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Vocal tips and tricks (part 2)

by Robin Zebaida

Picking up from where we left off last time, here are some thoughts on the importance and the effects of breathing and smiling in your vocal delivery:-

The subject of breathing needs to be further divided into "how" and "how often". It may seem bizarre to need to address how to do something we all do automatically - mostly without even being aware of it - throughout our lives from day one. But even with breathing, there is more than one way to skin a cat...

From quite early on it seems we begin to lose the automatic habit of breathing diaphragmatically, instead learning through our environment to take more shallow breaths. A more in-depth explanation of diaphragmatic breathing is beyond the scope of this brief article but can be found in many excellent articles and videos online. For now, perhaps the most striking illustration of the effect of diaphragmatic breathing is that pause while a baby in distress fills its lungs with air before letting out an almighty scream. It's not just the high pitch that makes it so immediately piercing but the effortless power which goes with that cry emanating, as it does, from the pit of the stomach.

Those who use their voices professionally - opera singers, actors, and even and perhaps especially market street traders - could soon run into difficulties, risking serious health consequences such as vocal cord nodules, if they did not breathe correctly. To relearn what is also known as supported breathing, try lying down with your knees bent and pointing towards the ceiling. With one hand on your stomach, notice its rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. This is what you now need to reproduce when standing up. As a simple guide, if your shoulders are moving up, and/or your stomach is moving in when you take in a breath, then the breathing is shallow. For diaphragmatic breathing, the shoulder level should be stable, and the stomach should move out, rather than in, when breathing in. Diaphragmatic breathing will add depth, clarity and gravitas to your speech. 

As to how often to breathe, think of breaths in your vocal delivery as the equivalent of punctuation - commas perhaps - in written prose. Too many, often a sign of nerves and shallow breathing, and you will chop up your message, making it hard to follow, Too few, especially if combined with rapid speech, and you will not allow your listener(s) enough time to process your message. Find the happy medium.

Smiling is perhaps one of the most useful tips I remember receiving from my radio news-reading days. Not a fixed, tense or "fake" smile, mind you, but a warm relaxed one. Try it! Even a difficult message, letting go of an employee for instance, or reading out a distressing piece of news, can be conveyed with more immediacy, sympathy and expressive warmth if you do so with a gentle smile. It will always give your message a lift. 


Robin Zebaida

Voice Over Artist

Executive Voice Coach

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