Voice Synergy News

Gasping with admiration or gently nodding off to sleep?

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Presentations – do you love them, or hate them? Either way, they’re an essential part of our lives as we connect with our colleagues or customers online and it’s our constant challenge to excite interest and attention through our speech.

If you’ve ever wished you could speak more clearly, with more passion in your voice or with gravitas and sincerity, you can get help at Voice Synergy.

I’ve noticed over the years that even people with very senior positions can let down their organisation and disappoint their stakeholders by not engaging their voice effectively. If you’re not engaged with what you’re saying, your words can sound empty and hollow. You might have heard someone saying, “Thank you to the whole team and especially to our sponsors who have provided the finance for this project.” If this is said as words only, it sounds heartless and purely a function of speech. Instead of cheering and heartening the audience, it can sound bland and mechanical.

Using your voice when it’s connected to your thoughts and most importantly, with your emotions, can be very powerful. Harnessing the power of your voice can be achieved when you engage your imagination and allow yourself to connect with what you’re saying.

It’s easy to trot out ‘thank-yous’ but if you take a moment to really think and mean those words, how differently they can sound. Your listeners can feel a warmth towards you and your organisation; your sincerity can be heard in your voice and the beginnings of loyalty can be ignited.

How can you begin to be connected with your words? Firstly, write down a few sentences that you would like to say to your team. Let’s start with the ‘thank you’ speech. After you have written it, record it as naturally as possible, as you would normally speak.

Now take a moment to read your sentences again and find the words that might really stand out and reach people. Next, breathe in slowly and deeply, feeling the air flow into your lungs. When your lungs are full, begin your speech. Take your time and read a whole sentence fluently. Take a new breath for each new sentence.

You can practise this reading aloud of your speech with great effect. Always take time to breathe before you speak. Begin speaking when your lungs are full and your breath will enable you to speak a long sentence comfortably.

Next, find one or two words that you would really like to bring out in your sentence. Repeat the above exercise, but this time pause just before the key word. You can try several different methods to emphasise a word, like pausing just before and/or just after it. You can try lifting or lowering your voice on that word. There are many ways of varying your speech patterns to make your speech more colourful and interesting.

By trying out some of these vocal techniques, you will begin to hear that your voice is gaining in expression. This should help you feel more confident and empowered to try more vocal variations in your speech.

When you’re happy that your expression has improved, try recording your voice again and compare the first recording with the second and notice the two styles. You should be aware of a positive difference in the before and after speech styles and be encouraged by how much more engaged your voice sounds after trying out new vocal techniques.

If you take time and practise working with your voice, it can help you to connect better with your colleagues, your team and your stakeholders.

If you would like help with developing a more connected and relaxed way of speaking, please get in touch.

The Professional Voice User

Debbie Chatting, Bath Radio, Somer Valley FM, voice coaching, broadcasting, voice training, accent coaching, presenting, better speaker, voice artist, sound authentic, Voice Synergy, Bath Voice Coach, leadership, excellent spoken communication, authority, professional voice user, voice coach, accent coach, presentation skills, radio broadcasting, voice over

As lockdown and Covid restrictions go into their second year, I have reflected on how the last year has been for me as a Voice and Accents Coach.

In the winter of 2020, I joined Bath Hospital Radio station with the intention of cheering up patients, getting requests and playing some of their favourite tunes live on air. With just a few weeks under my belt, we were in lockdown and no more opportunity to get in touch with Bath Radio listeners.

I continued to coach my clients by Zoom or Skype and became very busy with many people taking the opportunity to upgrade their speech skills whilst in lockdown. At the same time, I learned how to make short inspirational voice recordings for people’s well-being and sent those to Bath Radio. Over the weeks, I interviewed hospital staff and doctors about how they were coping with the pandemic and sent over these reports which were played on air to support NHS key workers as well as families of those in hospital.

