We all have days when we drag ourselves out of bed and seem to sleepwalk through the day. I am no longer able to pull “all-nighters” common in my college days, though having children has been a long-term commitment to sleep deprivation! I know very well what my “tired voice” feels like: It is rough, breathy and quiet. I don’t breathe as deeply or project my sound.
Researchers have been looking into the effects of fatigue on voice and speech in an interesting study. Read an article about this study or view the abstract from the scholarly publication. Participants were required to stay awake for 24 hours and were periodically recorded completing speech tasks such as counting, reading, and sustaining vowels. The researchers measured speech rate, pause length, data relating to variation in quality, and other speech and voice elements. They found that as time went on, the participants’ speech rates slowed, pauses got longer, and quality variation increased. An explanation offered by one of the researchers, Dr. Adam Vogel, is that we lose control of speech and voice muscles as we become more tired.
If today is one of those days for you, a great way to warm-up your voice is with the lip trill. Also called the “raspberry”, the lip trill takes the pressure off of your vocal folds and allows you to efficiently connect your breath to your sound while exploring pitch freely. I have a client who has always hated her voice, especially in the morning. It used to take her several hours to “wake up” vocally. This exercise helps her quickly and gently wake her “morning voice”. What works for you?
Acoustic analysis of the effects of sustained wakefulness on speech
J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 128, 3747 (2010)
Do you know about the consciousness-competence matrix? It is a theory of learning that outlines our path from poor performance without awareness to performing well without self-consciousness. We move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.
In other words, before we begin to gain a new skill, we are unaware of our inability to successfully complete it. I recently worked with Margaret, who wanted to improve the sound of her voice. After facilitating a webinar she listened to the recording and was dismayed; she didn’t realize her voice sounded so harsh and nasal. This movement from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence is often what prompts people to seek training. My first approach is to help clients become even more aware of their current skill level. Sometimes they perceive that they are getting worse when they are simply becoming more conscious of their incompetence. For a free consultation to help uncover opportunities for improvement, contact us!
Spirits lift when clients move toward competence, albeit a competence that can only be achieved using a high level of focus. Because we have limited cognitive resources, this is often where training and therapy fail. We are successful when we are earnestly practicing, but once we enter the real world, we cannot maintain our focus.
Ultimately we want to reach the state of unconscious competence, which is another word for habit. The good news is that our brains are able to create new pathways with the right input. Do you know the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? I disagree. A neurologist I know has turned this idea on its head. He says, “Any dog, any age, any trick.” So don’t ever think that you are too old or a skill is too difficult. With consistent practice and patience, you can move from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. Let us know if we can help!
For more on the four stages of competence, visit:
If you are trying to change an aspect of your sound—be it related to accent, voice quality, articulation, phrasing, or tone of voice, you need to be able to hear yourself accurately to be successful. Many people are alarmed when they hear how they sound on a recording. Auditory perception, or improving your awareness of sound, is a necessary step in learning any new speech motor skill.
As many of us learned in the recent “Yanny” versus “Laurel” debate, auditory perception is subject to individual difference. Here is a link to a nice YouTube video (with a shout out to an awesome speech scientist, Brad Story), that discusses reasons for this perceptual confusion, including acoustic properties and listener’s age. Despite the debate, you can improve your auditory perceptual skills. You might start with listening to and describing others’ voices and speech patterns. Of course, your observations probably best kept to yourself unless they are positive!
It’s more difficult to develop accurate auditory perception of our own voices. Why? Because we hear our own voices differently than others hear it. We hear it internally via bone conduction and externally via air conduction. If you plug your ears and talk you may not hear the sounds around you, but you can hear your own talking.
Here are three ideas to improve your auditory perception:
As mentioned above, listen carefully to the sound of others. Observe their voices and speech patterns.
Record yourself and observe what you hear. Prepare to feel uneasy but trust the process.
Tune into how your speech and voice feels. Exaggerate the sound you wish to change and focus on it with curiosity. Experience its quality, movement, vibration, opening, and points of contact. Notice how the sound changes if you adjust your tongue position, mouth opening, breathing, or other speech-related action.
After you connect the dots between the sound of your recorded voice versus your spoken voice and the feeling of your voice versus the sound, and you have developed your ear to more keenly perceive others’ voices, challenge yourself further: Be aware of your sound as you speak. Of course, speech is first and foremost about communication—don’t analyze your voice all of the time. But in select situations, with certain people, or a few minutes several times a day, tune in and become an expert on your own sound.
Almost all of my clients need a nudge to take the steps of recording themselves, listening, and experimenting, yet they say it is one of the most valuable exercises they have done. Ever. We can make it easy. Contact us for more information.