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Vicious Cycle of Vocal Abuse

The news cycle is moving right now with an intensity we rarely see.  Network anchors and correspondants are working hard not just on the air but off as they talk to sources and update information.  And it’s not likely to slow down for months.  This means extra vocal care is needed.

There are some speaking situations like broadcasting breaking news for days on end or having to put in extra time narrating an audio book that are perfect set ups for what’s called the “vicious cycle of vocal abuse.”  This ominous-sounding cycle is what happens when you have to talk more than usual (and possibly more loudly) and don’t think you can stop and rest your voice. At first you might get a little hoarse, and that’s when the cycle begins.

When you are hoarse and continue to talk you have to force your voice, which makes you even hoarser, and on and on.

Not many of us would run a marathon with tight shoes and continue running the next day despite the blisters and calluses that had developed.  All too often, however, we may insist we have to keep talking even with a hoarse voice.  By doing so, we are damaging our vocal folds (cords), which produce the sound waves of speech in the same way we would damage our feet by running when they are red and swollen. If you’re not squeamish, click here to take a look at vocal folds at work.

Talking while you’re hoarse can have long-lasting effects and may cause permanent damage to the delicate vocal fold (cord) tissue.

Vocal rest is the best treatment for hoarseness and vocal fatigue along with hydration (click here to read more on hydration). It’s better to take time off for vocal rest when you first become hoarse instead of falling into the vicious cycle of vocal abuse.  It’s like the old saying, “Pay me now or pay me later.”  At some point, you’re going to have to rest your throat.

I know you’re thinking that vocal rest is impossible when you make a living with your voice.  Every client reacts the same way.  What I tell them is to only talk when they must, like at the anchor desk or when recording.  The rest of the time, use writing to communicate.  And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  A day or two like this can give your vocal folds time to heal. If hoarseness persists longer than two weeks, see your doctor.

Since your vocal folds are so important to your future as a broadcaster or voiceover artist, I suggest you take steps to take care of your throat as soon as you feel hoarseness developing.  Take hoarseness seriously.  Remember that your job depends on your voice so take care of it!

My new e-book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, is now available for only $4.99.  You’ll get great information in this e-book 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.


All Emergency, All the Time?

Most of us have heard Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried wolf.  If you don’t know it, it’s about a shepherd boy who was tending sheep and repeatedly called wolf just for fun so he could laugh at the adults who came running. When a real wolf came, no one believed him.

Now, you may think this has nothing to do with broadcasting or voiceover work.  But in reality it does, and I’ll tell you how.

I’m going to address this to broadcasters first, but you voiceover people keep reading.  I’ll get to you.

We’re living in times that no one could call calm.  The news each day is filled with stories that are alarming, but they’re alarming in different degrees.  I hear way too many broadcasters ramping their deliveries to a level of emergency on every story every single day.

What’s missing from these deliveries is consideration of the level of emotion needed for each story.  Going full-on emergency every day limits where you can go with your voice at times when there is a really big emergency like hurricane Dorian or the weekend that saw shootings in both El Paso and Dayton.  You don’t want the listener to tune you out, as the shepherd boy’s listeners did, when you really have a crisis to explain.

If you’re a broadcaster, don’t trip on the “all emergency, all the time” stumbling block.  In fact, sometimes the most dramatic delivery you can give is the opposite of emergency.  Listen to the powerful delivery from decades ago by Edward R. Murrow concerning the Joseph McCarthy hearings.

Now voiceover folks, you can apply these ideas to your delivery as well.  When you’re reading copy or a novel for an audio book read through it first.  Look for peaks in the copy.  Where do you need to put the climax of the emphasis or drama in the story or copy?  Think of peaks and valleys as you read.  You might even mark these on the copy so you won’t miss them.  It’s a simple thing to do that can vastly improve your voicing.

So don’t be the boy who cried wolf.  Give each piece of copy a serious analysis and decide where on the level of urgency and, possibly, emergency does it belong.  Your listener will thank you.

For more tips on delivery, instantly download a copy of the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK by clicking here.




10 Tips to Survive 2019’s Sizzling Summer

Heat Stoke GraphicI originally published this blog in 2015 when I thought we were having a hot summer.  But this past July set a new global heat record worldwide so I think it’s time to take another look at the dangers of high temps and how to protect yourself and your voice.

