Photo Credit: Elnur /

Have you ever heard, or been given directions to “Speak louder!,” “Project your voice!,” “Use your diaphragm!” or “Enunciate!”? If so, you have probably thought about vocal projection and articulation. We often hear about projection and diction, but what exactly is it? How do you project your voice when acting, and how can you improve your articulation?

Why Voice Projection, Articulation and Diction Matter for Actors

You will lose your audience’s attention if they cannot hear or understand you. Good vocal technique ensures that your voice is clear and audible, and will keep your audience engaged. Projection does not mean yelling. Proper vocal placement allows you to remain relaxed while sending your voice where it needs to go.

The techniques and intensity for voice projection and articulation vary by the medium. In live theater, you must use more vocal energy and exaggerate your pronunciation to be heard, especially in large venues. In voice-over work, you’ll be close to a sensitive microphone and won’t need to project your voice as far or exaggerate articulation. When working on a film, you’ll need to adjust your projection and articulation based on the location and size of the set, the distance between you and your scene partner(s) and the number of people in the shot.

A note about microphones: As a vocal coach and a sound designer/composer, I have seen young theater and film actors who are fantastic at projecting and speaking clearly, but struggle once a microphone is introduced. They become nervous and speak softly, fearing that speaking or singing too loudly will cause feedback or hurt the sound system. The microphone will only amplify the signal it receives from the actor. It doesn’t make the actor louder. So, forget that the microphone is there and project and enunciate as usual. On the rare occasion that the sound engineer needs you to pull back, they will let you know.

The Role of the Body in Voice Projection, Articulation and Diction

A relaxed body and good posture are critical for proper vocal projection and articulation. When your body is tense, it can introduce tension in your voice, making it difficult for others to hear you, and it can even cause damage to the voice. Before beginning vocal exercises or warm-ups, it is essential to start with the body, releasing any tension and leaving room for your breathing apparatus to work efficiently.

Begin with some whole-body stretches, such as standing yoga poses. You can see what these poses look like at sites like mindbodygreen.

Once you have stretched your whole body, focus on your face and neck, making sure to release tension:

  • Place your head on your right shoulder, gently roll down so your chin hits your chest, then gently roll up to your left shoulder. Gently go back and forth this way a few times to loosen up your neck.
  • Lightly place your hands on your cheeks and gently wiggle your jaw from side to side, then open and close it a few times. The goal is to relax your jaw and have it move smoothly without popping.
  • Loosen up your lips and cheeks by doing lip trills (blowing air through your lips so they move together quickly like you are making the sound of a motor on a boat).

Once you have stretched, check your posture:

  • Stand with your feet slightly apart, lined up with your hips, and ensure that your knees are not locked.
  • Keep your back straight with your shoulders relaxed.
  • Make sure your head is resting comfortably on your neck and facing forward.

One way to visualize this is to imagine a string at the top of your head. Pull up on this string to elongate your body, like one might do with a puppet.

Breathing Techniques for Enhanced Voice Projection

Take a moment to focus on how you are breathing right now. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Which hand moves when you inhale and exhale? For many, the answer will be that the hand on the chest moves, meaning that the breath is shallow and will not be helpful for vocal projection. Instead, we want the hand on your stomach to move, indicating that you are breathing lower, releasing tension and allowing more air to enter the body. This is diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s crucial for proper vocal projection. Let’s walk through a few breathing exercises for vocal projection. It’s best to do these while standing, as it allows more space for the breath:

  • Breathe in over four counts and exhale for four counts. Then rest for four counts. Try to release as much of your breath as possible over that exhale while keeping the breath flow consistent as it goes out. Do this a few times, then increase those exhales to 8, 12 and possibly 16 counts while still breathing in over four counts. You may not be able to do this the first few times you try it, which is ok!
  • Try the same exercise while releasing on a hiss. Try to expel all of your breath over those exhale counts while keeping your breath flow constant as you hiss.
  • Finally, inhale for four counts and then let out one long, sustained hiss, ensuring that the airflow to the hiss is consistent from beginning to end. See how long you can hold it consistently.

A note about breathing: While we instinctively breathe through our nose, we breathe through our mouths when we speak. This is because we inhale more air more quickly through our mouths than through our noses. Therefore, in exercises focusing on breath or phonation, we should breathe through our mouths to train our bodies how to breathe while speaking.

Vocal Warm-Ups and Practice Exercises: The Foundation of Good Projection

Good vocal projection doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of practice for most people to master. The most effective way to achieve good projection is to practice and warm up your voice before performing. These vocal exercises will help you learn to phonate without tension, find your vocal placement and achieve good resonance.

  • Take a full, relaxed breath. On an “ah,” vocalize a sigh from your highest comfortable note to your lowest comfortable note, trying to keep the transition between head resonance and chest resonance as smooth as possible.
  • Explore your high range by making siren sounds on a “woo.” Be sure you do not feel tension in your jaw, neck, shoulders or any other part of your body. Can you feel where the sound is going? Is there a place where it feels the sound is most resonant?
  • Check your placement by singing a comfortable note in your mid-range on an “ah” or “ee,” starting at the most throaty sound you can comfortably produce. While keeping the note the same, gradually move the sound from that throaty spot to the most nasal sound you can find. Do the throaty or nasal placements sound good? Probably not. But, by slowly gliding between these two placements, you will likely find a spot where the sound is pleasant and requires little effort to create or maintain.

