Voice Health for Public Speakers

Most of us don't consider voice health until we lose it. We open our mouths to speak and 99% of the time we do so with ease.

But for a large and growing number of people 'speaking easy' is something they no longer take fore-granted.

If you're a teacher, a call center worker, a coach, a radio journalist, a professional speaker, a singer, an actor, a sales-professional or involved in any other type of work relying heavily on voice, you'll know how much depends on keeping it healthy and stress-free and you'll also know how difficult that can be.

It's with you in mind, I've put together this collection of ...

3 excellent voice health resources

The FIRST voice health resource is a link to a website devoted entirely to teaching teachers about caring for their voices.

If you're not a teacher, don't let that put you off!

This is treasure trove of information applicable to all using their voice in daily professional life.

The Voice Academy is a authoritative collaborative response to voice problems from amongst others, the National Center for Voice and Speech and The University of Iowa.

As the Home Page says the 'Voice Academy' is:

'A no-cost, self-directed, virtual school built for the vocal health of U.S. teachers.'

Once you enter the site you'll find a well organized series of presentations covering all angles of voice health.

To get the most from this voice health site, you do have to register. Read the FAQ page for a full explanation.

The SECOND voice health resource comes from the UK.

The'Hazards Magazine' journalists have been exploring work place health issues for many years. Over time they've won major awards in the UK and America. The latest listed on their site is The Work Foundation Workworld Media Award 2006 for online journalism.

The judges said:

"Hazards is so good that it not only renders the material detailed and probing, but also lively and gutsy as well."

Click 'Work Hoarse' for comprehensive coverage of voice health issues.

You'll find check-lists, resources, references, discussions of work place risk factors and more.

This in-depth exploration covers many voice-based professions as well as teachers.

The THIRD voice health resource is an article from professional speaker, Catherine Franz. She outlines from personal experience her voice health strategies, sharing what has and hasn't worked. You'll find her vocal survival tips invaluable.

Voice Care for Speakers

By Catherine Franz

Speakers rely heavily on their voice for business.If they do consulting or create audio products, voice maintenance needs to be one of their top self-carepriorities. This information also applies to singers,coaches, or sales professionals.

During flu and cold season, vocal cords become highly sensitized and need as much care as a valuable instrument.Think of your voice, and we should, as an expensive, rare violin. If you were going to play it the next day you wouldn't expose it to a night in a smoke filled room, or pour alcohol all over it and expect it not to suffer from the abuse the next day.

Antibiotics don't help viral infections or laryngitis,a common result from a viral infection caused from a cold or flu. Recently, I got the flu and suffered from a severe case of laryngitis. I had to cancel a tele-class, lose a week of work, and almost a paid speaking engagement. The more I self-treated through media knowledge or recommendations, the worse the laryngitis got.

It took over 20 days before I improved and then two weeks later, it returned. After great frustration, I finally visited my ear, nose, and throat specialist, only to learn that everything I was trying was actually contributing to and extending my suffering.

Let me pass along some of my learning so you don't need to go through this. Like me, some of it will surprise you.

Food and Beverages

Warm or hot beverages work best. Cold beverages with ice can cause the voice center to spasm generating coughing that results in laryngitis. Stick to drinking room temperature water.

Black Currant Pastilles, which are glycerin-containing lozenges for adults, keeps the throat moist. Pastilles are perfect to take before, during, and after flying or traveling from one temperature extreme to another, say New York to Florida in winter. It is good to have these on hand since they are difficult to find. Many professional singers use Black Currant Pastilles 24 hours before their performance.

Avoid anything with mint or menthol.

Throat Coat® Tea, designed specifically for voice professionals, is rated higher than Pastilles. The tea contains licorice root, which is widely used to enhance throat and upper respiratory tract health. Any beverage that affects your stomachs acid level, like caffeine, will also affect your vocal cords. Caffeine is a mild diuretic and dries the throat and vocal cords. Coffee, including decaf, due to its natural oils causes acidic results that cause vocal damage. This includes chocolate. If you suffer from acid reflux disease, you need to take extra care of your voice since it cause permanent damage. Sodas also cause acid reflux and damages vocal cords.