Back in 2015 I had heard from a reporter who had gotten sick covering a story in Texas.  The more I learned the more I realized this person had suffered heat exhaustion, which is a very dangerous condition.  This happens every summer to reporters and can happen to any of us. It’s usually avoidable by taking a few steps to take care during the summer months.

Summer can also be hard on your voice with summer colds and allergies.  If you want to stay healthy and sound great this summer, try these ten 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. Keep your vocal tract moist by drinking half your body weight in ounces of nonalcoholic fluid a day (for more on fluid intake check out this post). During the heat carry a thermos instead of just a water bottle so that you can drink cold water. You can also freeze water bottles and drink them as they melt in the heat (just be sure and leave room in the bottle for the liquid to freeze without damaging the bottle).
  1. Eat foods that help keep you hydrated. For example, a slice of watermelon contains 10 ounces of water. A peach or a cup of strawberries has 5 ounces. Other foods high in water are cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and raw squash.  Soups, tea, and coffee are also good for hydration.
  1. If you have allergies or get a summer cold, limit throat clearing and coughing.  Did you read this post on the dangers of coughing? And limit your use of antihistamines because they are diuretics.
  1. To help avoid Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke, check out these cooling bandanas that really help you stay cool.  I’ve tried this one, http://www.mycoolingstore.com/chill-its-temp-control-cooling-bandana.html, and it works well without getting your clothes damp.
  1. 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.
  1. Use SPF 30 or higher sun block every day and reapply it every few hours!  And if you’re outside much of the day, you can purchase clothes that are SPF treated, or you can actually make your clothes sun proof with Rit Sun Guard.  It’s a washing powder that stays in through 20 washes and blocks more than 96% of harmful rays.  You can also find SPF umbrellas to use.
  1. Ramp up your protein intake for better overall health and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.
  1. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night for better health and 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. For more on this, click here.
  1. Spend some time relaxing this summer even if you can’t take a vacation. To quote author Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you.”
  1. And finally, have some fun this summer! Fun goes a long way toward decreasing your job stress.

BSGCoverBlueWant more tips like these?  Ck out Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.99 and loaded with voice and lifestyle tips!




Exercise to Improve Your Voice

I have said many times that breath is the energy for speech. Want a way to improve your voice and your health at the same time? Think exercise.

While you’re increasing your aerobic capacity with exercise, you’re also improving your breathing.

Lately, loads of new scientific evidence is showing that exercise has more benefits for health than we knew before.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion released new guidelines for physical activity recently. The new benefits they list for exercise include a reduction in eight types of cancer. That’s six more than we previously knew about. This along with the increase in breathing capacity, are real winners.

And the moderate intensity exercise that has been suggested since 2008 now has been revised to say ANY exercise counts no matter how long it is. So, for instance, you could climb a set of stairs during your workday, and that would count toward the 150 minimum minutes recommended for the week.

Even a short exercise period will result in an immediate reduction of stress hormones like you feel when facing a deadline. It will also increase alertness so you can handle that deadline better. And with daily exercise your blood pressure will be lower and your sleep better.

But how does all this help breathing? Exercising until you have to work slightly hard at breathing is what expands breathing capacity. So why not reap all the benefits of working out along with improving your voice? It’s a win-win!

And while you’re doing this exercise during the summer months, remember to stay hydrated. That’s true every day. Find ways to work fluid intake into every day by carrying water with you or having some in the sound booth (if permitted).

To entice yourself to drink more water, drop some sliced strawberries or sliced cucumbers in a bottle at night and chill. What a pleasant treat for the next day, especially these hot days in July or August. And aim for half your body weight in ounces of water every day with a glass or two more when you’re doing aerobic exercise.  If you want reminders of when to drink fluids, there are tons of apps for free that will do just that!

And if you’d like to know more about nutrition and how it can help your voice, check out the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK which you can download instantly by clicking here.




Don’t Delete Medial Consonants

I’ve written several posts on plosive consonants in ending positions and in clusters.  But a colleague of mine recently asked about the dropping of medial consonants.  She said she hated the recent trend to say, “impor’ant,” instead of  “important.”  I agree with her on this so I thought I’d give you some ways to work on this problem.