Spring gave way to summer and as we were allowed back into the broadcasting studio in 2020, I asked our director if I could present a show of my own. I wanted to help people feel in touch with nature and help them with their sense with their well-being. This show is still on air. It’s called the Great Outdoors Show and each week I play music, tell a few jokes and most importantly, I interview two people about their role in the great outdoors. So far I’ve interviewed a light aircraft pilot, open water swimmers, communities creating better environments through tree planting, famers with low carbon footprints in the lambing sheds and out in the fields as the cows were calving and discovering new bridleways in the company of local foragers. I’m met chefs, volunteers on Duchy Farms, paddle board instructors, concert violinists who’ve played outdoors to cheer up the old folk, stuck at home or in care homes, I’ve chatted with artists, writers and naturalists with so much knowledge of the great outdoors. I’ve discovered things about peregrine falcons, hedgehogs, elderflowers, hawthorn hedges and earthworms that I never knew and I’ve passed these on to our listeners as the weeks passed.

The opportunity to have become a script writer for my own two-hour show, the researcher, interviewer and presenter has been absolutely fantastic. Each week, l come up with ideas for content to fill the structure I have created. I now present the show on two different radio stations – Somer Valley FM, as well as Bath Radio.

For you, this means what? It means that like you, I am actively engaged in a professional performance where I present to an audience. Like you, I am giving a live performance to a live audience and like you, my listeners judge me on my voice and the ability to generate interest in the subject matter I am presenting.

I can absolutely identify with the feelings you might have when you are preparing a presentation and the anxious thoughts that can develop. We all share an unwelcome voice in our head from time to time, asking if we’re good enough, can we speak well enough, will we sound authentic?

Every single one of my clients has the benefit of being a professional speaker. She or he has the responsibility of communicating important information to their audiences.

Together, we explore the four component parts of excellent communication, including authority (status), interest (though intonation) connecting with our listener (empathy) and leadership (via posture and speech patterns).

The four component parts of excellent spoken communication:

  1. Authority
  2. Interest
  3. Connection
  4. Leadership

Building on the experience of decades of leadership roles in industry and now being a broadcaster, has created a foundation on which to build a new role. This new role allows me to embrace what I know about communication and push myself into new territory of being a story teller and a friendly voice. I am speaking as a radio presenter, live on air. Like you, I have an audience to inspire.

Each week, I coach groups of academics or voice artists or individuals via Zoom or Teams or Skype, to become better speakers, to be authentic and inspiring. My voice coaching is consistently judged by delegates to be ‘excellent’.

To find out more about voice training, accent coaching or presenting, please get in touch.

To hear Debbie’s Great Outdoors show go to Somer Valley FM Mondays 10-12 and www.bathradio.org.uk Wednesdays 10-12

Shall we dance?

When we speak, a complex series of actions begin in our lungs, larynx and mouth. The voice is started; we can hear a sound, but just how do we get ourselves understood? Thanks to a sophisticated, complex dance which originates in our mouth, our speech can be recognised and enjoyed by those who are listening to us.

Our mouths are like a ballroom and the dancers that make our voices so clear and easy to understand, need training. Who are these dancers that live in the ‘Ballroom Mouth’ and how on earth can they be trained?

The dancers are our articulators – and through undergoing a series of exercises, these dancers’ muscles become agile, flexible and strong.

Dancers in our mouth go by the names of the tongue, the soft palate, the lips and the teeth. Now, of course, the teeth cannot be flexible, but they play a key support role in their ‘Paso Doble’ in partnership with the lips and tongue.

Where would we be without our ‘TH’ the ‘f’ the ‘v’ if it wasn’t for our tongue and teeth? The teeth lightly join the tongue and together create the ‘th’ sound. The teeth balance on the lower lip to create the ‘f’ and ‘v’ sounds. These dancing articulators cooperate closely and meet in exactly the right place at the right time. You can hear their commitments to each other in our spoken words like “those three things are free, however, the thin feathers are very threadbare”.

Another collection of complex dance moves by our articulators are found in the partnership of the tongue (again) and the gum ridge (or alveolvar ridge) just behind your top teeth before your hard palate gets underway.

This dancing couple – this time the tongue tip and the gum ridge – get together for the equivalent of the free-form Foxtrot. The tongue tip joins with the gum ridge to make the sounds ‘L, N, D and T’ in varying shapes. Try this sentence, ‘Lovely Lily went unnoticed although no one knew and Lily didn’t mind.’ You will notice how much interaction goes on between your tongue tip and the gum ridge.

