By Dara W. Allen, M.S., CCC-SLP
Have you ever been told to “speak from your diaphragm”? Most broadcasters and voiceover artists have heard this piece of advice many times over, yet few of us really understand what it means.
In truth, we do not speak from our diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that rests high in the ribcage. When you inhale, the diaphragm descends, putting pressure on the organs in the abdominal cavity, and they are pushed down and out to the front, sides and back of your body. When the diaphragm goes down, it draws air in through your vocal cords into your lungs. There should be an expansion of your ribcage to the front, sides and back. There should never be any expansion in the upper chest, shoulders or neck area during inhalation. This process is called abdominal/thoracic breathing.
The great thing about utilizing abdominal/thoracic breathing is you will feel better physically, and you will sound better!! Breathing in this manner causes the larynx to relax. When the larynx is relaxed, you will get a fuller and richer sounding voice, and what broadcaster or voiceover artist does not want that?
So how do you do this?
Allow your lips and teeth to part slightly. You do not have to suck in the air or take in a loud breath. Imagine if you were underwater and you opened up your mouth; the water would just flow in. It is the same on land; open your mouth and allow your tummy to release and the air will flow in. Imagining that the tummy is releasing, melting or softening when need a breath allows the diaphragm to descend.
“But I don’t want to look fat!” Boy, do I hear that all of the time!
Many people spend a good amount of energy “sucking in the gut” so they look good. But, hear this! You cannot take in a full breath if you are holding in your stomach!
Yet, you also do not want to push your stomach out!! Pushing your stomach out will only create more tension and have a negative effect on the voice. It is a release of the tummy that allows you to take in a full efficient breath.
I promise that releasing your tummy to breathe will not make you look bigger than you are! Breathing in this manner will actually help your tummy muscles! (To see Dr. Utterback demonstrating breathing techniques, chect out this video.)
One more thing…
Learn to relax the upper and middle chest. This does not mean that you allow your chest to collapse! On the contrary, good posture is crucial, but you do not want to be stiff or rigid. If you sense tension in your upper or middle chest, imagine letting it go from the inside out. Talk to it, move it, or touch it, trying to encourage a release of the muscles when you breathe in AND when you are talking.
Tension in the abdomen and chest areas prevents us from breathing efficiently. Do not be fooled into thinking that you do not have tension in these areas – most of us do! The trick is to become conscious of it and then let it go.
DARA WHITEHEAD-ALLEN, M.S., CCC-SLP helps professionals in the radio and television news industry find, free and develop their best voice. She works with clients from all over the United States and the major network affiliates, including NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, The Weather Channel, and AccuWeather. In addition to her work with broadcasters, Dara is owner of the Austin Voice Institute, where she offers services related to the management of voice and speech disorders, as well as presentation coaching. Dara is available for individual and group sessions in person, or via SKYPE. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her website at: https://www.austinvoiceinstitute.com/services/broadcast-voice-coaching/