Once you’ve found placement, explore the volume or intensity of your sound. At a relatively neutral volume, begin with your well-placed “ah” or “ee” from the previous exercise. Now picture a knob or dial that you can use to turn the volume up or down. It may help for you to imagine your hand on this dial. Slowly turn the volume up and down. Follow the dial to crescendo and decrescendo through the volume. The goal is to use your diaphragmatic breathing to manage the air you need to increase or decrease volume. In other words, your breath is the only mechanism you need to adjust the volume. It may surprise you how much breath you use to achieve resonance at softer volumes.

Mastering Voice Projection Techniques

To fully understand how to send your voice where it needs to go, practicing in different-sized spaces is essential. Start by standing in a small room with some distance between you and the wall. Once you complete your warm-up exercises, speak a short sentence. Think about sending your voice to the wall you are facing. When you are projecting properly, you will hear a small amount of reverberation as your sound bounces off that wall. If you are having trouble getting that feeling of reverberation, try sending your sound through the wall and to the room directly behind it.

As you try this exercise in different-sized spaces, remember the volume knob exercise, where the breath is the mechanism for adjusting the intensity of your well-placed sound. The same applies to this situation, where the breath should be the driving factor for sending your sound to the back of the room.

Articulation and Diction: Your Hidden Assets

The physical act of creating spoken words using the lips, jaw, teeth and tongue is called articulation. In acting and singing, diction refers to expression regarding articulation, word choice, inflection and tone. It is often used interchangeably with enunciation. Effective communication requires clarity, so proper articulation and diction are critical in helping your audience understand what you are saying.

Adding the following exercises to your vocal warm-up can help prepare your articulators, such as the jaw, teeth, tongue and lips:

  • Place your tongue on the back of your teeth and push the rest of your tongue forward, past your teeth, until you feel the ligament under your tongue stretch.
  • Practice various consonant sounds, saying them quickly several times, such as “tuh,” “buh,” “puh,” “kuh,” “sh,” “ff,” “ta,” “pa,” “ba,” “mm,” “nn,” and other consonant sounds you can think of.

Tongue twisters are a great way to develop your articulation skills. A quick internet search will yield numerous tongue twisters for actors, and the Dr. Seuss book “Oh, Say Can You Say?” has many challenging tongue twisters that you can try.

When trying to enunciate difficult words, it is helpful to break them down into their smallest parts. For example, if you have trouble with the word “spectacularly,” break it down and speak it slowly: “spec – tac – u – lar – ly.” As you become more acquainted with speaking the word, you will be able to say it clearly with more speed.

Emotional Aspects of Voice Projection, Articulation and Diction

Actors play a wide range of emotions from moment to moment and beat to beat, making it easy to lose track of the body and the voice. For instance, playing anger can introduce tension into the body, which can introduce tension in the voice, making it difficult to project. Excitement or giddiness can cause faster speech, which may lead to tripping on words, dropping consonant sounds and not giving enough shape or attention to the vowels that come between the consonants.

Regularly checking in with yourself about your breath, body and articulation helps ensure that you can create sounds easily.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Voice Projection and Articulation

When it comes to vocal projection, it is easy, especially at times of exhaustion or stress, to default to yelling rather than projecting to be heard. It is important to remember that if you feel strain or pain, something isn’t working right.

Sometimes, your brain works faster than your mouth, which can be a nightmare for articulation. To avoid this, it is important to intentionally slow down your speech, giving yourself enough time and space to create consonant sounds without blending words.

It’s also important to remember that diction varies based on the space. In a theatrical space where you are not using a microphone, you may need to be more aggressive with your diction to be heard. However, the same aggressive enunciation will not work in a more intimate environment, such as a small room or in a studio setting.

Strategies for Combining Effective Voice Projection and Articulation

The body and the breath are your foundations for voice projection and articulation. Releasing tension, maintaining a relaxed and unobstructed posture and connecting to your diaphragmatic breath are the most important first steps for projection and articulation. You can improve your skills by spending at least 30 minutes per day on a vocal warm-up that includes exercises for the body, breath, phonation (making sound and finding resonance), projection and articulation.

Preserving and Protecting Your Voice

To keep your voice healthy, be sure to warm up before doing any strenuous vocal work. If something you are doing while vocalizing hurts, then stop because it is probably doing damage. Take a break, check your body, breathe, warm up again if needed and see if it feels better.

Hydration is also essential to maintaining a healthy voice. Drink plenty of water, but avoid milk and alcohol when you are about to rehearse, perform or use your voice for long periods.

If you are ill or if it hurts to swallow, avoid talking. Allow yourself to heal before using your voice. Avoid whispering, as it can cause damage to your vocal folds.

Key Takeaways:

  • Vocal projection means speaking to be heard, while articulation and enunciation refer to speaking clearly.
  • An audience is more likely to connect with an audible and comprehensible performance.
  • Warming up the body and the breath is essential for preparing the voice.
  • Tension in the body can affect the quality of the voice.
  • To find your resonance, use vocal warm-ups and practice projection by sending your voice across rooms of varying sizes.
  • Articulation refers to physically producing words, while diction and enunciation refer to how you speak them.
  • The body and breath are your foundation for healthy vocal projection, articulation and diction.

The voice is a vital tool for speaking actors. To succeed, actors must be heard and understood, so focusing on vocal projection and articulation is critical. It may take time to master these techniques, but it is possible with regular practice.

Are you ready for your voice to be heard? Sign up or log in to Casting Frontier and throw your hat in the ring!

You may also like:

Written by Shannon O'Neill