This week, one of my clients shared her thoughts with me about the work we are doing on her accent softening. “There’s so much going on inside the mouth with our tongue like a clock… it’s so sophisticated… it’s unbelievable. In short,” she said, “it’s very mysterious, very subtle and the nuances can be so difficult to grasp.”

I think it’s an excellent way to understand what’s happening inside our mouths as we shape our words. Once you understand that your articulators are there to work together to create different relationships with each other, it makes the task of improvement much easier.

To improve your articulation, it’s best to get help from a trained voice coach, but there are exercises you can do yourself to strengthen your muscles and develop flexibility.

One easy exercise to help strengthen your tongue:

  1. Drop your jaw, so your mouth is open and relaxed
  2. Touch the tip of your tongue onto the centre top of your lip
  3. Bend the tongue tip down to touch the centre of the bottom lip
  4. Return tongue tip to the centre of the top lip.

Take your time, move your tongue only (no closing your mouth to make it easier) and repeat this exercise ten times morning and evening.

There are plenty more exercises to develop your tongue’s strength and dexterity and help get it ready for the dance floor of the mouth!

The more flexible, strong and precise your articulators dance, the clearer the sound of your speech.

Client endorsement:
“It is a fantastic experience for me and I feel really grateful for this opportunity to work with you and it has enriched my live in so many ways.”

For more information on better articulation, clarity in speech or accent softening, please get in touch.

Wellbeing and your voice

It’s almost a year since lockdown began and our voices are being used in ways we couldn’t have imagined last February.

Back then we spoke in meetings around a table, we spoke to people at lunch and we spoke in restaurants, pubs and on flights to exciting places.

Today, our voices are being used much less than before, overall, as we mostly work from home and attend work meetings via Skype, Zoom, Teams and so on. Our voices are not so spontaneously heard and attracting attention to speak during a meeting is much harder.
Also, maintaining everyone’s interest on a Zoom call is more challenging than a face to face meeting. There’s less opportunity for chatting and finding solutions through information communication.

How does diminished use of your voice affect your sense of wellbeing?

Our voices are used to express our thoughts. As we breathe in, we inspire through air entering our lungs and this function stimulates thought – it creates inspiration – ideas. When we breathe out, our ideas are transformed into words, we express ourselves as we exhale.

This lovely exchange of thoughts, breath and speech is so important to we humans. It brings us closer and not only that, getting those thoughts out of our heads and sharing them with others empties our heads of all the jumbled thoughts that can trouble us.

We need to speak to each other more, not less. Ideas are generated through chats and informal work-breaks. One person’s idea stimulates your imagination and you in turn come up with a developed idea and so it continues.

Much of my work as a voice coach is morphing into being a life-coach when required. I discuss work issues with my clients, perhaps their feelings of anxiety when being overloaded with work by their line manager, or how to cope with interference in their own projects by other less invested colleagues.

Together, we identify key issues and how to assertively address obstacles. These obstacles might come from previous negative experiences or lack of confidence or reluctance to ‘rock the boat’. Perceptions about ourselves and about others can be very limiting. I help my clients to rediscover their own worth and provide tools to enable them to grow in the most appropriate way. It is very positive and rewarding to help my clients not only achieve vocal confidence in terms of accent, clarity and so on, but to believe in themselves and what they offer their organisation. The confidence they find in themselves transfers to their vocal tone, their body language and posture which is extraordinarily powerful to achieving positive communication outcomes.

During coaching sessions, I encourage my clients to talk about their work situation and the structure / relationship of people involved in their work. Allowing thoughts to be formed and the voice to flow freely and expressed is extremely helpful – it’s cathartic and essential to good mental health and wellbeing.

Connecting breath to thought, connecting that thought to energy and with this impulse to ultimately find your voice, is extremely liberating and helpful. Change takes time and talking enables us all to find our way through challenging situations and find good outcomes and solutions.

Those chats around the water cooler, in the queues for lunch or in coffee breaks at a seminar can’t be immediately replaced, but a good chat with your voice coach / life coach can deliver really good outcomes for you.

