Whether youre a teacher, training officer, you give business speeches or appear on radio or TV, its important to look after your voice.
Think of the situation this way. To prepare the content for any of your presentations, you use your intellectual muscles. To prepare for an athletic event, you exercise your bodys muscles. Before a speaking presentation, you need to prepare your voice, but this is the area most neglected!
When using your voice professionally, you need to know that you can use every part of its range, depth, resonance and pitch for maximum effect. You also dont want to cause any damage to your voice leaving it prone to infections.
About half an hour before you use your voice professionally, I suggest you warm it up by low humming that resonates in the upper passages of your chest. Put your hand on this area to ensure you feel these vibrations. Do this low-pitched humming for at least 5 minutes.
Then go through a clarity voice exercise. My favourite is called QEQR. Screw your mouth up and say Q. Now stretch the mouth wide and say E. Next, repeat the screwed up Q again. Finally get your mouth wide open and give a big R sound. Repeat the whole cycle ten or so times, speeding up slightly as you go. Your mouth will be tingling afterwards, as youve given the surrounding muscles a much needed workout! Youll discover afterwards that youll be pronouncing your words with exceptional clarity, and the QEQR exercise is essential to do as a warm up before a speech.
If youre a professional presenter or voiceover artist like me, youll know that having just a common cold can be an absolute disaster. I have personally lost a load of money when agencies or studios had to pick someone else for a commercial voice or presenting job, just because I had a blocked nose and sounded terrible. Not funny! And no, the voice cant be tweaked with an electronic equaliser in the studio afterwards to sound better; it cant be done. A muffled voice cant really be un-muffled!
Here are my tips to keep your voice in top condition for professional speaking. Being sensible with your body in general and your voice in particular is important here. Get plenty of sleep and dont burn the candle at both ends - in other words, get early to bed and get those sleeping hours in, so that your brain can work at peak efficiency for your recording session or live show the next day! If you cut down on sleep, your body wont be able to protect you fully from getting infections. So no late night parties and certainly dont drink too much alcohol!
Try and avoid people who are ill. I know this is very difficult, particularly if you have to travel on public transport. If youve just been near someone with a cold or someone has sneezed near your face, then rush to the nearest washroom and wash your face thoroughly, gargle with cold water and flush your nose out. Horrible, but if youre a professional presenter, you have to avoid getting a cold or any kind of respiratory infection at all costs. Be aware of infected objects around you as well; using a public telephone, for example can be really a danger point to pick up bugs for your voice!
Of course, you can build up your body to be more resistant against infections. Get and stay generally fit; eat a balanced diet of quality foods including loads of fruit and vegetables; and take supplements if you need them. Many professional presenters rely on Vitamin C tablets, Echinacea drops or Astragalus tincture which also protects against breathing tracts and lung infections. A dozen drops in water each day and regular gargling will give infection protection.
But what if the worst happens, and you actually feel a cold coming on? A few squirts of Vicks First Defence or equivalent product up the nasal passages can help stop a cold in its tracks if its caught early. Its basically thick gel made of plant substances that stops the infection spreading and it has a good success rate. Another piece of advice is to go to the gym, but dont do too much exercise if youre feeling a bit off colour; simply sit in the hot steam room or sauna for ten minutes and the temperature may kill off the infection; remember to breathe deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
If you really HAVE to do a voice session, present an important conference speech or present a broadcast programme with a sore throat or if you are all bunged up, follow my tips.
Dont use your voice on full volume until you really have to - whisper to people until its show time! A sore throat can be calmed by gargling with warm salted water every few hours; be careful it doesnt make you sick though! Theres no point in gargling with a medicinal antiseptic, this will just irritate the throat if its already infected. Its important to keep drinking water regularly as well as sucking lozenges; any kind that have vapours will be fine.
If your nose is blocked, a temporary relief spray like Sinex may work for you, or breathe in Olbas oil sprinkled on a tissue. Fill a bowl with very hot water, put a towel over your head and breathe in the steam deeply. Try mixing in essential oils such as menthol, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil for improved results. Your pharmasist may suggest some anti-congestion tablets that can temporarily unblock you, but dont use these regularly.
But what if youre absolutely desperate for your vouice to sound normal? Depending on how blocked you are, try doing a handstand and staying there for a minute! Gravity could unblock the mucus from your passages long enough for you to blow it out before your speech or broadcast!
Finally, I know a lot of people dont look after their precious sensitive vocal folds by coughing too much or clearing their voice loudly. This is really bad news for your poor throat and vocal cords, and its far better to learn to do the silent cough technique. This is a way to clear the throat without violently hitting the delicate vocal folds together. The silent cough is done by breathing in air and blowing the air out very fast through your throat and mouth without making much sound- its like a big chesty puff. Immediately after the silent cough, you should tuck your chin down and swallow hard. Doing this often clears mucous that clings to the vocal folds or near them.
Mucus can be a big problem for many people and we recommend you drink eight glasses of water a day, avoiding dairy products and eating a true balance of protein and carbohydrates. Keep fit, and your voice will reward you!
Good luck with your next presentation!