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 foregranted.

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 sometimes be.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"

The "do's" & "don'ts" of voice health maintenance

The "do's" for good vocal health

- Warm up - A thorough warm up routine before using your voice for any extended time rewards you twice over. Firstly you minimize the possibility of straining/stressing your voice and secondly, it helps channel any nervous tension positively. 

The best warm up routine involves exercises for your body, breath and voice. All three are covered on this page of vocal warm ups. Allocate at least 10 -15 minutes to prepare before you are required to start work.

- Breathe well - Your voice directly reflects the quality of your breathing. Small shallow breaths will result in a higher pitched and squeezed sounding voice. Poor breathing habits increase the likelihood of vocal stress as well as heightening any anxiety you may feel. Here are two highly effective breath exercises with multiple variations.

- Become aware of your posture - are you standing/sitting well? Is your breath/voice supported fully? If you slouch both are constricted and you lose power physically and psychologically.

- Keep hydrated - The recommended water intake is 8 glasses a day. You need it to keep your vocal equipment in optimum working condition. Think of it as the lubricant. Caffeinated drinks - tea or coffee, and alcoholic beverages actually speed up dehydration rather than slowing it down.

- Rest your voice - It is not normal to talk, and talk, and talk endlessly. Where there are natural places to pause or rest in your presentation, take them.

- Use a microphone - Rather than attempt to fill a large space by speaking loudly, be kinder to yourself and get wired up.

The "don'ts" leading to stress, strain and damage

- Habitually speak over background noise - If you can, move away before you speak. If you're a teacher or a trainer establish a 'hush' signal. Wait for silence, and then speak. Constantly competing to win the right to be heard over any background noise will stress your voice, and your nerves.

- Shout or scream for a prolonged time - If you do, and you do it without proper vocal training, you'll damage your vocal cords. Screaming, shouting or cheering excessively makes you hoarse!

- Force yourself to speak out of your natural range - Speaking either too high or too low for any length of time without training will cause damage. You'll feel it in your throat.

- Force yourself to keeping talking despite having run out of breath - that too causes strain. You'll feel it in your chest. Instead learn about the art of pausing. Not only will you give yourself time to breathe properly, but you'll add a lot more expression and meaning to your words.

- Habitually clear your throat - it places your vocal enormous stress on your vocal cords, as does excess laughing, coughing, or sneezing.

- Force yourself to speak if you are ill - going to work to talk all day, when you already ill (maybe from speaking too much), will compound your problems. Take the time to get well.

Professional voice health advice

After an extensive review of freely available material on voice health, I've selected the two resource sites below. They are excellent starting points if you have ongoing concerns.

Work Hoarse graphic

Work hoarse is an in-depth exploration of the voice health issues faced by those who depend on their voice for a living. It comes from the UK based health and safety Hazards Magazine whose journalists have won major awards in the UK and America.

You'll find check-lists, resources, references, discussions of work place risk factors and more. Although published in 2004, its content is ever-green - sound enduring commonsense.

The Voice Academy is 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 site 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.