A surprising number of people mistakenly think that they are neither spontaneous nor creative. But the idea that those two qualities are special talents reserved for Robin Williams and Meryl Streep is just not true. Spontaneity and creativity are actions not personality traits. Many people just don’t see how much more creative they could be. If you feel you have no voice, you are most likely being held back by fears which keep you from taking the actions that would release so much hidden potential within you. As you begin to utilize the many voice “Triggers” that I believe are available to you, be assured that as a living, breathing human being, you are a volcano of creativity whether you know it or not. Michelangelo believed that his David was already encased in the stone. His only role was to release it! You too can chisel away at your fears with actions and discover the work of art which is you and your own voice!
Do this: Describe the following famous voices: Lauren Bacall, Richard Burton, James Earl Jones. Would you say these celebrities had good voices? Compelling voices? Attention-getting voices? Now describe your own voice. Would you say you had a good voice? If anything, what don’t you like about your voice? Make a list of adjectives to describe your voice.
Now…Did you know that all 3 celebrities I just mentioned had problems with their voices which they were able to correct? Lauren Bacall had a high whiny voice with a heavy New York accent. Young Richard Burton had a thin tinty nasal voice. And James Earl Jones, one of the most famous voices of our time, still constantly works to correct a life long problem with stuttering. These examples are only a few that prove that you can “grow” your voice,and get your own WINNING VOICE!
We never actually hear our voices the way other people do. Many people, and you may be one of them, will be told that they have a good voice, but they can’t quite hear it themselves. Getting to know your own voice requires patience and time spent listening to recordings of your own performances.
Over time, it is important that you come to know your voice so that you can sell it effectively.
(Charles Michel insists on recording all of his private coaching sessions so that his clients can come to know their own voices.)
When you describe your voice, do you ever use adjectives like flat, loud,soft, monotone, boring, whiny, etc? If you do, please note that all of these adjectives and most others that you might use are really more about your vocal approach than your innate voice. For example, if you say your voice is loud, soften it and it’s not loud. If you say your voice is flat, add more variety of tone and it’s not flat. Almost anything that you would like to change about your voice can be accomplished by making simple adjustments in your approach. I call these adjustments…“TRIGGERS”.
A good Voice Over voice is not a normal voice! It is the illusion of a normal voice! In other words, when you speak normally, what you hear as vocal energy and excitement generally translates on microphone as slightly flat. If you use more variety of tone, it will usually not sound inappropriate to your listener. It will simply give you vocal color that will create an attention-getting voice. This is analogous to wearing makeup on TV or in a film. A big masculine TV actor wears a little rouge and lip gloss not to look made up, but to simply look alive. If you use more tone variety than you use in normal life, your voice will simply sound alive!
Your whole body is involved in producing a good voice. Take some text and stand up and read it while standing completely still. Now take the same text and read it with a little movement in your body. Wiggle your spine and swing to and fro slightly as if you were moving to the sounds of a favorite song on the radio. If this seems silly to you, ask yourself “Can you sing without movement?” Try it. Stand completely still, don’t move a muscle, and attempt to sing. You’ll find that you can hardly get the notes out. Now move and sing. The notes are free. The same thing is true of the spoken voice. You need to move to have a voice that “Moves” people!
An absolute key element to improving your voice is rhythm. Why? Food for thought: STUTTERERS DON’T STUTTER WHEN THEY SING. And the reason they don’t stutter is rhythm. Rhythm organizes your speech! Take some written text and sing it using the melody of a familiar tune. Do this several times. Keep moving. The movement of the body will not only open up the sound of your voice, but help you to feel the words rhythmically. Now read the same text with the same sense of rhythm that you had while singing, but do so in a spoken voice. Over time, you will find that this gives your voice a sense of organization which keeps you from stumbling. And rhythm also gives your voice a buoyancy, a groovy energy that, along with tonal variety, heightens your vocal presentation. Bottom line: Give vocal presentations that are closer to singing than what we normally think of when speaking!
The most important thing that the hundreds of people that I have trained over the years have taught me by their example is that you don’t have to wait until you feel confident to speak confidently. Instead of waiting for some sort of epiphany, simply pretend your way into a more exciting voice!
Paul Newman’s character in “The Verdict” says …
“Act as if you have faith, and faith will be given to you.”
I invite you to “Act” as if you have a good voice and get one!
There are essentially three ways to build your voice. I call them “TRIGGERS”.
1) Physical “TRIGGERS”… Involve the whole body in the process … Move!.
2) Musical “TRIGGERS”… Add heightened levels of tonal variety and rhythmic energy.
