Communicating Effectively & Without Straining Your Voice while Wearing a Mask

Monday, January 4, 2021

by: Eleonor Shaw, Speech Language Pathologist 
The Rehabilitation Institute of NGMC 

During this pandemic, we’ve all learned to wear a mask in order to care for ourselves, our family and our community. And while we know the benefits of wearing masks, we also know the barriers for normal and effective communication that come with them. Not only can a mask obscure speech, it can result in vocal strain and fatigue – especially when used over an extended period. 

Tips for increasing clarity

The good news is that there are strategies that can help counter these challenges. Here are some tips for increasing clarity without straining your voice: 

  1. Over-exaggerate your speech
    Over-articulating your sounds and exaggerating the movements of your articulators (i.e., mouth, tongue and teeth) will help to make your words sound crisper and prevent “muffling.”  
  1. Slow down and separate your words
    In conversation, our words typically flow from one to the other without significant pauses. While wearing a mask, you can increase the clarity of your message by intentionally slowing your rate of speech and separating your words.  
  1. Reduce background noise
    When possible, try to eliminate background noise. 

Vocal Exercises

When following these tips, if you find that you are experiencing vocal strain, a Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercise (SOVTE) may help. These exercises create a back pressure within the throat that allow the vocal folds to vibrate more efficiently and avoid excessive tension and strain.  

These exercises can be used as a warm-up before using your voice, and/or as a cool-down after using your voice.  

One exercise to try is called straw phonation, and all you need is a drinking straw! Be sure you’re alone in your car or at your home while completing this exercise, as your face mask will need to be removed. 

Step 1:  

Place your lips around the straw. 

Step 2:

Begin to blow air through the straw, making sure that no air is escaping from your nose. There should be a steady, continuous flow of air out of the end of the straw. You can check this by feeling for an outflow of air with the palm of your hand.  

Step 3:

Begin to hum at a pitch that is comfortable for your voice. While doing so, be sure that air is continuously flowing through the straw as it was in Step 2.  

Step 4:

Hum a high pitch and then glide down to a lower pitch.  

Step 5:

Hum a low pitch and glide up to a higher pitch. 

If you are still experiencing vocal strain – and to further promote vocal fold health – try increasing your daily water intake and incorporate “voice naps” to let your voice rest for 5-10 minutes after extended use.  

Any individual who experiences hoarseness for more than 2 weeks should be evaluated by an Ear, Nose & Throat physician. 

Additional SOVTE Resources

Additional resources for SOVTEs and Straw Phonation: Titze, I. R. (2006, April 1). Voice training and therapy with a semi-occluded vocal tract: Rationale and scientific underpinnings. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2006/035)

Learn More

Please visit the Rehabilitation Institute at www.nghs.com/rehabilitation-services to learn more about our outpatient Speech Therapy services. If you think you or someone you know could benefit from Speech Therapy, call 770-219-8200.