off to a silent retreat for a week. Meditation is a simple process of learning to detach from your thoughts for a few minutes.  If you’re new to this concept, check out Headspace.com or their free app which trains you how to meditate in a fun ten days. These short, three-minute sessions will make meditation seem easy!

Meditation can be as simple as taking a few seconds to focus on breathing. I’ve found a new way to do this recently on the website Calm.com or their free “Calm” app. It has a clever breath exercise where you can set the pace of your breathing and follow a graphic they offer that includes a short period of holding your breath between your intakes of air. Yogis have used this pattern of breathing for centuries to calm the mind.

The next method of emptying the mind doesn’t involve totally aiming for no thoughts. Instead, you fill your mind with thoughts that cause the relaxation mode to kick in.

This is what visualization can do for you, and it’s really like daydreaming. Simply think of an event like your last vacation and recreate the feelings in your mind. Imagine your toes sinking into the grass or the sand you walked on. Feel the cool or warm breeze hitting your face. Put yourself back in the event as much as you can and soak up the feeling. You can do this for a few seconds looking at a photograph or for a half hour when you have that much time. Either way, let yourself escape from your phone, your work, and your day, and enjoy the visualization. (If you find this difficult,  Calm.com and Headspace.com both have guided visualizations you can use for free.)

So take some time this summer to give your brain the break it needs so badly to work at its optimum level. Your stress level will go down and your ability to keep your life working effectively will go up. A win, win, I’d say!

For more on both breathing relaxation and visualization click here to instantly download my ebook, Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.95, and includes loads more information!

 

 

 

 

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Dial Down the Intensity of Your Delivery

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 6, 2017

We’ve been living in a world where political events dominate the news, and tragedies, like the bombings in England, can happen at any time.  This can create some delivery pitfalls for broadcasters, and the stress of what’s happening can affect anyone in front of a mic.  Voiceover artists may find themselves a little too intense for lots of reasons as well.  Let’s look at how this can have negative effects.

Take a second and imagine you’re at the emergency room with a loved one.  You’re tense waiting for someone to tell you something.  Do you want the doctor to run out to talk to you and sound like he or she can’t control their own excitement and panic about this medical crisis?  Certainly not.  I feel the same way about what I hear on television, radio or the internet.  I want a clear, calm delivery that lets me decide how excited or agitated to be.

I was working with a television reporter the other day who had ramped up the intensity of her delivery to a level that was clearly too high.  When I asked her why she had done this, she said it was because the events of the story were so exciting she had gotten caught up in the excitement.  Does this ever happen to you?  If you’re a reporter, you might be covering a riot or an explosion.  Any story that gets the heart pumping.  If you’re a voice over artist, you might be pushing your delivery to get more excitement about a product or you might get directed to sound overly excited.

The problem is that if your excitement bleeds into your delivery too much, you’re doing a disservice to your listener.  Let me give you an example I always cite when I’m talking about this.  On 9/11, the only network I could watch was ABC because Peter Jennings had such a calm delivery.  (Listen to this clip of Peter Jennings on 9/11.)  He wasn’t adding to the crisis in the way he was reporting it.  Other anchors were.  All I wanted was to hear what was happening.  That day certainly didn’t need any drama added to it.  I wanted a calm, steady voice that did not portray hysteria.

Keep this in mind the next time you have the feeling you should ramp up your delivery.  Ask yourself, am I letting my emotions take over my delivery?  And remember, often it’s the calm, steady voice that we want to hear whether we’re in the emergency room or listening to media.

Want to read more on this topic?  Check my recent post, “Rapid-Fire Delivery Can Get You Fired.”


 

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Make Every On-Air Day Your Best

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on May 2, 2017

manCoveringfaceThere’s a common adage in theater circles that you’re only as good as your last performance. This applies to broadcasters and voiceover professionals as well. Let me explain….

I often tell broadcasting students that each show should always be the best one they ever voiced. I know that’s a high bar, but I’ve had more than one news director say to me, “I saw that student’s audition tape and didn’t like it. I’m not interested in looking at them again.” As unfair as that is, the harsh reality is that news directors get hundreds of audition tapes for every opening. Anything that’s an eliminating factor is used to thin the pile.

What about your daily anchoring or reporting? For ratings you always want to be at your best, but there’s a career advancement issue here as well.  There was a time when if you were in a small market you were safe because larger markets might not have a way to watch you every day. But boy is that over! One Google search, and they’ve got you auditioning for them on the evening news wherever they are. One night of low energy might ruin your chance for the market jump you dream of.

And for voiceover people, it’s even worse. An ad you voiced may be played hundreds of times in lots of cities. One day of breathing issues can keep ad agencies from calling.

And in a voiceover audition you might be told you’re not good enough for a particular assignment. Or you’ll get that stock rejection, “The client’s decided to go in another direction.”

One VO friend who voices audio books 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.

Okay, so what can you do to avoid being rejected because of a bad day? The harsh answer is, don’t have bad days! The purpose of my blog posts is to give you the skills to avoid bad days as well as tools to help you push your way through them if they do occur. You may not have time to read up on everything, so here’s a list of posts to explore to find these skills:

Improve Your Breathing

Keep Your Energy Up

Avoid a Flat Delivery

Improve Your Sleep

Keep Your Rate Correct

Sound Conversational

Project Your Voice Well

Make the Best of a Cold

You’ll find many more tips by clicking on the sidebar to your right.  Also, the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK is chock full of vocal exercises and information.  Download it instantly from this page.

 

 

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