Please get in touch if you want to have an informal chat about how I can help with your voice, expression and confidence at work. I’ll be pleased to help. Your wellbeing matters.

New Year’s Resolutions

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We humans love a bit of encouragement and sometimes it’s good to have a goal that is relatively easy to achieve – especially during these socially-distanced times. If you have a job which is causing excessive tension in your life, it’s easy for the voice to suffer. And here, help is at hand!

To make this year’s resolution successful, it should be based on reward, not denial. This year it’s both for you and for the people you are leading at work. You’ll both feel rewarded.

Here’s my idea for a great new year’s resolution and it’s all to do with improving your voice as well as relaxing your body.

First, make sure you create some time for yourself. Find time to relax, clear your mind and allow your body to let go of the tension is carries around daily.

  1. Seat yourself comfortably in a chair that fully supports your head, neck, arms and legs.
  2. Release the tension in your muscles. Let all the weight of your body sink into your chair.
  3. Take a nice deep breath in through your nose if possible, then gently breathe out noticing the tension melting away from the muscles in your arms, chest and legs.
  4. Remember to let the chair take all of your weight as you relax all your muscles and close your eyes for a few moments, focusing only on gently breathing in and out.
  5. Feel the tension being released from your shoulders, jaw, neck and face as you breathe out.

Remember, as you relax the muscles in your shoulders, neck and jaw, the connections to your larynx are also relaxed and your voice is allowed to function more smoothly.

Here is a short recording to help you relax your body which will in turn help your voice to perform better. It will help reduce the tension around your larynx and your voice should sound less stressed.

You will find that with 10-15 minutes a day of complete relaxation though listening to this recording, and/or doing some gentle yoga or pilates, the quality of your voice can improve.

Last year I was working with several clients who have developed vocal tension due to their new working situations. One of the causes of vocal tension is stress which is carried in the body and finds its way to the larynx. Clients have complained of having a ‘croaky voice’ or ‘not being heard’ as their voice is unable to work properly due to muscular tension.

Relaxation is an important antidote to vocal issues. This year, you can allow yourself to be rewarded with your new year’s resolution by building in time for yourself each day to consciously relax your body and breathe deeply. It’s a resolution that will reward you and enable you to perform better as a manager, director, head teacher or team leader. If you have the benefit of a relaxed body and voice, you will be more successful at speaking to and leading others.

This new year’s resolution to take care of your voice should not only be started right now, but carried on daily. It should be a pleasant and restorative exercise as you invest a small amount of quality time in yourself. Relaxing your body, relaxing your voice will reward you as you speak more effectively when you’re at work.

For more information and help with techniques to relax your voice, speak more easily or articulate well, please get in touch.

Musicality and your voice

Voice Synergy, voice training, vocal coaching, voice coaching, speech training, voice warm ups, vocal warm up, voice exercises, five days of Christmas, fish and chips, smell of vinegar, breathing, deep breaths, vocal power, breathe and speakWe have just five days of Christmas 2020, thanks to the on-going Covid situation and having to maintain distance between ourselves and our loved ones.

This year, why not take advantage of the lovely number five and use it to give your voice a five-part wonderful festive work-out as we approach the holiday season?

Make the most of the time available and have a bit of fun, while establishing good and healthy work-outs habits for your vocal folds.

Our voice is created by a combination of the air that we breathe out and the vocal folds in our larynx working in harmony.

As we sit quietly, working away on the computer for example, these intricate little muscles that are responsible for making your voice work well are stationary… they are having a Still and Silent Night all of their own!

If we suddenly make demands on our voice without giving those muscles a chance to warm up properly, it just won’t function as well as we’d like. It’s like going out for a run without doing stretches and limbering up, you run the risk of injury.

Humming is a fantastic way of gently warming up your voice. It gently gets those vocal folds vibrating on a single note then as you hum up and down a few notes (like a slow police siren) those muscles can gently extend and contract. What a fabulous way to warm up your voice!

Here are five vocal exercises to help you keep tuned up – whatever speeches you have this Christmas – plus practical help to maintain health and fitness in your vocal folds.