With a cold or flu, we usually drink orange juice. This acidic beverage actually lengthens laryngitis. So does the amount of lemon you use in water. A tiny bit of lemon in warm water with a small amount of honey is a great elixir that actually soothes the vocal cords.

Dairy increases throat mucus for some people. If after you drink milk, you feel even a little mucus in your throat, you probably have a very mild milk allergy. This will affect your vocal health and can lengthen a bout of laryngitis. Nuts have the same allergy affect.

Common Causes of Voice Strain

It’s common knowledge that shouting, screaming, and excessive talking strains voice cords. But, did you know that whispering, coughing, loud sneezing, crying, laughing, and throat clearing could do the same damage?

Emotional or environmental stress also causes voice strain. Especially major changes like a separation/ divorce, new job, kids going off to college, grieving, not enough sleep, moving, and even hormonal changes in adolescents or maturing adults. If you add any of these with the need for a quality voice, you will need to take extra care in order not to bruise or damage your throat center or vocal cords.

Voice Maintenance

When experiencing laryngitis, limit unnecessary talking, and pause frequently to swallow and re-moisten your throat, even during speaking engagements.

Relaxation techniques like yoga always help as does being consciously aware of your posture and breathing during speaking to save yourself from further damage especially if your voice is already weak from a cold.

One of my favorite exercises to do every morning or while driving to a speaking engagement is a vowel review. Stretch your neck gently upwards and recite the vowels; a, e, i, o, u. Let your vowel sounds trail off especially the 'u.

If experiencing laryngitis avoid whispering. Whispering actually stresses vocal cords reducing recovery significantly.

If you smoke or visit smoke-filled rooms, triple your maintenance plan, smoke is very damaging.

If you lose your voice, you will require additional rest time over a 4-7 day period. This means limiting your voice to 15 minutes a day. Keep phone calls brief; avoid all non-speech voice use including throat clearing, coughing, and sneezing or any odd sound effects. Snoring also doubles strain.


Even though they give brief relief, throat sprays and medicated lozenges dry the throat and extend recovery. If used for an emergency, you must follow with extreme care.

Herbs can also cause side effects. You will want to discuss their use with your doctor or herb practitioner.

Herbs like barberry reduce inflammation and infection caused from respiratory infections, but can also cause an allergic reaction especially if already using another remedy.

Herbs like eucalyptus, German chamomile, goldenrod, golden seal, licorice, marshmallow, peppermint, saw palmetto, or slippery elm are remedies for vocal cord inflections. Adding garlic and ginger to your foods also reduce cold symptoms including sore throat and don't need professional advice.

Support Team

If your voice is vital to your income, you will want to have an ear, nose, and throat physician familiar with your medical history and working with singers. With an ongoing relationship, it’s easier for them to provide advice when out of the area.

Last year, while experiencing a mild case of laryngitis, I saw my doctor before I left for a speaking engagement but I didn't know to mention I was traveling to a high elevation. By the time I checked in at the hotel, I was in bad shape. An emergency call and I was armed with new instructions. The next morning I was fine. Did you know that most taxi companies will pick up and deliver called-in prescriptions usually at the same rate as a cab ride?

(c) Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.

From all the voice health suggestions above, I hope you find something that works for you.

Women should seldom SHOUT

Early in my teaching after several bouts of sore throats and hoarseness one of the most effective voice health tips was given to me by a wiser, older teacher. She said at least part of the problem was caused by raising the voice. The trick, she maintained, was to lower it and NEVER to shout. Her reasoning?

Firstly shouting strains the vocal organs and secondly, a woman's voice often loses its authority when raised. We tend to not only up the volume but the pitch as well. Her argument was to lower and time what was said.

I found she was right. With practice my voice health improved dramatically. Careful pausing (silence) and a lowered tone alerted students to listen.

Of the other voice health tips suggested, I can vouch for the black current pastilles. I have used them along with ginger tea when teaching during the day and acting in the evening.These together with good posture and breathing helped considerably.

Please remember if you depend on speaking for your living, ignoring voice health is not a viable option. Take the care you need so you may continue to speak well.

For more about improving your voice and delivery:

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Do you understand 'how' you sound to other people shapes what they think about you? Get information on Voice Image here.

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"Words are of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
Rudyard Kipling