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Breathing correctly (Voiceover)

Mar 26, 2010 • screencasting

The final tip in my list of techniques for developing a personal voice in audio is to breathe correctly. This is actually the hardest technique for me, so I have saved it for the end.

Strangely, in normal conversation, most of us don't have any trouble breathing. But when we start recording voiceovers, we start talking a little faster, with more energy and fewer pauses. Watch tip #2 clip from Chris McQueen at Techsmith about breathing. You have to fast-forward to the 2:25 mark and then watch for about a minute.

As Chris says, there are several things to keep in mind about breathing. First, breathe from your diaphragm. This is your near your stomach, not your chest. Second, relax. And third, take time to actually breathe.

James Alburger says that taking a few slow, deep, cleansing breaths can help relax you. You should also follow a similar breathing pattern as when you're conversing with someone:

No one takes a deep breath before they speak. You'll also notice that no one waits until someone else finishes talking before they take a breath. In conversation, we breath in a natural and comfortable manner. When we speak, we only take in enough air for the words we say, and we breath at natural breaks in our delivery without thinking about what we are doing. When you understand how to properly use your diaphragm to provide breath support you will eliminate the need for frequent deep breaths and rapid catch breaths. (The Art of Voice Acting, p.35)

Alburger also notes that your state of mind influences your voice -- not only whether you are tense and nervous, but also how you perceive yourself. If you perceive yourself to be "outgoing, strong, forceful, and intelligent," your voice will reflect that. Ultimately it's your state of mind that determines whether you can relax properly.

Janet Wilcox also gives some tips on breathing. She recommends yoga as a relaxation technique and pilates as a way to strengthen your breathing control. She also says to breathe from the diaphragm as well:

Instead of hiking the shoulders or breathing from your chest, you let the lower abdomen rise to take in the air and let the diaphragm drop to help fully fill the lungs.

You also want air to fill the ribcage area of the back too. It all starts low in the pelvic area as you release the lower abdomen. Think of starting the breath almost at the tip of the tailbone to help get the breath in the lower back, too. (Voiceovers: Techniques and Tactics for Success, p.23)

Beyond merely breathing from the diaphragm, Janet notes, as does Alburger, how voice-over acting is more of a mental game too. It's your state of mind that influences your delivery and helps you relax. She says to "draw on a repertory group of at least five of your real friends whom you imagine you're speaking to when preparing to read copy. You should select one appropriate friend that you imagine you're speaking to when you read copy. In order to make this real, you'll create a scene with a who, what, and where." (p.27)

By creating a comfortable scene talking to a friend, you'll be more relaxed and less likely to breathe in short, rapid bursts filled with tension.

One advantage you may have over voice-over actors when it comes to breathing is the ability to hit pause and resume at will. After every few sentences, you can take a break to breathe deeply and refocus, if you need to. Voice-over actors performing in studios don't often have this luxury.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.