In his bestselling book The Art of Voice Acting, James Alburger defines diction as a combination of accent, intonation, enunciation, inflection, and speaking style tuned according to the choice of words. In order to impress through a character’s voice and to get the correct message across, it’s vital that an actor understands the critical importance of good diction. One may be born with a natural talent of good voice but even the best in the business require coaching and direction at some point to achieve a professional level of diction quality.
Here are some tried and tested ways for actors and voice artists to improve diction and articulation skills:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
Yes, you guessed it right. It’s one of those tongue twisters we used to trip over and amuse ourselves. But, an actor doesn’t have the luxury to fumble and laugh it off. They must master everything they will be saying on stage and have to get it right, irrespective of the pronunciational complexity of the script. It’s a good warm-up practice to pick a few tongue twisters every day and try to enunciate them correctly and clearly.
Follow the leader
Just as you draw acting inspiration from Al Pacino, Humphrey Bogart, Amitabh Bachchan, or Shah Rukh Khan, you can get a bit of motivation from some of the best public speakers, orators, and voice actors. Morgan Freeman is considered one of the best voices in the world and a lot can be learned from just actively listening to his monologues and narrations.
Watch your mouth (movement)
Movement of mouth, tongue, and face, plays an important role in the delivery of your voice. Incorrect movement of vocal muscles may lead to poor delivery. Practice reading out loud in front of a mirror and watch your face as you speak. Notice the movements of jaws, lips, forehead, and face. Discover the emotions associated with facial movements.
Take a breather
As with any other wind instrument, it’s essential to control the flow of air while speaking to achieve a desired output. Proper breathing allows for emotional expression and the ability to switch between various speaking styles. Breathe conversationally in a natural and comfortable manner. In scripts, breath points usually occur after a thought is delivered or when a question is asked.
Measure your progress
It’s important to keep a track of your progress and to identify the areas of improvement. You can record your practice sessions periodically and come back to listen to them later. You can seek feedback from the experts on these tapes and benefit from their experience.