How to make your Mac speak to get your attention

July 15, 2011 in Mac OS X

Your Mac has a few ways it uses to try to get your attention. It can bounce an icon on the Dock or display an alert window. But sometimes you may not notice because you are so focused on something else or maybe turned away from your computer. That’s why it can be really handy to make your Mac speak to get your attention.

When you’re using one application and another needs you to do something, your Mac will often bounce that application’s icon on the Dock. Sometimes system alert windows appear like “you are now running on reserve battery power”. You definitely want that one to get your attention. Applications also have alert windows, like after importing photos into iPhoto it will ask “Delete Photos on Your Camera?” This video shows how easy it is to configure your Mac so it will speak to let you know that an application needs your attention, and even read the title of any alert message.

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

The two System Preferences related to using speech to get your attention can be used separately or together for maximal effect. I think the “Announce when alerts are displayed” setting is most important because there are situations (like your laptop battery running low) where there is an alert window but no bouncing icon. I can’t think of an example of the opposite, where an icon bounces on the Dock but there is no alert window associated with that.

Also, “Announce when alerts are displayed” can be fine-tuned using the “Set Alert Options…” button, whereas “Announce when an application requires your attention” is only on or off. When it’s on, it speaks immediately after an icon starts bouncing. The “Announce when alerts are displayed” option, on the other hand, lets you set a delay from 0 to 60 seconds. So if you normally can mentally switch gears in 20 seconds and tend to alerts, you might want to set the delay to 30 seconds. That way your mental focus won’t be interrupted by your Mac speaking all the time, yet in those few cases where you let an alert message sit untended for 30 seconds, you’ll then get a gentle voice reminding you that something else needs your attention.

Just how “gentle” the voice is can be fine-tuned too. In that same “Set Alert Options…” window, you can choose from numerous male and female voices, and also how you want the alert voice to begin. You can choose “Application name” so the voice will start with something like “alert from iPhoto”, you can choose from some built-in phrases (Alert!, Attention!, Excuse me!, Pardon me!), or you can add your own phrases. My Mac had no problem with the “Hey dude!” phrase I added. 🙂 As if that’s not enough, there are also options to have it cycle through your list of phrases (“Next in the phrase list”) or randomly choose from your list (“Random from the phrase list”).

So get the most out of your Mac and make it speak to you when it needs your attention.

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