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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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Getting Weary? Start Walking!

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

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

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

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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