Here are the Five Days of Christmas exercises for your voice:

  1. Humming up and down
  2. Yawning and stretching
  3. Smiling big wide smiles
  4. Inhale really deeply
  5. Move your voice around.

How to do the exercises:

  1. Take a nice breath in, imagining the smell of warm mince pies, or mulled wine, so the breath goes right down into your Christmas boots! Relax your jaw and let that hum resonate though your chest, your cheek bones and your nose.
  2. This is one where you can really let rip! Close your mouth and breathe a long, long breath in…. and on the outbreath, let your voice do some real ahhhh sounds on different notes. This is the stretch and yawn of all yawns! Go for five in a row!
  3. Relax your lips and spread them into a really wide smile. Wider, wider and wider as you say ‘eeeeeee’ on different notes. ‘Eeeee’ going up or ‘Eeeee’ going down or a mixture of both.
  4. Imagine you are inhaling the fragrant smell of your favourite Christmas food or drink as you breathe in to speak. How about that piquant smell of vinegar on your fish and chips?! This is a wonderful way of getting a great volume of air into your lungs, ready for speech.
  5. Following on from number 4, begin speaking on a higher note than normal and let each of the next words come out at a lower pitch until you reach a low note at the end. Then try starting low, getting higher, then down low again.

You can use the words of a Christmas carol to do these exercises and either say or sing the words as you gently warm up your voice.

Your voice would thank you if it could, for keeping it fit and active, ready for those festive family Zoom calls, work related conferences and just joyfully chatting to friends.

Have a peaceful, heathy and happy Christmas and please get in touch if you’d like help with your speech or voice in the New Year.

Does Accent Matter These Days?

US Election, accent, US accent, accent training, accent coaching, accent reduction, UK accent, RP, speech training, Voice Synergy, CNN, Voice Synergy accent coaching, speech coaching, good communication, speaking well, inspiring speechWe’ve been hearing plenty of accents through our various media channels these last few weeks especially via speeches made by US politicians, US reporters and UK media channels. During the nail-biting days, spanning the pre- and post- US election day where President Trump seems to have failed to win enough votes to hold off President-Elect Joe Biden, we have heard accents aplenty. Accents from Georgia to North Carolina, from Arizona to Alaska, from London to Liverpool have been carrying countless questions about the predicted outcome of the US election.

In the main, we have understood each speaker’s voice, accent does not hamper understanding of the message. Sometimes the rate of delivery seemed to be at warp speed when listening to commentators on US TV station CNN! But the message and commentary was clear.

The American accent varies from place to place but not so much as in the UK. Simply put, accent variation can mean something as simple as a pronunciation of ‘grass’ as though it has an extra ‘r’ in it (‘grarss’) for example. This change in the ‘a’ being a short or long sound is heard in both UK and US accents but does not distract from the sense or meaning of a speech.

Use your voice well

In the UK we can get quite sniffy about accent, but I suggest that more important than accent is good vocal communication. Good speech is about being clear and the impulse that carries the speech and drives the message home.

Good communication is about more than accent. Good communication is about articulating well, the tune of the voice and speaking at the right pace.

When we speak, it’s also important to identify the underlying emotion to what is being said. This can be conveyed through pitch and tone.

Delivering a speech on Zoom

For example, if you are listening to a presenter on Zoom who has just introduced their topic and is about to go into the ‘slides’ part of their presentation, it would be nice to think that their voice would step up to the occasion.

Speaking to a group of people is a bit like putting on a show. Your voice is different from your everyday conversational speaking.

Those who deliver a presentation, are fulfilling the role of a professional speaker. When speaking to a group, it’s important to speak more slowly than usual, to take a breath between sentences (to allow the listeners to process what is being said) and think about the ‘takeaways’ from what is being said.

What are the ‘takeaways’ from the speech? Quite simply ask yourself how do you want your listeners to react?

It’s useful to consider what you want to achieve, or put another way, why are you making that presentation?

What do you want to achieve as a result of your speech?
Are you speaking:

  1. To inspire
  2. To encourage
  3. To inform

What you want to get out of your speech will inform how you deliver it. In other words, use your voice to communicate with an impulse to influence your listener. For example, enthusiasm, encouragement or inspiration can be transmitted via your voice.

