A few months ago, I began using Scoop.it in order to find news and information on voiceover. It has a very nice search plan. And one of the best things I found using Scoop.it is Dr. Ann Utterback. Her blog posts on managing the voice for broadcasters are incredibly helpful, and I began posting them for others shortly after finding them. Others clearly have found her just as helpful, and you may have seen her recent article on Voice Over Xtra on reducing tension with exercise.
Dr. Utterback is a Voice Specialist with more than 40 years experience. She has helped hundreds of people make the most of their voices. She has worked with broadcasters, voice over artists, and podcasters around the world. Ann is the author of eight books and over 50 articles on voice. Her book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, is used in newsrooms and classrooms throughout the United States. It is designed as a self-help book that teaches how to improve every aspect of your voice. She has her BA and MA in Speech with an emphasis on voice and diction from the University of Memphis, and her Ph. D. from Southern Illinois University. You can find her website, book and a free voice exercise MP3 at Online Voice Coaching, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. I’ll be presenting the second half of the interview tomorrow.
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.