First, if you omit these sounds you run a couple of risks.  You can sound not as smart as you are, and you might be difficult to understand.  Let’s say you omit the /t/ sound in “certainly.”  If you’re speaking fast it could come out as “surly.”

Now, I must tell you, as I told her, that fixing the problem of medial consonants is not as easy as some of the other consonant issues.  Ending consonants are super easy to fix.  Check out this post for some tips on that.  Consonant clusters are a bit more of a challenge, but there aren’t many of those in speech.  But almost every word has at least one medial consonants.  Granted not all of these cause problems, but certain words that we say often do call for these consonants to be distinct.  Here are a few:  county, country, important, center, winter, picture, painting.

Some of the words above can actually become different words when you drop the medial, plosive consonant.  For example, “winter” becomes “winner” and “center” becomes “sinner.”  I don’t think any football center wants to be called a sinner!

So how do you do the work to change these errors?  First, you have to be sure you know how to make a consonant plosive correctly.  I cover this in a blog post so click here to read about perfecting your cononant production.

Next, record yourself, and listen for any medial consonants that you might be dropping.  Or you can have a friend do this for you.

Finally, it works well to divide the word you’re working on into two different words for practice.  “Important,” for example, would be practiced first as “impor” “Tant.”  Repeat the word this way many times each day exaggerating the /t/ sound.  After a few days of this practice, merge the words together, and see if you can still keep the /t/ in the word.  If you can, repeat the process of saying the word over and over for a several days until it sounds natural.  At first it won’t, but don’t despair.  If you keep up this practice, your medial consonants will stop being stumbling blocks.  Lots of practice with this pays off.

There is lots more information about articulation problems in the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK.  Download it instantly by clicking here.


Tools to Correct Your Pronunciations

Want to tank your career as a broadcaster or voiceover artist?  One of the quickest ways to lose credibility with your listeners, producers, or anyone who hires you to do voiceover work is to mispronounce a word.  This is especially true of names of cities, streets, products, and people.

And we all know it happens all too often.  I have had to correct more than one client here in the D.C. area when they pronounced this street name, “Grosvenor,” incorrectly.  It is pronounced “Grove-ner” and not “Grows-ven-or.”  Broadcasters new to the city always get it wrong!

So how do you avoid these mistakes?  For reporters or anchors, I suggest you start a practice list of difficult words as soon as you move to a new market.  Ask someone local to pronounce a difficult word for you and record it.

The same applies if you get a script to read for a voiceover assignment.  Don’t guess!  Ask or go to a source to get the correct pronunciation!  Trying to wing it will sound much worse than pausing to correct it before you read.

For general words that might present a challenge, I love the Apple app, (How to) Pronounce. It’s an easy way to quickly check words. Be sure to change the voice to American English, though, because the default seems to be British. In addition, this app allows you to hear words pronounced in numerous other languages.

There are also many on-line dictionaries that now have audio pronunciations of words.  Check this one out Dictionary.com

For names and places in the news, The Voice of America offers VOA’s Pro*nounce  where you can hear native speakers saying 7000 words and names in the news.

For medical terms, go to the Merck website, where you will hear pronouncers for lots of medical terms.

Tell me where you go to find correct pronunciations?  Leave a comment below, and we’ll share our sources.

And you’ll find a list of Frequently Mispronounced Words in the Appendix of the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. 

Get it instantly by ordering on the Voice Book page.Book Cover for Broadcast Voice Handbook



Three Ways to Slow Down This Month

As a broadcaster or voiceover artist, often your life has to be lived at a “pitch near madness,”* in order to get everything done.  But if you want to enjoy the holidays and continue to do your job well, how about trying some ways to slow down during December.

First, don’t even think of giving up exercise, because it’s one of the best stress-busters.  If you’re not doing it, now is a good time to start.  But instead of running or going crazy on the elliptical machine, take a walk outside.  That way you combine exercise and nature, both of which cut stress.  And you might want to use your walking time to think about gifts to purchase or people you you would like to see over the holidays.  We actually think more creatively when exercising.

