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.
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!
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!