Create Powerful Custom Mac Voice Commands With Yosemite & Automator

Bakari Chavanu 27-11-2014

Here’s a Yosemite feature you might have missed: Apple has made it easier to create custom voice commands using Automator.


Instead of clicking buttons, typing keyboard shortcuts, and manually launching applications, use voice commands instead and improve your workflow and productivity. The speech command functionality of OS X have improved greatly since we last tried it out How To Use Speech Commands on Your Mac Read More .

Apple has integrated its improved voice dictation feature Control Your Mac With Voice Commands & Better Dictation In OS X Yosemite You once needed expensive software and a lesson in patience to control your Mac with your voice, but now you can do it with little more than Apple's latest free upgrade to OS X. Read More  with system-wide voice commands that are useful for all types of computer related tasks. Here’s how to run your Automator workflows using this new input method.

Basic Voice Commands

To use the new speech command features, you will first need to open System Preferences > Dictate, and enable your Mac’s dictation feature. By default, the system will select the internal mic on your Mac, but you can select (under the mic icon) a different external mic for perhaps better performance.

Voice dictation

Checking Use Enhanced Dictation will cause your Mac to download additional software, allowing it to perform offline. To activate Dictation, tap the Function key twice.

Keyboard shortcut

When you hear a beep, and the dictation icon appears, you can start speaking commands. For example, you can say, “Launch Calendar”, “Hide Mail,” or “Save Document.”

Say, “Show commands,” and a pop-up window will display available voice commands, or what used to be called speakable items. You can also head to System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > Text to Speech > Open Accessibility Preferences… > Dictation > Dictation Commands… to view a listing of all the default commands.

Voice dictation commands

Saying, “How do I (phrase)” shows one or more possible commands you’re looking for. And the, “Stop listening” command will close the dictation icon. Note that when Dictation is enabled, all background audio is muted.

Apple provides a nice set of default voice commands, but using its classic automation program, Automator The Awesome Automation Guide for Mac Users Whether it's sorting your email, searching your documents or building a playlist, you'd be amazed how many tasks can be done automatically instead of manually - if only you knew how to get started. Read More , you can create your own custom commands for various tasks.

Making Your Own Commands

To create custom speakable items, launch your Mac’s Automator application, installed by default with OS X. You will be asked where you want to save the new macro, and in the following window, select Dictation Command.

Dictation Command

Automator contains dozens of actions that can be triggered by voice commands. As an example, I’m going to create a speakable item that downloads a website ( in an application (Safari). Select Internet under the Actions column, and then select and drag the Get Specified URLs action into the main workflow window.


Replace the current default address with the address, then select and drag the Display Webpages action into the next stage of the workflow. To test the workflow, you can click the Run button in the top-right of the toolbar.

At the top of the screen you can assign the workflow a dictation command – I’m going to use “Open Make Use Of.” Check the Command Enabled box, and save the macro.  You now should be able to speak and trigger the command you just typed, and the speakable item should also be listed in the Dictation pane in System Preferences.

Custom command

As another example, you can create another speakable item to play a selected playlist in iTunes. Click the Add button in the Get Specified iTunes Items action to input a playlist.

Voice dictation itunes

Get Creative

There are many other Automator actions that can be turned into speakable items, such as creating a new folder, adding a calendar event, taking a screenshot or adjusting the audio volume to a specific level.

As a heavy Dragon Dictate user, I must point out that Apple’s dictation implementation is in many ways inferior to the pricey third-party solution, but the ability to create speakable items in Automator is fairly user-friendly and much less costly than paying for Dragon Dictate.

Have you created any custom dictation commands in Yosemite?

Explore more about: Computer Automation, Speech Recognition, Speech to Text.

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  1. Manny
    January 16, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Where do you save Automator dictation scrips? Automator is a saving nightmare in El Capitan. Nothing ever goes where it's supposed to and moving it there is a nightmare.

  2. lee
    December 24, 2014 at 4:19 am

    In Mavericks you used to be able to turn on listening with a voice command, can't see an option to do that now without pressing a key. Any idea if it's possible?

    • Bakari Chavanu
      December 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

      Lee, unfortunately that feature appears to be missing. I thought I pointed that out in article, but maybe I didn't. Sorry about that. If you want to do some powerful Mac commands, check out Dragon Dictate. Check out this demo video I did: [Broken Link Removed]

  3. Chris Foley
    November 27, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I use automator to also use multiple instances to run 2 separate dropbox and Google Drive accounts when needed. 4 separate cloud storage apps at the same time really. What a great underutilized tool it is.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      November 29, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      Chris, do you use voice dictation for this, or you using some other Automator workflows that you could let us know about? And I agree, Automator is definitely underutilized. However, I highly recommend Keyboard Maestro for really advanced automation