Next, make the first few minutes of your day (or longer if possible) free of digital devices or newspapers.  Just by looking at the news first thing in the morning, you are depriving your mind of any relaxed time.  Even a quick look at the news or emails puts our minds on stress alert.  And if the mind is stressed, the body is too.  So take a break each morning.  During this time you might try doing the third thing explained below.

Breathe!  It sounds simple, but just concentrating on your inhalation and exhalation for a couple of minutes can have a positive effect on your entire body.  And you can use this all during the day.  I find it especially helpful when I fall into catastrophic thinking.  There’s sure to be lots of that this month with travel, gift buying, family visiting, and other holiday pressures.  So make it a habit to focus on your breathing several times a day.  Repeating “Breathing in” on the inhalation and “Breathing out,” on the exhalation works for me.  If you want to learn more about breathing, watch my video by clicking here.

Slowing down this month may seem a contradiction, but if you try it, I think you’ll find it not only makes for a better month, but it helps you keep going at work!

For more on stress relief, check out my book by clicking here.  At just $4.99, this book makes a great, inexpensive gift for anyone.

*Taken from a poem by Richard Eberhard by the same name.






Interview Like a Pro

“Never pass up an opportunity to shut up!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given this advice  (perhaps in kinder words) to anchors and reporters when helping them improve their interviewing skills.  This advice can apply to voiceover folks as well when you’re in any kind of situation where you’re trying to get information, say from an author or PR agent.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in an interview is to try and show off how much you know in your questions. The interview is not about you. It’s about your interviewee. Put your ego aside and ask direct, simple questions that will get the best answer out of your interviewee.

And what should you do once you’ve asked this direct question? You got it, shut up!

Another piece of advice I often give about a good interview is that the questions should be like jabs in boxing. They should be forceful and direct and hit the exact spot so they will get the best answer from the other person.

Have you ever noticed how a Q & A is printed online or in a magazine?  The questions are in bold and the answers are in regular type.  Plus, the questions are usually short.  Remembering this can help you avoid another big mistake that many broadcasters make when doing interviews, which is trailing off at the end of a question.

And there’s another reason why printed questions are in bold.  They need to be read, that’s why!  They offer the skeleton structure for the Q & A.

If your questions are weak and your voice trails off at the ends of sentences, they aren’t doing their job of holding the interview together.  In a printed Q & A do you see the ink getting paler and paler as it comes to the end of the question?  Then don’t let your voice do that.  I tell my clients to make the last word of their question as strong as the first word.

So next time you’re doing a Q & A, keep the questions simple and direct, and make sure your voice is strong as you ask your questions.  That’s the winning combination!


Speak From Your Diaphragm!

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.

Happy Breathing!!


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 dara@broadcastvoicecoach.com.  Find her website at: https://www.austinvoiceinstitute.com/services/broadcast-voice-coaching/




Three Ways to Spice Up Your Vocal Delivery

One of the hardest parts of voicing is to give stock or repeated phrases some spice to make them sound conversational.  Whether it’s a sign off at the end of a broadcast or a toss, these phrases are a constant challenge for reporters and anchors.

For voiceover artists it might be a repeated phrase in an audio book recording.  If you say these phrases exactly the same way each time, they become stale and uninteresting.  Worse, if you voice these exactly the same each time, they can become a bore for you and the listener.

So how do you avoid this pitfall?

First, for your sign off or tosses, take out a piece of paper or your phone and jot down as many ways of saying this phrase as you can think of.  Let’s say it’s a toss to the weatherperson.  You might say, “And here’s Rob with the weather,” but that’s not very interesting.

To give it freshness every time, you could jot down some options like these:

“So when’s the sun coming back, Rob?”

“What’s with this rain slated for the weekend?”

“It’s a beautiful day out there, Rob!”

Any of these works better than a boring toss.

If it’s a repeated phrase in an audio book, 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.

And a third approach for either broadcasters or voiceover people is to employ the idea of talking to a person.  If you think about how you say hello to a friend on the phone, you’ll realize it’s always a bit different.  That’s because you’re picturing your friend when you say it.  Here’s a link to my post on PREP that explains this approach in more detail.

The biggest mistake you can make is to not recognize the repeated phrases in your copy and make them robotic.  Instead, try using one of the 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 spice up your delivery!