Alongside psychological issues, voice problems are a major cause of illness among teachers.
I recently attending a workshop on how to look after your voice as a teacher (held by Frank Gutjahr at Universität Trier), and in the post I’d like to share the practical tips I heard. They’ll probably be relevant for anyone who does a lot of public speaking.
Tip 1: Drink still water.
Here in Germany, people seem to be somewhat obsessed with sparkling water, but the carbon dioxide bubbles can irritate the vocal chords. I know a lot of people drink herbal or fruit teas, too, but even these can actually cause you to have a dry throat. Apparently, the best thing to drink if you need to speak a lot is still water. If you have a dry throat, try inhaling sage or sage essence in hot water.
Tip 2 : Breathe!
Our natural breathing rhythm consists of breathing in, breathing out, and a brief pause. During this pause, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax, which is why it is so important. If you try to rush your breathing rhythm and don’t pause between exhaling and inhaling, you’ll quickly get out of breath and have to strain your vocal chords and larynx to be able to speak loud enough. Also, this brief pause in your speech breaks what you’re saying into units of thought, which makes the content of your speech easier for your audience to understand.
It is important to use the muscles in your torso to push the air out when you exhale and speak, otherwise you put all the pressure on your voice box! You can practice breathing like this by singing along to a song – which will also warm up your speech apparatus. One of the best warm-up songs I’ve found is “What’s Up?” by 4 non blondes.
Tip 3: Warm up.
To ensure you articulate clearly, you need to warm up your speech apparatus – your jaw, lips and tongue. There are several funny exercises you can do to warm up. For example, use your tongue to ‘clean’ your teeth – stretch your tongue into the corners of your mouth and run it along the inside and outside of your teeth. Or, if you’re alone, poke your tongue out and try to paint circles in the air with the tip of your tongue. You can also make circular movements with your bottom jaw, as if you were chewing a big chunk of something! To warm up your lips, swap between grinning as widely as you can and pouting. Reading tongue twisters slowly and with exaggerated enunciation can also help, especiall yif you find ones that focus on vowel sounds. Repeat after me: “Roberta ran rings around the Roman ruins.”
Tip 4: Watch your posture.
Apart from being good for your back, good posture ensures that your lungs and diaphragm have enough space to ensure your natural breathing rhythm. Sitting or standing up straight, without over-straining, will mean that you can inhale more deeply and have enough air to speak loudly, and makes spaces for the muscles in your torso dto do their work! If you slouch, it can also mean that your breathing becomes audible, which makes you sound out of breath and distracts from what you’re saying!
In general, the most important tip I head from Frank Gutjahr is: Relax! If you’re preared and follow these tips, you’ll be able to speak well as a teacher, and protect your voice for all those lessons and speeches that are yet to come! And remember: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!