Value your voice!

A special guest post by Phyllida Furse, who runs our excellent course ‘Speaking Up: Voice Care for Educators

Value your Voice!
World Voice Day, 16 April 2016

Calling all teachers and lecturers! Do you value your voice? Are you struggling to make yourself heard or have you even lost it completely?

16 April sees the seventeenth celebration of World Voice Day. Set up in 1999 through the joint efforts of American and European otolaryngologists and speech and language pathologists, it annually celebrates the human voice as a key instrument of communication in our daily lives. For those of us who lecture, no voice means no job! But how many of us receive any vocal health or voice skills training prior to a starting a lecturing career?

This year I have been privileged to meet a broad spectrum of UCU members, whilst delivering our ‘Speaking Up!’ voice training days. So far we have visited to London, Middlesborough, Edinburgh, Manchester and Bristol. Wherever it is, the same issues are cropping up. They include: throat tension, soreness after speaking, diminishing voice during the day, lack of audibility, lack of clarity, difficulties in varying pitch and tone, nerves, inability to communicate clearly to large groups, and accent differences which can put up barriers to understanding. It’s a long list! When these pressures are unremitting and unaddressed, the result can be a weary and demoralised lecturer, who is difficult to understand. The students switch off. And the lecturer wonders where they are going wrong. Why is this happening? Delegates commonly report a lack of training, a lack of understanding of how to speak less and communicate more with the body, and being unaware of the fact that they have unwittingly signed up to a life time of professional voice use, for which they have received little preparation.

In order produce a sound, the vocal cords or ‘folds’ have to vibrate – hundreds of times per second! If you place your fingers on the front of your throat and hum gently you will feel this happening. Folds may vibrate over a million times during a busy speaking day! Produced by the interaction of tiny muscles both inside and outside of the larynx, the voice is highly susceptible to tension, be it physical or emotional. The harder it feels to speak, the more the speaker ‘pushes’, and so a tension cycle is set up until the voice goes on strike. A condition known as Muscle Tension Dysphonia is rife amongst teachers and lecturers! It’s a miserable condition, but easy to prevent.

We still have Birmingham, Belfast, Sheffield and Southampton to visit this year. If you can, come and experience simple techniques to help you stay vocally stronger for longer. These techniques also help to develop communication skills and confidence in front of larger audiences.

What can you do today?
Spend 15 minutes doing something for yourself!

  • Speak less.
  • Use the body more in communication.
  • Drink water regularly.
  • Gargle with boiled and cooled salty water to heal a sore throat or use steam to hydrate and moisten the back of the throat area.
  • Get an early night (cell repair occurs during sleep)
  • Note that REST IS BEST in order to make ‘more space for ideas!’

Don’t forget – it’s a voice for life, not just for work!

Phyllida Furse MA, Professional Voice Practice
Lecturer in Vocal Anatomy and Physiology, Birmingham School of Acting, Birmingham City University