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From the expert: Tips on lecturing with a mask

Lauren Leathers

October 14, 2020

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Due to the pandemic, the University of Georgia requires all faculty, staff, students and visitors to wear an appropriate face covering while inside campus facilities and buildings where six feet social distancing may not always be possible.

Nina Santus, a clinical assistant professor in the department of communication sciences and special education and the UGA Speech and Hearing Clinic, shares the following tips for lecturing while wearing a mask:

Plan vocal rest breaks Speaking for an extended period of time nonstop can damage the voice. Allotting 10 minutes or more of vocal rest, including no whispering or mouthing, for every 90 minutes of talking will keep the voice healthy and prevent soreness and hoarseness.

Aim to speak clearly instead of loudly (articulation is key) Masks attenuate sound by 3-12 decibels and also result in low-pass filtering of high-frequency sounds, making it more difficult to understand speech and some higher-pitched voices. However, instead of speaking louder, speak with increased articulation. This can mean slowing down the rate of speech or pausing more often when speaking. If wearing a mask, overexaggerate and move the lips more than usual. If possible, wear a clear mask.

Use a decibel meter app on your cell phone to monitor your loudness Consider using a decibel meter app to measure how loud you are speaking. Females should aim to be around 64 decibels and males around 67 decibels. Attempting to compensate for wearing a mask by speaking louder can lead to vocal nodules, hoarseness and/or pain and soreness. Free decibel meter apps, including Voice Tools and dB, can help ensure a safe vocal range. Additionally, set up the environment to be conducive to communication, reduce noise and if available, use a microphone and speakers.

Headshot of Nina Santus

Vary the pitch of your voice There is a risk of vocal fatigue and hoarseness when speaking for long periods of time. To keep from getting sore or hoarse, consider speaking with more intonation, the rise and fall of the voice in speaking. Moving between higher and lower pitches varies the tension placed on the vocal folds. Females are more at risk, as they tend to have more tension due to speaking at a higher frequency (hertz) than males.

Breathe from your waist Deep belly breathing relieves muscle tension in the throat and provides a strong, well-supported sound. By breathing from the chest, tension is added to the throat and can cause soreness and hoarseness.

Stay hydrated Each day, individuals should consume a specific amount of water based on their overall bodyweight to stay healthy and hydrated. Keep in mind that drinks containing caffeine dehydrate the body. There is natural lubrication on the vocal folds but they can become dehydrated, along with the rest of the body, and damage can result. Medications should also be taken into consideration, as some cause dryness to the vocal folds. Be aware that drinking liquids will not lubricate the vocal folds, as the vocal folds are in the airway, not the esophagus.

Focus on engaging, student-centered teaching techniques, so you won’t have to talk the entire time According to Santus, this is an opportunity to increase student engagement by sharing the talk time and having students explain concepts themselves. Student-centered teaching helps eliminate the strain on the voice by not having to speak as often and helps enrich the classroom setting. Planning interactive activities that don't require conversation, including frisbee, chalk art, arts/crafts and more, allows for more vocal rest breaks.

In terms of online teaching, opening up the chat room or breakout rooms in Zoom is very useful. Additionally, if recording an online lecture, consider breaking up the recording into sections of about ten minutes each to allow for vocal rest breaks.

Save Your Voice video link