Back in April, I had the pleasure of speaking to Alexander Drechsel on his podcast LangFM. I had a wonderful conversation, but I now realize that I missed a beat when he asked for any voice tips for conference interpreters. So today I give my advice to conference interpreters around the world:
1. Start Each Day With A Glass of Water: When speaking, the vocal folds vibrate on average 115 Hz per second in men, and around 200 Hz per second in women. That's incredible, and the key to keeping them in tip top shape begins with hydration. It's important to rehydrate after hours of sleep in order to properly begin the day, so start the day off with a tall glass of water for a healthier voice.
2. The Vocal Warm Up Is Your Magic Pixie Dust: Vocal longevity in conference interpreting is extremely important, and like all practice, the work begins at home. Take time each day to warm up your voice, incorporating principles of Release & Alignment, Breath, Voicing, Resonance, and Articulation for a well-rounded warm up. See my previous post Warm Up Your Voice: Shower Time for some ideas.
3. Take the Pressure Off of Yourself: Interpreting for heads of state or in high-level meetings and conferences can be daunting. But taking the stress off of yourself is important for the voice to work optimally. In the words of UN conference interpreter Gillian Curry, "you have to remember [that you are there] because you're an interpreter, it's not because of who you are as a person, it's because it's your job". This is of course easier said than done. Read on for some tips, and your voice will thank you.
4. Get Grounded: As an interpreter, you may be interpreting in a range of environments. I write this section with the traditional seated position in mind, but modify accordingly. Place your feet on the ground and allow gravity to settle your hips into the chair. Then allow your spine to grow tall with your head resting on top of your atlas bone. Mostly importantly, become aware of your back. there is a tendency when interpreting to want to lean into the microphone, or into the conversation at large. You may need to lean a bit, but allow for the whole of your back to come with you, instead of bending at the neck or upper back. This will ground you, and avoid having to speak with undue tension.
5. Breathe the Translation: As you already know, the breath power the voice, and is extremely important when interpreting. I suggest 'breathing in' the words of the person you are interpreting as they speak in order to stay present and grounded while working. Additionally, allow for a small mental pause before you begin to speak in which you can allow for a breath to drop in. At this point, let the breath carry your voice and your words out into the room without strain.
6. Make the Message Resonate: Ultimately, you are the person tasked with delivering the message, and your voice will be carrying the message. A strong voice is "resonant", or rather it vibrates within the vocal cavities to produce a certain sound. Scientifically, sound waves only move through the pharynx, mouth, and nose, with sympathetic bone vibration being felt in the chest and head. Work for a balance of vibration spread across the chest, mouth, and head for a resonant, optimally-pitched voice. Furthermore, release tension in the jaw, tongue, and soft palate for a fuller sound.
7. Articulate With Joyful Precision: Articulation is key in conference interpreting, as clarity is imperative to delivering the words. However, no need to drill tongue twisters with militaristic exactitude. Instead, find the playful nature of the sounds, gliding through the zzz, humming the mmm, and jumping off of the p/t/k with child-like enthusiasm. Ultimately, it's not strength that wins in articulation, but rather what is important is reveling in the sounds themselves.
8. Acknowledge the Chaos, Then Move Through It Like A River: Stress is inevitable, as conference interpreting puts you in extreme situations. Make peace with the here and now, and then allow your voice to glide through it all.