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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Finding your voice

Finding your voice as a writer can be difficult, but sometimes as prawfs we have a more basic problem: how to use your actual speaking voice to communicate effectively in the classroom and when presenting papers.

In my other life I am a classically trained singer.  While I long ago gave up on the idea of pursuing a professional career, I have put some of my skills to good use in the classroom.  (I also have the privilege of continuing to sing with the fabulous New York Choral Society here in NYC).

One of the most common complaints I hear from my colleagues by the proverbial water cooler is that their voices become strained, tired, or even hoarse while teaching.  Here are some things that I do to help modulate and save my voice during class. 

(1) Keep hydrated.  You lose a good deal of moisture doing all that talking.  Sip some water from time to time during class and avoid coffee before you teach (a tall order, I know, for those of use with early morning classes).

(2) Avoid "forward neck."  Forward neck is a type of poor posture, and it looks like this: NeckProtraction Aside from being the cause of upper back problems, forward neck puts alot of strain on your vocal chords, and your voice tires out very quickly when you stand like this.

(3)  Keep your larynx low in your throat.  A normal human tendency is that when we try and speak louder, the larynx rises higher and tighter in the throat.  This also happens when we are nervous, excited, or energized.  Not only does this strain your vocal chords, but it leads to that "edgy" tone in the voice that we'd like to avoid.

Here's how to keep your larynx low:  Touch your fingers to your vocal chords.  Now swallow, and notice the drop.  That is where your larynx should be when you speak to a group.  Keeping it there will take some practice, but it's worth it.

(4)  Keep your core muscles strong.  Speaking without forward neck and with a low larynx means that you should be supporting and projecting with your core muscles.  So, now you have a professional development excuse to get to the gym and join that yoga or Pilates class!

(5)  If you really lose your voice:  If you have laryngitis due to strain, then rest your vocal chords as completely as possible.  If you have laryngitis following a cold, it probably means that the virus has settled in your vocal chords.  The only solution is just to wait for the virus to go away.  During this time, do not strain your voice -- you'll only prolong the situation.

So, there you have it -- a few simple tips.  Prawfs readers, what do you do to help speak effectively in the classroom?

Posted by Robin Effron on February 4, 2010 at 10:35 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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Thanks, Robin - I joked to one of my classes just this week that my regular students treat the water bottle in front of me like an hourglass - when the water gets too low, then we're almost done, because I can't speak for long without it! (And there's always a big bag of Ricola lozenges waiting in my desk when I get back.)

Posted by: Mark D. White | Feb 5, 2010 11:13:39 AM

I have promised myself no singing until tenure. But then all bets are off . . .

Posted by: Robin Effron | Feb 4, 2010 2:09:05 PM

Robin -- these are lovely tips -- do you ever sing to your students? Perhaps arias appropriate to the occasion? (I've often thought that various Verdi arias would set the mood exceedingly well in criminal law, but alas, I just don't have the pipes for it).

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Feb 4, 2010 10:44:50 AM

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