As well as being clear in your speech, the music, or cadence, of the voice is important. It’s easy to fall into poor speech habits where the voice becomes monotonous.

If you feel your voice is a bit flat and lacks interest, think about lifting one or two of your key words in a sentence to a higher pitch.

If you’ve always been in a rush to get information across, your words can be so ‘joined up’ that it’s difficult for the listener to untangle them and make sense of it. Your words can be like a series of train carriages that are linked so closely together, there’s no distinguishing between the end of one carriage and the beginning of the next! Imagine if your words sounded like this: Imagineifyourwordssoundedlikethis…!

It is helpful to think about what you want to say and how you want your listener to react or respond – and your voice should follow your thoughts and energy in a positive way.

In terms of clarity, adding in final ’t’s at the ends of words like ‘light, out, wrote’, pausing to allow a moment of reflection plus creating a bit of ‘lift’ to your normal voice patterns will pay dividends in terms of how your speech is received.

When you make changes to your voice patterns, it can feel very strange to begin with.

With practice and patience you can become a great speaker, whatever your accent.

Overall, my advice is to be yourself and be interesting!

For more information and for help with voice and accent coaching, please get in touch.

Has your voice changed?

How to look after your voice

The summer has turned to autumn and with the beautiful colour of the trees turning to shades of copper, gold and red, but this time of year can bring issues that affect our voice.

The voice box, or the Adam’s Apple, is situated in the larynx, at the top of the wind pipe. The sound of our voice is created as the delicate vocal cords are brought together and blown apart in a process known as phonation. This is the sound of the human voice. A free sounding, healthy voice can be likened to a clear water fountain.

When you have a cold, you are likely to cough as well, which can give the vocal cords a bit of a battering and if you cough a lot, then the vocal cords can become swollen and inflamed.

If you feel that it is becoming difficult to speak, then it is likely that the vocal cords are unable to vibrate freely as they do in normal speech. The vocal cords become stiff and less flexible, so the sound of your voice changes, often becoming rougher and deeper-pitched. If your vocal cords are very inflamed through coughing, then it can feel very uncomfortable and hard work to speak.

Here are some top tips from the British Voice Association to help protect your vocal chords and help them to heal, particularly if you have suffered from Covid 19:

  • Keep well hydrated. Drink 1½ – 2 litres (4 – 5 pints) of fluid that doesn’t contain caffeine or alcohol per day (unless advised otherwise by a doctor).
  • Try gentle steaming with hot water (nothing added to the water). Breathe in and out gently through your nose or mouth. The steam should not be so hot that it brings on coughing.
  • When the virus is at its peak, coughing is likely to be intense and unavoidable. However, once this stage of the illness passes, try to avoid persistent, deliberate throat clearing and, if you can’t prevent it, make it as gentle as possible. Taking small sips of cold water can help to supress the urge to cough.
  • Chewing gum or sucking sweets can help promote saliva flow, which lubricates the throat and can help to reduce throat clearing. Avoid medicated lozenges and gargles, as these can contain ingredients that irritate the mucosal lining of the throat.
  • You do not need to be on total voice rest, i.e. silent. Even in the early stages of the virus, when the voice is at its worst, using the vocal cords for a few short utterances every so often during the day keeps them mobilised, and this is a good thing.
  • Always aim to use your normal voice. Don’t worry if all that comes out is a whisper or a croak; just avoid straining to force the voice to sound louder.
  • Don’t deliberately choose to whisper; this does not “save” the voice; it puts the voice box under strain.
  • Avoid smoking or vaping.
  • Avoid attempting to talk over background noise such as music, television or car engine noise, as this causes you to try to raise the volume, which can be damaging.
  • If your voice is no more than a whisper do not attempt telephone, online chat, or video conversations. Once the voice starts to improve, avoid prolonged (more than 5 minutes) conversations by telephone, online chat, or video. Try to use text-based options instead.
  • You may notice that your voice fatigues more rapidly than normal. This is to be expected. Take a break from talking when you experience vocal fatigue; this gives the vocal cords time to recover.
  • In addition to irritation from COVID-19, reflux can also irritate the throat. To minimise any possible reflux, avoid greasy foods and highly acidic foods and drinks such as; citrus fruits and juices, vinegar and pickles, tomatoes and tomato sauces, fizzy, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks etc. It can also be beneficial to take a liquid alginate (e.g. Gaviscon Advance) following meals and before bed.
  • Until the voice has returned to normal it is best to avoid “athletic” vocal activities such as shouting and singing.

