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Apr 06 2014

Help for Tired Voices: The 5 Habits of a Healthy Voice

Published by under vocal health,vocal power

It’s 4pm on a Thursday, and it’s been another long week of phone calls, meetings and non-stop talking. There is one more meeting on the calendar your voice is so nearly gone that it actually hurts to speak. It takes a lot of effort to get through the frog in your throat to find the energy to say what you need to say. You do it, but when you get home, you  just have to be alone or go to bed because you still have another day of this. You sigh as you remember that your weekend is probably shot, as that’s the only time you have to recover.  

Sound familiar? If this was a story from a teacher, I’d say that teachers often live this scenario. 10% of teachers have chronic problems with their voices. 52% of all teachers will miss work because of vocal problems such as laryngitis, or worse, due to vocal fatigue. However, these same statistics are likely to be showing up in the business world too. With the average work-day being more than 8 hours , and 70% of those who are employed working on weekends as well as weekdays, shorter lunch breaks, and more and more meetings that rely on voice to voice communication, more and more business people are experiencing the same tired voices as teachers due to non-stop talking. In addition, dysphonia caused by vocal problems (laryngitis, a crackly voice, or one with squeaks and pops) makes it more difficult for others to actually hear, and therefore, understand, what a person with vocal problems is saying.

Do you have vocal fatigue?

Voice professionals have named the resulting condition of vocal overuse “vocal fatigue.” You probably know if your voice is thrashed, but in case you are wondering, here are some symptoms:

• Chronic hoarseness without a cold or infection

• Chronic tickle in your throat when you speak

• Change in median pitch of voice

• Your voice “hurts” at the end of everyday and is hoarse first thing upon waking

• You have to clear your throat often and hydration doesn’t help

Who let the frogs out? R and R for tired voices, the answer to vocal fatigue is rest- vocal rest as well as physical rest. Don’t speak at all for a weekend and you may be ok by Monday, unless there is permanent damage such as nodules (callouses on the vocal folds,) or you have an illness that’s exacerbated the problem. There is also an exercise you can do that is recommended by otolaryngologists, and involves blowing into a straw. (Yes, a straw!)

More than half of people who have to use their voices as teachers do will train their voices to tolerate such usage by gradually increasing usage, thus creating more endurance. However, the others will experience ongoing vocal problems, whether chronic or occasional. Some will eventually have to have surgery or even change careers due to damage done by vocal fatigue.




5 Habits of a Healthy Voice to Practice Now

It is possible, however, to cultivate habits that strengthen your vocal folds and make it less likely that you will experience vocal fatigue. Here are five new habits you can start developing right now to create better vocal health, even if your voice is often stretched to the limit.

1. Drink lots of water. Water is essential to a healthy larynx.  The larynx is a low-priority organ so it gets hydrated after the heart, brain, lungs and skin have taken their share. If you use your voice a lot as a speaker, singer or professional, you need more water in your diet than the average person. Keep some at your desk and sip all day.

2. Rest your voice every two hours or more. Leave room in your calendar for a 15-20 minute break after every two meetings or conversations. No talking. Better yet, rest and do nothing. It takes ¾ of your body energy to make a vocal sound so a little refresh every couple of hours is highly recommended. During that time, meditate or do some office yoga. If your voice still gets tired, when you feel the fatigue start to come on, write notes to people instead of talking.

3. Avoid iced drinks. Room temperature or warm liquids will aid in healing and feel soothing to a tired larynx. You may also enjoy warm tea with honey and lemon, or you may find other non-dairy warm drinks to be soothing.Tee Salbei - tea sage 01

4. Speak at the right pitch. When your voice gets tired the pitch often drops because the vocal folds swell up. It may be easier to let yourself speak at this lower pitch, but it’s not good for your voice. To find the right pitch, say “mmm-hmm,” like an enthusiastic “yes.” The pitch area you use for that is the right place to be speaking. It may feel high, especially when your voice is tired, but try it. Use a pitch pipe or musical instrument to keep yourself at the right pitch level, practice this and make it a new habit in order to avoid vocal fatigue.

5. Use mask resonance. Mask resonance is the buzz that is created when the sound resonates in the front of your face. It’s the healthiest place for a voice to resonate and also the most attractive to others. Cultivate the habit of speaking with this buzz in order to strengthen your voice and prevent further problems. To find it, once again you can use the “mmm-hmm” to feel the buzz. Or click here for an audio clip that will take you through the steps to find and use it.

Finally, if you do experience vocal fatigue that is bad enough to hurt and cause you to lose your voice, stop talking and rest. And see an otolaryngologist if it doesn’t heal after a few days or if it’s a recurring problem.

Special Note:

World Voice Day is celebrated on April 16th every year. Find out about events in your area for access to great resources for vocal health.

