I Don't Know How She Does It Vocally

Updated: Nov 16

Last Friday, I joined Telegraph columnist, Allison Pearson, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her best-selling novel; I Don’t Know How She Does It.’ Lauded by Oprah Winfrey as “a bible for the working mum”, this landmark book highlighted, arguably for the first time, the many challenges women faced in the workplace during the noughties (many of which, I fear, continue today).

By the time the book came out, I had left corporate life, defied nature (and top consultants’ unwavering assertions that I had ‘missed the boat’) and was the very proud mother of a two-year-old son.

Reading the book helped me juggle mothering, freelancing, volunteering, and building a ‘grand design’ in the middle of nowhere with my architect husband, for almost thirteen years. It also made me realise that you don’t have to be high-powered and corporate to experience the dilemmas of working motherhood.

Twenty years on, I find myself asking: ‘I don’t know how she does it vocally.’ Anatomical and hormonal differences mean women experience vocal health problems more frequently than men, regardless of their occupation. These problems include breathiness, hoarseness, voice instability and fatigue. They are more common in women over 40, are exacerbated by the menopause and often involve throat-clearing and dryness, which may negatively affect perceptions of confidence. I speak from experience, having been the only woman in the room for many years.

And it’s not just females who suffer. According to Voice Problems at Work: A Challenge for Occupational Safety and Health Arrangement’ by Vilkman E., one-third of the labour force works in a profession in which the human voice is the primary tool.

So how do we ‘keep doing it’ vocally?

Tip 1: Start thinking about the voice as a remarkable instrument, which deserves your care and attention.

Tip 2: Sleep, exercise, drinking water and avoiding late night eating can help prevent voice problems.

Tip 3: Warm up your voice daily, just as you would if you were stretching before a gym class. One of my favourite ways to do this is the ‘Hum and Gum’. Press your lips together and hum, playfully, moving your pitch up and down. Now imagine chewing a piece of gum or crunching a juicy apple. Listen to how the sound changes. The chewing part of this exercise warms your facial muscles so your speech sounds more resonant; the humming activates your vocal cords, producing a strong, clear sound. 

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