Dr. Ann S. Utterback brings almost 40 years of experience as a voice and delivery expert to the online world. She is an internationally recognized broadcast voice coach for television and radio anchors and reporters. Dr. Utterback is the author of eight books and numerous articles on voice. Her broadcasting clients are from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX News, Bloomberg News, the Voice of America, NPR, and other television and radio stations throughout the United States and around the world.
Dr. Utterback has traveled internationally giving workshops for stations, networks, and groups such as The Associated Press, American Forces Network in Europe, and the Alaska Press Club.
Her book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, has been out for over 20 years and is used in newsrooms and universities across the country. Walter Cronkite endorsed the book saying, “Ann Utterback in splendid style here shows the way.” BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK is available in the NEW fifth edition on the Bookstore page.
Email Contact: OnlineVoiceCoaching@comcast.net
Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. & Associates
398 Russell Avenue
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
To learn more about Dr. Utterback, read this interview that appeared on George Washington, III’s website, eVOlution:
What led you to be interested in working with broadcast professionals on their vocal techniques?
There were a couple of things that started me on my career path. First, I grew up in Memphis and had quite a strong southern accent. While in college I took a voice and diction class and used what I learned to correct my own accent. After I did that, it occurred to me that if I could fix my own accent, I could help other people with voice challenges. This started me on a 16-year teaching career. I taught voice and diction at several universities around the country. Then in 1985 I was contacted at the University of Maryland, where I was teaching, and asked to coach one of the bureau chiefs at CNN. He is the person who advised me to leave teaching and become a broadcast voice specialist full time. I owe him for that because it has been a wonderful career. In 1989 I went on to write my main book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, which is now used in newsrooms and classrooms across the country. It came out in the fifth edition last year, and it’s rapidly becoming a popular resource for voiceover artists as well.
Do you find that, as groups, television anchors, radio hosts or voiceover professionals have different concerns or technique issues to work on?
Television is challenging because you have to factor in the visual presentation as well as the oral. Other than that, I find that the basic areas of breathing, resonance, vocal health, articulation and vocal energy apply to all forms of oral expression. I have had the privilege of working at the Voice of America as a consultant for the last 20 years, and people ask me all the time how I can work with people broadcasting in over 50 different languages. I tell them that the equipment they are using is all the same whether they’re speaking Tibetan, Swahili, or Urdu, and it hasn’t changed in thousands of years. We all breathe and articulate, for example, with the same equipment. Vocal health challenges don’t vary from language to language and that’s true of the different modes of voicing whether it be voiceovers or broadcasts.
Your posts point out that there is so much more to what we do than simply breathing and speaking. Do you find it difficult to convince newcomers that it isn’t just about talking, and that the rest of the body plays a part in their “performance?”
I’ll tell you a funny story about that. Around 1995 I was asked to speak at a large broadcasting convention. I had been incorporating more and more stress control work into my coaching because I had discovered that with some broadcasters it didn’t matter how much I coached them, they didn’t improve. I finally realized that they were so stressed it was preventing them from improving. Well, when I let the word out that I was going to lead a convention session on stress, my friends in the business told me it was professional suicide. They thought no one would take me seriously as a voice coach ever again because in the broadcasting world you didn’t talk about stress. My session changed all that. It ended up being standing room only, and now every year at this convention they have a session on stress control. I’m hoping that voiceover talent will realize the importance of stress control and vocal health as well.
Is there a consistent problem you run into with beginners that you would love to eliminate before clients get to you?
I often say that breathing is the energy for speech. It is really helpful when someone comes to me who has already done some work to improve breathing. I’ll give you an example. I used to do an exercise in workshops where I asked participants to exhale an “ah” sound for as long as they comfortably could. Invariably, the person who went the longest had some experience playing a wind instrument. They already knew how to inhale a full breath of air and how to control the exhalation of that air. Now not everyone wants to take up the tuba to improve their voice! But there are other ways to work on breathing. Yoga is great for breathing. Aerobic exercise expands the breathing capacity. Any of these things will help. Breathing is something we can all work on on our own. If a client has done this before they see me, it shortens the amount of time I need to work with them.
Do you find that previous performance training, such as singing or stage work, provide a help or a hindrance for those you work with?
Singing and acting can certainly help your voice. It can, however, really hurt your voice. It all depends on the type of training you receive when you are doing it. I’ve had clients who have permanently damaged their voices singing without good instruction. Not just rockers, either. I had one client who sang in a choir but received bad advice about projecting her voice. Stage acting can also promote misuse of the voice. That was more true back in the days before microphones were used so extensively on stage, but it can happen even today.
Can you walk me through what a telephone evaluation with you would be like?
This is a good place for me to state very clearly that I am not a voiceover instructor. There are plenty of people out there doing that who know lots more about voiceovers and how to develop character voices, etc., than I do. I am a voice specialist who works with issues like breathing, articulation, sounding conversational, having good vocal energy, and keeping your voice healthy. A typical session begins with the client sending me their work. I review this extensively before our session. In the session, I begin by doing a vocal health assessment. I ask the client lots of questions about the history of any voice problems, how they care for their voice, if they have symptoms of stress, and other questions along those lines. I also ask about diet, smoking, water consumption, and exercise.
Once the history has been covered, I begin discussing the areas where I believe the client needs improvement based on my review of their work. I explain the concepts and give exercises from my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, that the client can begin doing to make the improvement needed. Some clients do only one telephone consultation with me, and use the tools I give them to work toward improvement on their own. Others may schedule more sessions so I can walk them through the exercises and keep them on track. I’ve always told clients that I can give them in one hour the tools they need to improve. I don’t want anyone to think that they will have to pay for numerous sessions. That’s a choice, but not a requirement.
Is there a success story you can share that makes you proud of the work you do?
I worked with one young women, let’s call her Mary, whose voice was so young-sounding that she couldn’t get a job at the smallest television station in the country. What is needed for a childlike voice is work with resonance. Mary took this work so seriously that she did the exercises I gave her everyday for probably an hour. I was amazed by her commitment. But, it paid off. In a couple of years she had not only gotten an on-air job in television, she was working in New York city, which is the number one television market in the country! I used to play a recording of her “before” and “after” voice in workshops, and no one could believe it was even the same person. She is living proof that you can make major changes in your voice if you really work at it.