Further reading:

Compilation of posts on “how to create a strong voice” on Kate’s Voice

Just say no, How your meeting habit is harming you ,on Forbes

Does The Teacher’s Voice affect children’s language processing and test performance?







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Mar 06 2014

Women’s Voices in Business: Strategies for dealing with 3 common issues week, I attended a conference for women presented by one of my corporate clients.  There was a lot of discussion around Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, of course, and lots of tips on how to do that. Naturally, I didn’t think there was nearly enough said about the effect that a woman’s voice has on her career.  So in honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, here are strategies to address 3 questions that women often ask me about communicating in business.

People say my voice is too high.  What can I do about that?

First of all, a woman’s voice is high because of the size of the larynx.  In fact, although there is only an 8-9% difference in the average heights of male and female adults, there is a 50-60% difference in the size of the larynx.  A small larynx makes a higher sound, and that is just the way it is.  However, it’s possible for both males and females to make sounds that are much higher than the average speaker,  especially when they are agitated or using a lot of effort to speak loudly.  If you find that you have to yell a lot to be heard or if your voice is natually softer than others in the room,  some strategies to help you are:

  • Stand up when you speak so that you can get more support for your voice and more visibility for your ideas
  • Find opportunities to speak when others are quiet
  • Use a mic, or situate yourself so that you speak across the room and let your voice bounce against either a corner or a hard surface.

Another reason a voice can be too high or too low (which is very hard on the cords) is uneven approximation of the cords or lack of proper resonance.  This has nothing to do with gender.  If a voice is healthy and the vocal folds are coming together (approximating) cleanly and evenly, it’s not likely that the pitch will rise too high or too low or sound whiny or shrill, which are common complaints that women tell me they’ve heard.  To get a good clean approximation, you need a lot of mask resonance in your sound rather than head or chest resonance.  Mask resonance is that buzzy feeling you get around your nose and upper lip when you say “Mmm-hmm.”  You can find more on developing and using mask resonance here.

When I suggest an idea, it’s ignored.  But more often than not, the same idea is posed by a man after I’ve already said it, and then everyone thinks it’s a good idea.  Why?

Without being in the room, I can only guess about this one.  However, the reason people don’t have impact with their ideas is often because they don’t sound sure of themselves.  It could be the tone of voice or the choice of words that keeps us from being taken seriously.  Three areas to consider are these:

  • Check your speech for an over-abundance of open cadence   (up-speak at the end of sentences.) Although we use open cadence to indicate friendliness or to invite others into the conversation, too much of it just sounds indecisive. And insert your opinion often whether it gets recognized or not.  Eventually, the squeaky hinge gets the oil.
  • Check your words for indirect statements such as “I think…” or “I believe…” If you are saying it, it must be your thought; and why do you feel you have to ask permission by saying “Let me tell you…” or “Let’s look at this…?” Use assertive language rather than indirect.  (and don’t use aggressive language either.) And also drop the “I just want to…” or “it’s like…” or “kind of.”  All weaken your statements and diminish your impact.
  • Check your body language.  If people aren’t listening to you, as Sheryl Sandberg says, “lean in.”  Sit forward; look people in the eye and connect with them; take up space at the table by spreading out your arms and your computer or note pad, and stand up when you speak. As Amy Cuddy says in her TED talk, “Your body language shapes who you are.”

Another place to consider in your communication is the organization and presentation of your ideas.  The president of BP Alaska, Janet Weiss, says, “When I talk to women who ask about how to break through glass ceilings, I suggest to them to be really clear and concise with their communications, to get to the point and try and connect that point with risk and value.” (from BP’s in-house magazine, December 2013.)

I have a strong voice and strong opinions. How can I keep from sounding like a bitch?

You can’t. Or at least, for some you will sound like a bitch no matter what you do. And, no, it’s not fair that aggressive men may be seen as successful, and aggressive women are often seen as bitches.  There ARE things you can do to soften your remarks with indirect language or a different tone of voice; in other words you can do the opposite of what I suggested in response to the question about your ideas being heard above, and frankly, that’s what women have been doing for years. There are ways of being more “polite,” and if this topic wasn’t so loaded with gender bias issues there may even be a place to discuss this approach for both men and women.  But enough of being victims-  the best strategy here is to work with the people in your organization to help them to accept you and everyone else as you are, whether loud and strong or soft and meek.  Pull the diversity card.  Challenge people to be more open to anyone who seems different and to see you as a person rather than a gender. You could even join the Ban Bossy  movement.  (What do you think of it? ) If we want to see changes, we have to be advocates for change ourselves.  So be strong and and use your voice to speak up for yourself and for those who can’t or won’t.

More resources:

 The Eloquent Woman   Lots of great suggestions for women speakers

Tara Sophia Mohr   Download her 10 tips for brilliant women. 

International Women’s Day



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