3) Imagination “TRIGGERS”… Pretend your way into more exciting and confident states of being. Once you have opened up your voice in these ways, begin to take a look at the lively qualities in your voice that should now be more visible and make more of them!
It is interesting to note that most of us can do little impressions of old time movie stars like Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, etc. But we are not as easily able to do impressions of modem actors such as Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. Why is this? Those earlier stars came out of a Hollywood studio system which surrounded them with hundreds of vocal coaches who encouraged those actors to exaggerate their idiosyncratic vocal qualities for further effect. I doubt that Jimmy Stewart actually stuttered as much in real life or that Bette Davis actually jabbed at every phrase as in “Whaat a dump!”
I invite you to exaggerate your own vocal idiosyncrasies just a bit. If you are willing to appear slightly foolish, you will be perceived as a genius communicator!
Over the years, when I have invited someone to show off a good voice, that person will usually present something that is stiff, formal, and serious. They will make a conscious effort to do things vocally that sound traditionally beautiful to the ear.
This is a mistake. Your best voice is not necessarily your most beautiful voice. Your best voice is your FREEST and most exspressive voice!
Let’s compare the voices of two former Republican Presidents, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Aesthetically speaking, Richard Nixon had a stronger voice. He had a commanding rich baritone. But hardly anyone ever thinks of Richard Nixon as having had a good voice; Whereas Ronald Reagan’s voice was vocally wobbly and a little thin and yet we remember him as “The Great Communicator.” Why?
Because Ronald Reagan was totally free in his voice. Reagan was famous for beginning speeches by simply saying “Well… “ What I interpret that “Well … “ to mean is… “Well … What the hell! Here goes!”
Get out there with your voice. Make mistakes. It will be messy at times, but you cannot make an omelette without cracking open a few eggs and even Martha Stewart can’t do that without being messy!
Summing up some earlier tips
1) Many people, including celebrities, have vastly improved your voices and you can too!
2) You don’t hear your voice the way other people do.
3) Most of the things that you don’t like about your voice can be changed by simply changing your approach.
4)Use more variety of tone than you use in normal speech.
5) Move your body.
6) Feel the rhythm.
7) Overall, recognize that a good voice comes from a somewhat heightened vocal presentation.
8) You can Pretend your way into a more dynamic voice.
9) Exaggerate a bit, appear foolish, and be perceived as a genius.
10) Instead of presenting a voice that’s proper and right. Present a voice that’s dynamic and free!
Bill Clinton’s constant battle with vocal fatigue brought on by chronic laryngitis and allergies is a well-known fact. On many occasions, Clinton’s voice was reduced to a husky whisper-especially during the final days of his first presidential campaign in the fall of 1992. At that time, when Clinton struggled to say, “I feel your pain,” voters listened and identified. Ironically, it was then, when he had the weakest voice, that he was most heard. So often, we assume that the winning voice is the most powerful voice, but in Clinton, you can see a clear example of a vulnerable voice being turned into a communication strength. The next time you need to make a point, try whispering instead of shouting, and see what happens! This is particularly true when using a microphone.
Consider one of the most well-known stories in American history: Lincoln at Gettysburg. In the context of re-thinking the winning voice, it is an important story to once again recall. On that legendary day, the 16th president’s speech followed a very long address by one of the most noted orators of that time. Lincoln spoke so quietly at Gettysburg that even people close to the platform had trouble hearing him. Yet, it is Lincoln’s voice that resonates through the ages, because a heartfelt voice, one that honestly expresses your deepest concerns, is one that people remember. After making improvements to your physical voice, remember that it’s also important to be sure of what you want to say so you can figure out the best way to communicate your point.
Be passionate! Can you think of the words, “I Have a Dream” without remembering the rolling baritone of the Southern Baptist Preacher who first uttered them? It’s almost impossible. In the same way, JFK’s call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” still echoes in our ears in exactly the voice he used on that day in 1961. A passionate voice cannot only live forever in the memories of others…
It can change the world!
The voice you possess is so personal and unique that you may not want to change it. Look at Barbara Walters: For years, Saturday Night Live comics and other impressionists have been poking good-natured fun at her voice. All the while, Ms. Walters’ stardom has continued to rise, missing r’s and all! “TWULLY an achievement”, as she might say!
Speaking of achievements, Humphrey Bogart is another star who proved he could succeed as a great leading man-even though he had a lisp. Some speech purists might cringe at Kate Hepburn’s shakiness or Marlene Dietrich’s growl, but these qualities worked for them. The above examples prove that a “flawed” voice can often be a winning voice. One person’s impediment can be another person’s signature! Stars are not perfect … They are special!