If you have concerns about your voice you should contact your GP surgery as you may require a referral to an ENT specialist Voice Clinic.

In normal circumstances (when you are not suffering or getting over an illness) gentle exercise of your voice, such as breathing in, then gently humming out on one note repeated about 5-10 times can help with warming up your voice. It is also really important to build a habit of drinking drink plenty of fresh water, at room temperature and have it to hand when you are in a video conference, for example.

Keep your voice healthy during the golden days of autumn and through the winter months by looking after it well.

For full information and advice about voice problems, particularly after suffering Covid-19, go to British Voice Association.

For information about how to develop a clear and well-articulated voice, please get in touch.

Masking your speech?

muffled speech, mask, speak clearly, speaking clearly, speaking with mask on, getting understood, speak slowly, Voice Synergy, wearing a mask, quiet speech, speaking through a barrier, subtle emotions, lip reading, interpreting speech, pronounce your words, behind the mask, muffled voice, voice coachingIs wearing a mask to protect yourself against Coronavirus also stopping people from understanding your speech?

We use our eyes to support our ears when we are listening to someone speak and wearing a mask takes away that extra help. People are finding they cannot understand what another person is saying if that person is wearing a mask.

There are two reasons for this, which are first – the mask absorbs sound, so the speech is quieter – the second is that the mask hides our expression, so the listener cannot pick up non-verbal signals.

5 Ways to Speak Clearly Wearing a Mask

  1. Speak more slowly
  2. Speak slightly louder than normal
  3. Use more range in your voice than normal (more ups and downs!)
  4. Speak more clearly – take time to pronounce your words
  5. Use your hands to support your expression.

Looking at the last point, this could imply we become more like Italians who are famous for using their hands, if not their whole arms, to express their emotions! But a simple thumbs-up and a nod of the head would show that you understand and agree with the other person. Going forward from the ‘Shall I sit over there?’ to the restaurant manager, you could turn and point to the table and hopefully you will be answered with a ‘yes’ a nod and a thumbs-up!

Let’s look at the issues around quieter speech to begin with. The mask absorbs sound and the wearer’s voice sounds muffled and that is because we are speaking through a barrier close to our mouth. The sounds in words that normally travel fast from our mouth, like T, P, K, S, TH, F and SH are immediately softened and can be lost. If our words contain these sounds, they can be lost and so can our meaning.

It is particularly important these days, when having a conversation where both people are wearing masks, to speak more slowly – and importantly, finish the ends of your words. In a café for example, words like ‘Shall I sit over there?’ said very quickly and muffled could come across as ‘shlie i-si-ova thair?’ Complete gobbledegook! It adds to the frustration and sense of unreality we all share during these times of barriers and social distancing due to Covid19.

The second reason for not being able to understand each other as well as usual is the absence of context. What does this mean? Well, when someone speaks to us, we listen with our ears, but our eyes are watching that person’s lips and facial expressions as well, to give context to what they are saying. With our eyes, we observe subtle emotions, and we get not only the sound of the speech, but the subtext of what that person is saying. This helps us understand the meaning of the speech, not just the words.

We also rely on seeing the other person’s mouth during a conversation for lip-reading. Many years ago I asked someone to wait while I put on my glasses so I could hear them better! Our eyes are picking up the shapes made by the speakers mouth as they talk and our ears are picking up the sounds. Together these two senses give us clarity around what the speaker is saying.

Some manufacturers have introduced a mask with a see-through patch larger than the mouth. This is to help with understanding each other and is so helpful, indeed vital, to those who rely on lip-reading.

Humans are very good indeed at interpreting speech and the clues around what the words actually mean, but put a great big piece of cloth over the face from below the eyes and there’s not much to work with. Most of the combined subtleties of the 42 muscles in the face are lost and we are left to guess the emotion and context of the word.

