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Acting is the art of interpreting, rehearsing and expressing yourself with, or without, source material. A fundamental part of any successful audition or performance is your voice, but understanding how to speak clearly and confidently isn’t as instinctual as you think. Many actors experience nervousness and stress before an audition or performance; but for some, this can physically manifest into a dry, squeaky, high pitched, shaky or inarticulate voice.
If you have ever lost the power, clarity or intention from your voice, or are new to acting and want to control your voice, this article is for you! We have gathered all the essentials you need to know on how to speak clearly to restore your confidence and allow you to shine in your next audition or performance.
What Is the Difference Between an Audition and Performance?
Wait a minute, aren’t you technically performing in an audition? Well, actually, you’re auditioning, not performing. The two do share some basic similarities, but they are in fact, two different arenas which require a specific state of mind. While both require practice, preparation and confidence to do well, an audition is more like the job interview before the performance, and because of that it needs a slightly different approach.
Casting directors audition dozens, if not hundreds of people, for the exact same role you are auditioning for. They can quickly lose interest after witnessing the same scene again and again if an actor doesn’t possess a memorable charisma and confidence.
In an audition, casting directors aren’t looking for anything perfect or polished, and not even veteran performers would expect themselves to accomplish such a thing in such a short amount of time. The casting directors don’t even know who or what the character is meant to be, and that’s why they’re auditioning you. They won’t know it until they see it, and that’s the very reason they want you to come in and inject your interpretation, perspective and personality into the material.
It’s not about being perfect or polished, like a performance would be, it’s about trying out or, better yet, playing with the material whilst remaining authentic to who you are!
Auditioning is finding the right balance of preparation and instinct. You want to do the right amount of preparation so that you are confident enough to show your most authentic self, in accordance with the material, and avoid risking beautiful and unique moments becoming locked into boring, pre-conceptualized ideas. This usually happens when you overwork or overthink the material.
It’s the moments that are unpredictable, even to yourself, that engross any viewer. Crazy, right? That’s why auditioning takes courage, because there is always the element of the unknown in any great audition. Performance is a little different from an audition.
Performance occurs after the audition stage, when you have been cast in a role. The character is now exclusively yours! You are no longer offering an interpretation to a casting director; you are working alongside professionals who expect you to bring your A game, especially because you’re are most likely being paid to perform.
With that responsibility, the emphasis shifts from showing your authentic self to polishing your performance to the best of your skills and creative abilities.
It’s about elevating what you gave in the audition, taking direction from key creatives, and utilizing the rehearsal time to polish and perfect your technique to the point of unconscious competence. However, every production is different and may not give you a lot of rehearsal time, so it is your responsibility to practice!
Is it Necessary to Practice?
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The short answer is yes. “Practice makes perfect” isn’t just an age-old saying. Any performer must practice in order to excel at their craft which, as a result, increases their chances of being cast or employed. Practicing will provide you with the confidence you need to give the best performance you can. It will give you with the fearlessness veteran performers have because when you maintain practice, you learn to overcome your fear of failure.
Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.
In the beginning, your rehearsals may feel riddled with stumbles, failures and frustrations. However, the more you push through, the more you realize practice is not about eliminating the chance of failure altogether; it’s about learning the skill to overcome adversity and developing the drive to fight for success. Ultimately, this is what any character would have to do in most stories: overcome adversity and fight to achieve an objective. That makes an engrossing performance.
Tips on How to Speak Clearly When Auditioning or Performing
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Each time you speak, you are engaging your nose, lungs and stomach muscles (diaphragm) to inhale and direct oxygen to your mouth, where your voice box, tongue, teeth and lips shape it into sounds. The goal of any actor is to begin as a blank canvas and then, through creative choices and instinct, diversify their physicality, as well as volume, pitch, articulation, accent and tone, to evolve into a watchable character.
Before knowing how to speak clearly, you need to ensure your voice is awake. Try adding these basic, daily warm-ups to your routine:
- 1Neck and body stretches (Loosen the tension from your whole body)
- 2Yawning and mouth stretches
- 4Lip trills (Gently push corners of your mouth up toward your eyes and blow air out from between your lips)
- 5Descending and ascending scales (Gentle singing)
- 6Tongue twisters
- 7Projection drills (Practice ‘throwing’ your voice across the room without yelling to increase breath control and power of voice)
These will not only improve your general speech but strengthen your approach to auditions and performance.
The most common inhibitor of the muscles around your voice box is stress. When activated by a heightened situation, like an audition or performance, the muscles around the voice box can close together, restricting diction, power and volume. To reduce or remove this added pressure on your voice, try the following tips:
Know Your Material
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Memorizing your lines reduces the risk of stress by allowing you to focus on your character’s motivations and movements rather than worrying about what you need to say. If you have an extensive amount of dialogue to remember, like a monologue, try breaking down the text into smaller sections and practicing each section before moving to the next.
It’s easy to know how to speak clearly, when you know what you are saying. Other hints include:
- Run lines with another person
- Cover sections of your text with a piece of paper so you only read and focus on the section you are learning
- Re-write your dialogue by hand to solidify the words in your brain
- Record your lines on your phone or computer and then listen to them when you fall asleep
- Record yourself performing on your phone or camera and then watch playback to make improvements
Relaxing the Vocal Cords
Speech pathologist Jackie Gartner-Schmidt recommends doing this ‘deceptively simple exercise’ several times to relax your vocal cords:
- 1Hover your index finger several inches from your lips.
- 2Inhale deeply, filling your lungs up.
- 3Make a steady “woo” sound while you exhale for 5 to10 seconds.
- 4While “wooing”, sway your finger side to side in front of your lips like a metronome.
Articulate With Your Tongue
Your tongue is the most crucial muscle for knowing how to speak clearly. It allows you to shape the sounds in your mouth into words and then articulate them in differing dialects, patterns and rhythms. Often, the tongue can become tired, rigid or strained, which can lead to slurred, incomprehensive and incomplete speech. To correct the position of your tongue, try this quick trick!
- 1Relax your jaw and drop your mouth open slightly.
- 2Poke your tongue out as far as you can.
- 3Speak a line, with as much conviction and energy as you can, while your tongue remains out.
- 4Repeat twice.
- 5Pull your tongue back in and speak the line properly.
You may think you look and sound silly, but you will notice a drastic change in the clarity, diction and confidence of your voice, before and after waking up your tongue!
Take Your Time
Giving yourself time to prepare and then taking your time during an audition or performanceis the greatest way to reduce stress and unnecessary voice issues. The less rushed you feel, the more you are free to enjoy yourself and speak with confidence. So here are a few hints to reduce those nerves:
- 1Take deep, slow breaths to lower your blood pressure, relax your muscles (including voice box) and steady your mind.
- 2Hydration is key. Drinking plenty of water will reduce the chance of you feeling light-headed and anxious.
Each of these tips are a great way to relax and learn how to speak clearly. You should experiment with various techniques, as different styles resonate with different people. Once you know what works for you, practice these techniques, keep your thoughts steady and calm, and then walk into that audition room, film set or stage ready to show them your creativity!
Knowing how to speak clearly strengthens your confidence and elevates the quality of your work. To avoid walking into an audition or performance with a dry mouth, a lump in your throat, or a croaky, shaky or inarticulate voice, follow the listed voice, breath and mouth warm-ups, and practice!