When a nineteen-year-old New York model named Lauren Bacall first appeared on screen to teach that guy with the lisp (Humphrey Bogart) “How to Whistle,” Bogie and millions of others fell in love-both with her look and with her voice. What is fascinating about that (and what most people don’t know) is that the voice they heard was the product of Bacall’s concentrated efforts. Bacall’s original voice was shrill with a thick New York accent. Encouraged by mentors such as director John Houston, Bacall worked hard to create a different voice for herself-one that would match her beautiful look…And she got it. So while it is not always necessary or desirable to alter your voice, if you want a changed voice, you can get it.
“Just like Bogie and Bacall”…Why not have it all?!
Most people are deathly afraid of ever appearing foolish which doesn’t really make sense when you consider how much people love clowns like Jerry Lewis, Jim Carey, Robin Williams, Bob Hope, and Whoopee Goldberg. The people who make us laugh for a living are often considered national heroes, held in the highest possible esteem. These funny folks have found a playful voice that has helped them become famous and wealthy, because they have discovered the power that can come to anyone who is not afraid to appear foolish. Terror is a large obstacle in getting a winning voice. To succeed, embrace failure! Play the fool!
Take a deep breath. No, Really. Take a deep breath! If you are like most people, you are probably not breathing deeply enough to support a truly winning voice.
Think about this: When your doctor places a stethoscope to your chest and says, “Take a deep breath,” does your chest heave and fill out? If you answered yes like most people do, you are not getting a deep breath. Deep breathing actually comes from the diaphragm opening, so it is your gut area that should be dramatically expanding when you breathe…not your chest. Since breath is the essential fuel for the winning voice, you want as much as you can get. So, go get it!
Retraining yourself to breathe from the gut instead of from the chest is simple, since you do it naturally when lying down.
So do this: Lie down on your back on a firm, flat surface (preferably a floor or firm bed or mat). Now, breathe deeply. Notice that your gut naturally rises and falls when you breathe in this position. Place your hands on your stomach and begin to slowly stand up, making sure that you’re breathing is still coming from your gut.Your chest should remain fairly still and relaxed. By doing this, and concentrating on your breathing, you are actually retraining yourself to breathe from the diaphragm when standing or sitting. For some time, you will probably need to monitor your new breathing technique by placing your hands on your stomach, but with a little practice, real deep breathing can and will come naturally to you.
If you are like most people you are probably not projecting your voice effectively for the microphone. Generally, folks attempt projecting forward in an effort to reach and fill the microphone with sound. What you should be doing is actually just the opposite. You should be taking your sound “UP AND IN” to your body instead of pushing it out at the microphone. This will create a voice that is richer and less shrill with almost no vocal wear and tear. Very importantly for the microphone, you will eliminate the popping of any “P” sound and the hissing of any sibilant “S”. Unskilled voice projection and microphone technique that incorporates an “UP AND IN” approach are as different as screaming is from singing. The first is noise, the latter…music! ( “UP AND IN” is one of many techniques specifically developed and coined by Charles Michel for Voice Over Training.)
Getting a feel for projecting “UP AND IN”.
( “UP AND IN”… A fundamental approach to vocal work on a microphone…. Is one of many techniques specifically developed and coined by Charles Michel for Voice Over Training.)
How do you learn to project your voice “UP AND IN”?
Start by breathing deeply and moving gently. As you continue to move, bring your hands toward yourself as if you were scooping water and splashing it on yourself. Lean backwards just a bit and wiggle slightly as if you were sliding under a limbo stick. While your physical focus moves backward, begin to speak…Almost inhaling the sound.
Concentrate on projecting your voice “UP AND IN” to your body. Imagine that the sound is escaping out of the back of your head, instead of in front of you. Practice this until the approach makes it’s way into your “muscle memory” and becomes a natural and automatic part of your voice and your microphone technique.
Good microphone diction emanates from your spine! You’ll find that the more you focus on your spine, the less you will focus on your mouth. Ventriloquists use this approach to an extreme because it is so effective in producing clean diction without the problems associated with mouth movement. I have come to call this approach “BODY DICTION”. ( “BODY DICTION”… A fundamental approach to vocal work on a microphone…. Is yet another one of many techniques specifically developed and coined by Charles Michel for Voice Over Training.)
Microphone technique… Another pointer.
To get good diction for the microphone the one part of your body that should actually move less is your mouth! In the past, when someone told you to stop mumbling and enunciate more clearly, wasn’t your solution to move your mouth, jaw, and tongue more aggressively? This common mistake of “chewing out” your words actually makes speech on a mic worse by causing it to become busy and unfocused. A lot of mouth activity confuses diction clarity and thins out vocal tone. Instead of exaggeratedly moving all the parts of your mouth to achieve clear enunciation, learn to speak instead with a much smaller, “funneled,” and less active mouth. This is not a new concept. The great speech teacher of Greece, Demosthenes, had his students orate with a mouth full of marbles to force them to enunciate elsewhere. The questions is: Where is elsewhere?
