Ask a Storytime Ninja: Projecting Without Straining

The second Ask a Ninja question is all about techniques for projecting your voice in storytime.  Are you a singer or know a lot about public speaking? Add your ideas in the comments section.


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Hi Ninjas! I have a question for the singers among you. Is there any way to teach storytime providers to improve their voice projection? I’m thinking particularly about the difference between your “head voice” and your “chest voice” (but I don’t have vocal instruction so maybe I have my terms wrong) and wondering if there are exercises to help people hear and feel the difference, but I’ll take any advice, especially if it comes with activities we can actually try together. Thanks!

And after a follow up by Michelle, for more clarification:

I’m thinking of staff…and speaking, not singing. When I hear someone straining to raise their voice and I know they could project better. As a kid In church choir I learned about “head” voice and “chest” voice but I don’t know how to teach this. But any techniques for breath support or projecting would be helpful!


Answers from July’s Featured Ninjas:


From Ingrid:
I don’t mean to brag or nothing, but I was a theatre major (Oh yes, I spelled it “re” instead of “er”. Deal with that!) in college. I’m also a classically trained musician. Or at least I was until I became a librarian. What I’m trying to say is, I have a majorly loud voice that can project. All it takes it some practice. You should check out the bajillion YouTube videos on how to project your voice without damaging your throat or losing your voice for the rest of the day.


Some tips from an ex-theatre dork:
1) Stand up straight. Good posture helps.
2) Drink lots of water, not sugary drinks or things with too much dairy or caffeine. Dairy makes lots of mucus, which is cool only if you’re into mucus.
3) Deep breaths. Don’t speak from your throat.
4) Don’t smoke. Just never smoke again.
5) Protect your throat during cold weather.
6) Rest your voice after lots of talking.
7) Know when you need a microphone. No shame in that. Better to use one than to screw up your voice.


The best tip I can give you is being aware of crowd control. I can make my voice pretty loud. I’m good at it. But if I have an overly excited storytime or a squirrelly group of uncooperative adults (the latter of which is more likely. Parents who talk during storytime are impossible to talk over), even my loud mouth voice will fall short. I have zero problem letting overly-chatty Cathies know when my voice is at maximum volume. I don’t try and talk over people who refuse to be quiet. Don’t try and shout over people who don’t want to listen. Public and Children’s Librarians do a lot of talking! We need to take good care of our voices.


From Michelle:

While voice projection is important for anyone doing public speaking, I do want to talk a little bit about styles. Some leaders have a louder presence, others have a softer one – both work. For example, my coworker and I have different styles, she has a bigger presence in the room, mine is a little bit more subtle. But we are both effective and engaging leaders. When you are a bit quieter of a presenter, you need to know effective crowd control. I have been known to stop reading a book and just wait for the room to get quiet. I know it seems old school, but it works (on the adults, I don’t worry about the kids noise level too much). Additionally, I often find parents like to park in the back of the room. I will always ask them to move closer. If you are quieter, you need to focus on creating a more intimate environment. Change the arrangement of the room if you need it, get creative, see what works, and use a microphone if you need it! Voice projection is important, but I think it is equally important to embrace your unique storytime style!


From Natasha:
The only thing I could add to any of this (and it might be piggy-backing on something already said) is if you are going for projection as a way to protect the voice, the two things I’ve been told and try to use myself
-warm up a little” by doing a little bit of humming the “mmmmm” sound (got that from an actor friend who also does the lip…wiggle?  The one that involves making a sound like a raspberry or Bronx cheer?  That one); and
-practice breathing from the diaphragm (breath in through the mouth, expand the belly instead of the chest, and then expel through the mouth, sucking the belly in as much as possible), not just in storytime, but as a regular relaxation technique.  I actually use it as a relaxation techniquie in storytime sometimes, having the kids and adults do it with me.



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3 thoughts on “Ask a Storytime Ninja: Projecting Without Straining

  1. Profile photo of Kendra Jones (leo)Kendra Jones (leo)

    Even though my voice is not great and I’m still a little tone deaf, I took voice lessons for years and these are some things my teacher taught me that have really helped. Maybe they’ll work for you, too!

    1) Breath support is vital. Sometimes people aren’t aware of where and how they are taking their breathes. Have your staff stand up and breathe regularly, noting which part of their body is moving. Most of them will probably notice their shoulders raising. Now have them lay on the ground, on their backs and do the same thing. Some will still use their chest breathes, but others will right away notice that their belly raises instead. Ask them to relax and focus on breathing from their belly. Now stand up and continue breathing from the belly. Practice by saying “HA HA HA” with a staccato. Really blow it out on those H’s with enough force to blow out a candle (in your imagination).

    2) Speak and sing from your teeth. Visualize the sound coming from your teeth and nose. You don’t have to have a nasal sound to do this. It’s just a visualization trick that really works for me.

    You must do both of these at the same time for it to work. So, using your belly (diaphragm), push the sound up and out through your nose and teeth. In one fluid movement.

    Another thing to remind them is that even speaking, we all have a pitch in which it is more comfortable and better for our voices to speak in. For some, that pitch is high and for others it is low. When you do the techniques above you should naturally feel where your pitch lies. If you don’t feel the sound coming through your nose, adjust your pitch.

    Sorry this is so long, just wanted to throw in my 2 cents!

  2. Profile photo of Kalen JonesKalen Jones

    The best way I’ve found to practice projection is to first work on controlling your diaphragm. It’s one of those muscles that we usually use without thinking about, so isolating it can be tricky at first. Try putting your hand just below your ribcage, taking a deep breath, and then expelling it in short “ha” sounds. This feels incredibly silly, and is a little hard to describe in writing. Here’s a good video that shows how to do it.

    Head voice and chest voice are really more singing things that have to do with tone than projection. I generally sing in my head voice for storytime because singing in my chest voice would sound a little too formal.

  3. Profile photo of Melissa DepperMelissa Depper

    Ladies & Ninjas, I am deeply sorry that it’s taken me a month to thank you for these responses! I totally agree with Michelle and Ingrid that excellent voice projection is NOT the answer to managing all storytime situations NOR is a way in and of itself to control your audience! But I feel like knowing how to take care of your voice and to use your diaphragm well are two great tricks for our toolbox, and I appreciate the time you all took to point me in a good direction. Thank you so much!

    Melissa ZD

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