Our speech and language appears so cold at the moment, tucked away behind the mask. Be imaginative and do what you can to express warmth and add colour to your muffled voice to maintain positive social contact with others. Speaking from behind a mask is difficult for everyone – keep positive, take your time and hopefully things will get better!

 

Be confident with your voice

Voice coaching, voice and accent training, accent coaching, accent training, speak clearly, articulation, help with voice coaching, help with accent, help with speaking, speak clearly, speaking lessons, , working from home, personal growth, voice clarity, confidence, presentation skills, Voice Synergy, Voice Synergy training, Voice Synergy coaching, learning to speak well, how to speak better, lockdown, duvet, hiding under duvet, lack of confidence, breathing, accent anxiety, boring voice, quiet voice, conversations, laughterIt’s time to come out from under the duvet! Real conversations have started again, face to face, using words spoken directly to each other.

One of the unlooked-for benefits of being locked down, then socially distanced (when we were allowed to begin to mix with others outside the home again), has been the renewal of conversation.

One of the things I have noticed while I’ve been out for my daily walk, around 6.00 pm, is the sound of laughter spilling out from the local pub. It’s been ages since I’ve heard laughter from people and it really cheered me up.

People in pubs and restaurants, having a drink and something to eat, are sharing their time with each other again and their voices show that they are absolutely ready for it! Voices are telling stories and jokes are being shared again and I’m sure we’re all the better for it.

Many people are not quite so confident with their voice, though. There are many reasons why people lack confidence with speaking or with having a conversation. Here are three reasons that people dislike speaking in public: they feel their voice sounds too boring or too quiet or they aren’t comfortable with their accent.

Let’s look at these issues around vocal confidence and see if Voice Synergy can provide some solutions to help you speak with more self-assurance.

  1. Do you think your voice sounds boring?
    Has someone told you that your voice sounds boring or is it just what you think? To make your voice sound more interesting, begin by doing some humming. As simple as that! With your jaw relaxed and your lips gently together, take a nice breath in and hum out (which will also start helping your voice to warm up). When you’re humming, try going from a low to a high note, gliding through the scale so it’s nice and smooth. When you’ve reached a comfortably high note, just let your voice slide down to a low note again. Repeat, but this time, start with a slightly lower note and aim for a slightly higher note in the middle of your hum. The secret to sounding more interesting is to use more range of your voice and humming is a great way to begin to practise this.
  2. Do you think you sound too quiet?
    Are you fed up with people ignoring your voice, or not even seeming to hear you? Try this exercise to make your voice more powerful. Take a good breath in, allowing your breath to open up your ribs, so your tummy moves out a bit, then hum out on one note. Repeat this a few times to get your voice warmed up (in fact, practising the above exercise would be great). Next, halfway through your ‘hum’, drop your jaw, relax your tongue and throat and with an open mouth, change the ‘mmmm’ of the hum to an ‘ahhhhhh’. Let your voice carry forward through the air and aim for a place in the room for your voice to land. Send your ‘aaahhhhh’ sound to the lightbulb, to the door handle, or even to the tree or lamppost outside in the street. This way, you will be effortlessly projecting your voice which will make it sound louder.
  3. Does your accent worry you?
    Are you uncomfortable with your accent or do you think you don’t speak as well as those people around you? Many people suffer from anxiety about their accent, but it could be easier than you think to make small changes. Quite often a strong accent is mixed up with a lack of confidence about being understood, so the speaker tends to rush their words when they are speaking. Speaking quickly with a strong accent can make it difficult to be understood, so here is a tip for improving your clarity. Before you speak, think about what you want to say, take a breath in, so your voice is supported, then say your sentence. Take your time and ensure that you are finishing the ends of your words in the sentence. A lack of confidence can lead people to almost slur their words, as if they don’t want to be noticed and this contributes to the negative cycle. To be understood better, speak more slowly and make sure you finish the ends of your words, such as ‘walked, drove, thought’.

Make sure you enjoy speaking (and listening!) by practising these simple exercises to improve your speech and confidence.

For more information and help with your speech confidence, please get in touch.