The combination of vocal techniques “UP AND IN” and “BODY DICTION” can assure microphone diction that is clear without sounding overdone. In the last 25 years, with hundreds of students, I have seen these approaches eliminate “popping Ps”, sibilance and lisping, and mute regionalisms! ( “BODY DICTION” and “UP AND IN” are fundamental approaches to vocal work on a microphone…. both specifically developed and coined by Charles Michel for Voice Over Training.)
Americans in particular have very lazy diction. Here are a few major diction points to pay attention to: Don’t say “ta” for “to.” Words ending in
ing like coming or going should not be pronounced as “comin” or “goin,” unless you’re being deliberately casual for effect. Many words that end in “s” such as “words” or “ours” should be ended, instead, with the “z” sound“wordz” or “ourz.” Some words ending with a “d” should be pronounced with a final “t” instead—“helped” should be pronounced like “helpt.” In most cases, better diction and cleaner pronunciation is really a matter of LISTENING to yourself and FOCUSING on not being sloppy.
Throughout my life as a performer, director, teacher, and speaker, I have faced some pretty tough crowds. Yet despite the challenges, I have seen even the iciest audience completely melt when they sense a voice that is open, alive, playful, and free. Many people, not in touch with their own winning voice, are grateful for anyone who gives them a glimpse of it. If you are willing to risk failure, you will almost always succeed. When someone walks the tight rope, even the most jaded old cynic at the circus starts to ooh and ah just like an excited child. Your audience is waiting! Get out there!
The winning voice must be shaped and maintained through exercise! And this commitment to exercising your voice and voice over skills must be ongoing. Amateurs will sometimes practice something until they feel they have gotten it right.
Professionals, on the other hand, practice until they cannot get it wrong!
And professionals realize that day will never come!
And so they practice forever! Ask a great dancer or Tiger Woods all about it!
The best thing you can do to exercise your voice and voice over skills is to READ OUT LOUD DAILY!
If you read out loud as little as five minutes a day, you will quickly improve your ability to deal with any copy. Reading out loud is a lost art. Even talented modern American actors don’t do it much. When your reading out loud helps you evolve into a fine reader of cold copy, you will become one of a small handful of genuinely competitive voice over performers!
Another helpful voice exercise that doesn’t take much effort is to close your eyes and focus on listening to yourself and others. Savor voices as if you were tasting a rich piece of cake. This kind of luxurious listening will help you speak with more detail, rhythm, tone, color, and substance.
Take a paragraph from a book or magazine you’re reading and read it “normally.” Then…GO NUTS!
Read it several more times, each time pretending that you’re in a different state of craziness. Try acting like you are slightly tipsy, giddy, or angry. Then act as if you are describing your favorite food or talking to someone you are extremely attracted to. It doesn’t matter that certain points of view in your imagination are not appropriate to the text. In fact, the more the text and your point of view contrast, the better workout your imagination skills will get. For example, try reading a paragraph about a serious and deadly medical condition and pretend it’s hilarious and that it’s taking all your strength to hold back your laughter throughout the passage. Going nuts may be one of the sanest ways to truly explore copy and find out how you really feel about it!
The added energy that comes when you “Go Nuts!” (Imagining that you are in different states of craziness) usually does not make your interpretation of copy inappropriate. Instead, you’ll find that the different “crazy” approaches merely breathe life into your vocal presentation. Instead of waiting until your fears subside or until you are inspired, simply fake your way into a more exciting voice.You don’t have to feel confident to speak confidently!
Most people work hard at never appearing foolish. They avoid being “too” animated, energized, opinionated, eccentric, etc. From the onset of puberty when teenage peer pressure compels people to be “cool” and fit in, most folks live in dire fear of being laughed at, which is probably the largest obstacle in getting the winning voice… Because it blocks free exspression. Intellectually, you probably already know that if “they” laugh at you, you will not suddenly drop dead. However, you need to start to believe this at an emotional level as well. Laughter is not life threatening! So, the quickest way to get over the fear of others laughing at you is to make sure that they do!
In addition to training the voices of hundreds of people, Charles Michel has been an actor, singer, character voice performer and voice-over announcer.
Read more about Charles and watch his video interview!
Before I started working with Charles Michel, I knew I wanted to do voiceovers, but I had no idea what to do or how to even get started. Charles’ careful instruction has given me a solid background and a true understanding of who I am as a performer.