Are you in good voice?

Is your voice in good shape or are you in poor voice? Do you like the sound of your own voice? (and I mean that literally, not figuratively!) This week I attended an interesting afternoon of events focusing on the voice: knowing its anatomy, how to warm up, preserve, and repair your voice, as well as tips for public speaking. Presentations from speech therapists and ENT doctors were interspersed with musical interludes by singers, including an opera singer, and a – very impressive – beatboxer.

beatboxer Irose

The conference was organised by a health insurance fund which draws most of its members from the teaching profession, so there was a tendency to concentrate on issues experienced by teachers: they have a much higher rate of voice-related problems than the general public, especially if they teach primary school, music or PE, and women are four times more likely than men to experience problems. (I’ve literally heard these problems first-hand as my mother-in-law, a former teacher, has a paralysed vocal cord.) I translate and don’t teach but I do some consecutive and liaison interpreting, as well as voice talent work, and I also regularly use my voice in presentations and daily on the phone to clients and colleagues.

With speech professions, voice use is supra-physiological, i.e. we talk more and longer than other professions. Referring to voice loss, interestingly one of presenters mentioned that whispering tires the voice more than conventional speech as it forces more air than normal to pass through the passageways, something to bear in mind for interpreters who carry out chuchotage. It was also mentioned that several shorter days of speaking (e.g. three days of speaking for 4 hours) are preferable to one long day (e.g. twelve hours), although of course when interpreting we don’t always get much choice in the matter!

singers Nicole Dambreville & Pheelip Zora

Concerning public speaking I was pleased to learn that a practice I’ve often adopted instinctively – standing up when asking a question or presenting myself – is highly recommended, as is good posture and breathing. You should of course always look at your audience, and try and make sure your voice resonates from as low down in your body as possible. Keep your throat and neck muscles relaxed.

One of the overriding messages of the event was that for those of us professionals who speak regularly, the voice is an often-neglected asset that needs to be taken care of to be kept healthy. Some advice to help keep it in good shape:

  • drink water to keep your body well hydrated
  • make the most of breaks to avoid having to speak
  • avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • avoid smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke
  • don’t yell
  • do sport

Hopefully these tips will help you find your voice!

opera singer Olivera Topalovic

 

See also:

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Is our job killing us?

Are we ‘active couch potatoes’? Is it only me, or has there recently been much talk of the negative impact of too much sitting? Take a look at just a few of these recent articles:

Inactivity ‘killing as many as smoking’ – BBC News, 18th July 2012

Sitting is the New Smoking – Even for Runners – Runners World, July 20th 2013

‘Get Up!’ or lose hours of your life every day, scientist says – LA Times, 31st July 2014

I don’t automatically believe or react to every health scare I hear about, and I’m sure if we look hard enough there’s plenty of articles that will tell us sitting is fine. Also, initially I didn’t feel concerned by these headlines as I do an hour of sport every day, and a few years ago when I had a salaried, sedentary office job was the period of my life when I was the leanest and fittest. But as an employee I was actually regularly getting up from my desk to see colleagues or management, to deal with clients, or to go to see the factory production line. Even the toilet was several minutes walk away! Now I no longer interact with flesh-and-blood colleagues, I have no boss apart from myself, and I barely see one physical client a day. I regularly go to the gym at midday, which gives me a physical break halfway through the working day, but even then I can still find myself sitting at my desk from 2 to 7pm, and five or more hours of sedentary sitting, according to Dr. David Agus, a professor of medicine, is the health equivalent of smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes.* And a study of marathoners found that participants trained an average of 40 miles per week, but also sat idle for nearly 12 hours per day.*

sitting-is-killing-you-791x1024

So what can we do about it? Back in 2008 fellow translator Corinne McKay was already blogging about treadmill desks; I also have a friend who posts his Jawbone Up results on Twitter daily (Jawbone Up is an activity tracker that provides feedback on your sleep, exercise and steps). But treadmill desks need quite a lot space, and while apps like Jawbone can give you feedback and remind you to move, as far as I know they don’t provoke activity. Some people rave about stand-up desks, and while apparently they create more space to hang photos of good-looking members of the opposite sex, other desk workers remain to be convinced, saying standing is not necessarily better than sitting if you do it for a prolonged period of time. There are intermediate solutions, like the Kangaroo Pro or Varidesk adjustable standing desks, but in the end it all boils down to getting more activity and this doesn’t necessarily have to be intense, high-level activity either – some of the longest-living people on earth owe their longevity to having to walk up and down flights of stairs or getting up from a sitting position on the floor**. The debate rages as to how often we need to move, but for example this study suggests that interrupting sitting time with short bouts of walking every twenty minutes may be an important strategy for reducing cardiovascular risk.

3035367-inline-copy-of-the-creativity-spectrum

So on my computer I recently dusted off my Time Out app, which I’ve set to grey out my screen every 20 minutes in order to remind me to get out of my seat and walk about unless I hit the ‘skip break’ or ‘postpone’ buttons. Time Out is a free app for Mac; solutions for PC-users apparently include Work Pace or BreakPal. What about you? Please let me know what solutions you’ve adopted (if any) in the comments below.

P.S. While we’re on the subject, I’ve also unchecked the “automatically adjust brightness” option of my monitor which I realised was making my eyes hurt, and I use a computer app called f.lux which makes the colour of my computer display automatically adapt to the time of day (‘warm’ at night and like sunlight during the day). You might also like to take a look at these computer monitor test pages that allow you to test and adjust your monitor settings to get the best possible picture quality and thus avoid eye strain.

Further reading:

* see A user’s guide to standing while you work

** see Why I Killed My Standing Desk, and What I Do Instead – Lifehacker

Why I’m a Convert to Standing at Work

Stand up at office to lose weight, says exercise scientistA sitting person’s guide to standing up and Treadmill desks: How practical are they? – BBC News

The Stand Up Desk – Lifehacker

I Tried Out A Standing Desk For All Of The Benefits — Here’s Why I Quit – Business Insider

Standing up at your desk may energize you, but it also may be tough on your legs – Washington Post

A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17 – The Atlantic

3 Minute Mini Walk (video)

standing

Acknowledgements to friend and freelance home-working editor Karen White of White Ink Limited for the cartoon above, and whose recent Facebook post inspired me to finally get round to writing this blog post that I’d been mulling over for a while.