Great Speakers Use Acting Skills

public speaking using acting skills

From the Desk of …

In this posting I’m giving it over to a top voice talent and vocal  coach in Portland, Oregon.

Of course there is so much more to proper speaking but this is a BIG ONE.  Mostly I want actors and speakers to know that “speaking on the breath” is an important technique to master in order to be heard and understood. Two attributes necessary for your story/message/intent to get across to the audience.

From the Desk of MaryMac, Dialect Coach

Hello All,

Recently a discussion about “vocal fry” (also called “glottal fry”) came up on the international dialect coach listserve I hang out on. This is a sound I often hear in actors, especially younger ones.  I thought the comments on the list were worth repeating, so I’m passing them to you here unedited.  I find this stuff fascinating… hope you find it interesting, too!

Happy Sunday,

Mary McDonald-Lewis
Dialect Coach

PS  For an hilarious example of vocal fry, among other modern communication failures, go here at the 1:00 mark if you don’t want to watch the first bit: (Caveat: It’s the work of the fabulous Louis CK so be forewarned that it is fecund humor at the front end).



quick fixes – fry

(1) refill breath more often
(2) use slightly higher average pitch, [ teacher’s cue: “stay above the gravel zone”]

My quickest demo is to start at normal conversational level, explaining:

glottal fry occurs when one runs out of energy but then keeps talking and talking on empty and then it kinda makes sense to drop energy further in order to keep going and pretty soon I’m out of breath completely but as you see I haven’t refilled yet and I’m into glottal fry by now but I could really keep going for quite a while….

Improvise your own text you get the idea and you’ll get a laugh or two but I’m gonna go breathe now


Just add some more words to the sentence.

I’m going to the stor…rrrrrgghhhhhhhhhhhh


 I’m going to the store to get some apples and cheese

and then they hear themselves fully saying the final word and can then delete the extra words.


I’m not keen on asking people to listen to themselves, but I think that many chronic fryers have no idea how much they are doing it. By recording and listening back they might notice. Also, with a partner, have the partner merely lift a finger every time their partner drops into the fry-zone. This also works with uptalk? So people can notice that they’re doing it?

I think that a little knowledge about the need for breath in order for there to be “flow phonation” can be helpful ”that there is value in letting breath in because it gives “breath energy”, “gas in your tank” that you can speak on.

I suspect that many young women (typically with “soprano” speaking voices) use vocal fry because they don’t want to sound “strident” (or some other negative judgment of their higher than average voice), but don’t have many low notes in their range to access for the end of their thoughts. So the combination of uptalk (which allows them to stay in modal vibration) and fry (which allows them to go lower than they are currently capable of doing) “works” for them. To bastardize Maya Angelou: They do what they do when they know what they know. Our job is to help them know better, so they can do better.


Interesting hypotheses!

My speculation on the phenomenon has been that young women know they’re supposed to sound powerful/authoritative, but absent any real connection with body/resonance/expressive-range/belly-power, and with severe self-perceived pressure to keep tummy empty/small, best they can find is very low pitch skating @ edge of fry.

For young men with similar sound, I wonder if low-energy voice signals cool/unaggressive/ version of modern masculinity—a vocal “slouch” showing membership in the we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously-even-when-depressed fellowship.

Or, those might have been the sociolinguistic processes 10-20 years ago; by now the low pitch + inner emptiness (rib-squeeze, in Catherine Fitzmaurice’s parlance) is simply the normal accent of a generation. As others have said, there is zero awareness of fry as abnormal or unhealthy, even when they’ve come to see me because of muscle fatigue!


What they need is more breath support to avoid vocal fry. The fry happens because their is not enough airflow, so the vocal folds meet at irregular intervals, making the sound more “choppy” as they descend below their phonation threshold – below the amount of energy needed to vocalize at that pitch. We need more breath support at lower pitches, which is why we go into fry at the end of a phrase (especially true for American speakers with the line-ending drop that is so very American!)

Adding words at the end of their current phrasing tends to extend their support, as someone already mentioned. (I tend to use “, okay?” as my old standby.)

You can also add more support at the end of the phrase itself. If they know what support is, maybe you can just give that note, but if they don’t get the concept yet, try adding a physical action that causes more support: bend the knees towards a squat, press down on something, lift something heavy, press against the wall, etc.Be careful about having them start at a slightly higher pitch because they may not hear the “slightly” part and start pitching up overall. What they really need to do is to fill out the low end of their range with support!

Barbara Kite is a professional acting coach and an executive speaking coach based in Portland Oregon.


May 3, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

1 Comment »

  1. May I refer your readers to “The Thought Propels the Sound” by Janet Madelle Feindel, Plural Publishing. As a performing artist she explains the science in terms that the actor can put to use. Vocal fry is to be PREVENTED, not pushed through or the actor risks damage to the most important instrument in his craft. So, back to the basics: Every performer must mark up the script with breath pauses, warm up the breathing and larynx structures so that the actor FEELS the proper support and EASE, regardless of the accent or emotion he is after.

    Using a pause does not mean you have to completely exhale and inhale. It’s just a pause where you can get a sniff of air to “top off the tank” to carry you through to the end. Don’t wait till you are in fry and then add physical load. That will only get you out of a jam one time. I am puzzled and concerned by the technique mentioned above where people add on words—that requires more pushing from the throat.

    Our work in Speech-Language Pathology and Linguistics supports the relationship between thought and sound. Your audience will NOT comprehend the important words you are saying if they are all run together. The brain needs a pause now and then to process each important part of the message.

    Vocal fry is the auditory characteristic of damaging behavior in the larynx due to the actor straining with the throat musculature to make up for the lack of breath. There is danger in adding tension by further pressing the large muscles that lift us from chairs, up from the floor, etc. This is one of the first questions I ask when doing a laryngeal evaluation in the clinic.

    Comment by Kay Meyer | July 4, 2011 | Reply

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