Don’t tell anyone, but voice coaches can have vocal problems too. I know — shocking! And long hours on Zoom meetings can take a toll on anyone.
Here is the inside scoop on how to keep your voice feeling and sounding great on video calls, in 5 easy steps.
1. Use a headset, with noise-cancelling headphones.
Mine are padded in-ear buds with a cord to insert into the jack of the mic I use. The over-ear style, in wireless or USB, would be just as good.
The idea is that if we hear our own voice in our ears, we are less likely to push vocally. Which leads me to the second point…
2. Don’t push.
The psychological distance of a video call can make people push and talk too loudly. It’s the modern-day equivalent of my grandma yelling into the answering machine when they first came out. The person feels far away.
But of course, the audio component of conversation (speakers and microphones) are actually even closer than you would experience in a face-to-face meeting. So you can ease off the volume and relax into trusting that folks will be able to hear you.
Are you unclear about what I mean by “pushing” the voice? Here’s an audio clip to help clarify:
3. Check your posture.
The voice is basically a bunch of sound waves that moves through the channel of your throat and mouth. Turns out the shape of that pathway matters a lot in terms of how the voice sounds. Jutting your head forward, or lifting your chin to see a monitor up high, can pinch the voice.
Not only does that pinching cut out some of the acoustic spectrum of your voice (making it tight, quiet, or thin-sounding), it can also lead to discomfort over time.
Keep your chin level, your earlobes over your shoulders, and your neck long and swan-like. Your head should be balanced on top of your torso — not in front of it. If you need to adjust your chair height and/or monitor position for this to feel comfortable, do it!
Those sound waves I mentioned earlier are created by exhaling air. The human voice is a wind instrument, and breath is the power source. If you don’t use enough air for the job, your throat muscles tend to jump in to help. Engaging these muscles can lead to vocal strain as well as a decrease in vocal quality.
First, make sure you aren’t inadvertently holding your breath, or tensing your upper chest. This can happen as a result of stress, anxiety, and any number of situations and emotions.
Next, allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears. And make sure they aren’t slumped or rounded forward. We don’t want to impinge on the freedom of movement necessary for free breath.
Finally, ignore your chest once you have relaxed and opened it, and make sure you are feeling movement in your belly as you breathe. In our natural state, the abdomen moves outward as we inhale, and moves inward as we exhale (or speak/sing). That’s where the ease and power come from.
For more detailed instructions on how to access this method of breathing, see my blog post “Talking from the diaphragm” is BS.
5. Speak clearly.
If there’s one thing I have learned by coaching actors to project and fill large theatres with their sound, it’s that clear diction is a HUGE part of projection. Sometimes even more so than loudness.
Do you ever watch a TV show (especially a British one!) where it’s hard to understand the words? And is your first impulse to turn up the volume? Of course it is! We conflate our ability to hear with our ability to understand.
Computer and phone audio cuts out some of the acoustic signal, which can make speech harder to understand. Make sure you don’t mumble, and say all the sounds in your words. Be especially mindful of not swallowing the consonant sounds at the ends of words, or fading out at the ends of sentences.
This last tip is especially important if there is any kind of background noise for you or any of the listeners.
Now that you know what to do, reach out to me for some coaching if you could use some guidance on how to actually do it!