Managing the Speaking Environment
Types of speaking environments
The Department of Education, Victoria, Australia (DET, 2000), recommends that if you use your voice extensively in the following environments (at work or outside of work), you will likely benefit from arranging for changes to be made to these environments and/or from being particularly vigilant in using good voice care strategies:
- open plan classrooms (teachers/lecturers)
- poor insulation from external noise (e.g. thin walls or partitions, poor fitting doors or windows)
- environments with floor, wall or ceiling surfaces which cause sound reverberation (i.e. hard surfaces such as lino, ceramic or vinyl tiles, concrete, wood or wood laminate)
- environments with high levels of background noise (internal or external)
- outdoor settings and swimming pools: whistles and megaphones can be useful to teachers and physical education instructors, or some schools/work places may be able to provide a portable amplifier
- environments requiring you to talk or project your voice over large distances
If you have to speak to an audience, in addition to the above suggestions, Martin and Darnley (1997) recommended that you observe the following:
- height and shape of the ceiling
- furnishings and curtaining
- size and number of windows
- dimensions of the room
- number of people in the room
- outside influences such as traffic noise and air-conditioning units that may create additional environmental noise
Sound can seem to get lost in rooms with high ceilings. Can you move to a smaller room? If not, encourage the audience members to move closer to you – perhaps remove any seats from the back of the room so that it’s not possible for people to sit far away from you.
Soft furnishings will tend to muffle sounds. For example, your voice will not project as well if you are standing in front of a curtain whilst speaking. Try standing in front of a hard surface (a hard wall) instead, the wall will act as a sound board, bouncing the sound back into the room.
Be aware of such things as where any air conditioning units are placed (or photocopiers or any other source of extraneous noise) and try and stand away from these: you don’t want to be competing with extraneous noise.
As indicated above, if you are speaking in a large room is it possible to set it out so that audience members are forced to sit closer to you as you speak? Perhaps only put out the exact number of seats required for the number of attendees. If mobile screens are available, could these be positioned to corral audience members into an area closer to you?
Martin and Darnley also recommend the use of an assistant who can help you assess the required volume level before speaking to an audience. If you do not have an onlooker to assist you, a hand clap or two should give you some idea of the level of reverberation in the room.
Finally, if you use your voice in environments that are dusty, very windy, or where the air quality is poor due to dry air, paint or solvent fumes, pollution, or where there are high levels of plant pollens, you may also benefit from arranging for modifications to be made to those environments. Again, it will help if you are particularly attentive in using good voice care strategies.
Specific strategies for teachers
- Stand where you can be heard and seen
- Move closer to students when talking to them
- Have students move closer to you
- Arrange furniture for short-distance conversations
- Place noisy students at the front
- Place students needing extra attention at the front
- Turn down background noise (e.g. radios, TVs, PA systems)
- Close doors and windows to shut out external noise sources
- Move away from sources of noise when talking
- Encourage students to speak with normal voice
- Avoid using dusty chalk
- Use a voice amplifier in noisy environments
- Keep air conditioning and central heating levels low
Source: DEECD (2009)
Making sure that your physical environment is optimized for effective voice production is one of the steps suggested for overcoming the effects of functional dysphonia. Six steps are recommended:
1. Understanding symptoms and causes of functional dysphonia
2. Understanding voice production
4. Using effective voice production techniques
5. Managing the speaking environment (this article)
DEECD (2009) Voice Care for Teachers Program Victoria, Australia: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
DET (2000) Voice Care Program: Action Planning Guide and Voice Assessment Tools Victoria, Australia: Department of Education, Employment and Training.
Martin, S. and Darnley, L. (1997) The Voice Sourcebook Bicester: Speechmark Publishing.