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Educators, Got Voice? Be Heard – Without The Hurt

Written by: Brienne Hennessy, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Amy is a music teacher for 400 elementary school children, and was used to getting their attention only with her voice. No microphone. No other non-vocal tricks to quiet them down. She has a bright and talkative personality. She grew up in a family where loud talking, hollering room to room, and talking over noise were the norm, and it has continued in her own household with her husband and 3 young boys.

Amy also loves to sing, which brings her so much joy. When I first met Amy, her joy for talking, teaching and singing was diminished. She was experiencing voice fatigue, pitch breaks, discomfort in her neck and difficulty not only with her singing range, but also less control of her pitch and volume within her speaking voice range. Summer months with less talking were not sufficient as a recovery tactic. As an educator, she is at a high-risk for a voice impairment. Yet, with her prior singing knowledge, she figured that was sufficient and that her voice could withstand the friction of the excessive, louder talking over the noise of the students. Unfortunately, singing training does not often translate fully into a healthy and efficient speaking voice. Amy was diagnosed with a voice disorder and we began rehabilitative voice therapy. •5-10% of the US workforce has heavy occupational voice demands (Roy, et al., 2005) A term coined for occupational voice users, is “Vocal Athlete” and the studies cited are focused, not on singers, but on those who have speaking requirements for their jobs that exceed 6 or more hours of talking a day. Voice scientists have also determined that the number of repetitive collisions (cycles of vibration) that the vocal folds (‘vocal cords’) sustain every day is hundreds of thousands. No other body mechanism experiences that much repetitive stress/strain. It’s like your voice is running a marathon daily. Yet, while it is resilient, it is not invincible. In the United States, 3 million elementary and secondary school teachers were surveyed, and the prevalence of a voice disorder was 11%, while over the lifetime of a career, 57% had experienced a voice disorder that negatively impacted their job with higher absenteeism, increased healthcare dollars, and reduced quality of life. Voice health awareness and preventative actions for occupational voice users is a key focus of my mission. You must recognize the signs sooner, take proactive steps earlier to minimize the impact of a voice change or loss, and learn ways to empower your voice to thrive! One of the convictions I hold is that Voice is an Asset. Without the precious instrument in your neck, you would not be able to sustain your livelihood. And yet, so many folks take it for granted, ‘push through’ when sick or fatigued, or, don’t believe themselves worthy to invest in their long-term wellbeing. These are real barriers to the potential and power that each of your voices possess! Accessing, optimizing and elevating your natural voice, in a safe and fun way, gives you more freedom! You have choices with your voice and, just like our physical exercises, or what we put in our mouth, those choices have either positive or negative effects. When is the time to consider a vocal conditioning program for optimal performance? Now. Not at the end of summer break. Not 4 weeks into the new school year. There is no such thing as ‘quick fix’ if you want to establish a lasting foundation for your voice health. Vocal athletes need to be thinking long term when it comes to voice health and stamina. There is a cost to not investing in yourself and your voice. Subsidies or insurance for those that have it may be of benefit, yet not being fully reliant on an employer or another external entity means you have more autonomy: this is your voice, your career, and no matter whether you continue in this or another career, you will need your voice to succeed. It’s been 4 years since Amy completed voice therapy. She was able to shift into preventative voice training/conditioning and also returned to singing. She no longer loses her voice multiple times per year, and she has a customized voice health regimen that works for her hectic lifestyle. Initial Preparation for Educators as Vocal Athletes 1. Strategic voice use: Email, text, or provide written responses (hand held white boards or other digital versions are excellent to use when individual students have questions to reduce talk time) 2. 60/10 Rule: For every 60 minutes of talking, 10 minutes of voice rest (silence). You can adjust this to fit your day. I call them ‘voice naps.’ Schedule them as a show of commitment to yourself and your voice. Share with others that this is a boundary you are creating for your wellbeing. 3. Microphones: This is the investment with a big ROI. Yes, school districts & other employers should provide these without question. Until that day comes, don’t wait, especially if your voice is already struggling. Studies show that use of a portable microphone (options on Amazon, experiment wearing under or over your mask as both are viable when the volume is adjusted accordingly), significantly reduces the degree of voice fatigue, when used correctly (i.e. you need to actually lower the volume of your voice, remain at a comfortable speaking pitch for your natural voice, and ensure to the listener can hear you to minimize repetition). 4. Over-enunciate through your mask. Louder does not always equal more intelligible. To reduce voice strain, practice being deliberate with your speech sounds. The overenunciated words can cut through. 5. Warm-ups: Athletes warm up their bodies. Vocal Athletes warm up their voices. Talking does not count as a warm-up. Create a foundation, with more ease and voice clarity as you practice. Start simply with humming on ‘mm’, sliding up and down your range (like a sigh, high to low and then low to high pitch, focus on continuous smooth sound). 3x/ day for 3 minutes, noticing the quality (smooth or scratchy?) and the feel (relaxed or strained?). Aim for morning, evening, in the car, shower, between activities, when on mute in Zoom meetings. No, the benefits of this simple exercise don’t immediately transfer into speaking, that is what further specialized voice training will help you achieve. What it does give you is a re-set during your day, a gentle way to learn more about your voice, and begins to shift the sound from the throat (pressure and strain) to the front of your face (easy optimal pressure, flow, richer resonance). Remember, you and your voice are worthy Want my FREE GUIDE for Top 10 tips for increasing voice care & power?

For additional information, questions, or a voice health screening, please contact Brienne

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Brienne Hennessy, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Brienne Hennessy (she/her), Founder of Your Vocal Vitality, LLC, is a highly-sought after Vocal Empowerment Guide, Executive Speaking Trainer and Published Writer. She expertly guides women executives and entrepreneurs to communicate with more aligned presence, speak frequently without fatigue or strain, and listen to their intuitive inner voice to show up as their truest selves. Brienne is also a licensed Speech-Voice Pathologist with 13 years of clinical experience and 50+ public speaking appearances. Brienne’s clients have succeeded in protecting the vital asset of their voice to improve their communication and ease with their audiences, and increase speaking voice stamina, which has resulted in more public speaking prowess and profit for their businesses! Her mission: elevate holistic voice health and enhance self-worth via your unique voice!

You’ll often find Brienne incorporating water into her day, whether staying hydrated, lounging at the lake, or blowing bubbles to warm-up her voice!



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