Whether you're a teacher, training administrator, you do business speeches or appear on radio or TV, it's imperative to look after your voice.
Think of the position this way. To get ready the content for any of your presentations, you take advantage of your "intellectual muscles". To prepare for an athletic event, you work out your body's muscles. Before a speaking presentation, you need to prepare your voice, but this is the area often neglected!
When using your voice professionally, you need to know that you can use every part of its range, depth, resonance and pitch for utmost effect. You additionally don't need to cause some harm to your voice leaving it prone to infections.
About half an hour in advance of you use your voice professionally, I advocate 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 employment. My favourite is called "QEQR". Screw your rudeness up and say "Q". Now stretch the jaws broad and say "E". Next, reiterate the screwed up "Q" again. Finally get your mouth wide open and perform a large "R" sound. Repeat the entire cycle ten or so times, speeding up a little as you go. Your mouth will be tingling afterwards, as you've given the surrounding muscles a much desired workout! You'll discover afterwards that you'll be pronouncing your words with exceptional clarity, and the QEQR exercise is essential to carry out as a "warm up" in advance of a speech.
If you're a pro TV presenter or voiceover artiste like me, you'll know that having "just" a common cold can be an absolute calamity. I have personally lost a load of money as agencies or studios had to pick someone else for a industrial voice or presenting job, "just" because I had a blocked nose and sounded terrible. Not funny! And no, the voice can't be tweaked with an electronic equaliser in the studio afterwards to sound better; it can't be done. A muffled voice can't really be un-muffled!
Here are my tips to keep your voice in top condition for pro speaking. Being wise with your body in general and your voice in particular is important at this point. Get a lot of slumber and don't "burn the candle at both ends" - in other words, get early to bed and get those sleeping hours in, so that your brain can operate at highest efficiency for your recording session or live display the next day! If you cut down on sleep, your body won't be able to defend you fully from getting infections. So no late at night night parties and certainly don't drink too much alcohol!
Try and stay away from folks who are not well. I know this is very tricky, particularly if you have to travel on public transport. If you've just been near someone with a cold or someone has sneezed close to your face, then rush to the next washroom and wash your face comprehensively, gargle with cold water and flush your nose out. Horrible, but if you're a professional broadcaster, you have to prevent 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 resilient against infections. Get and stay in general fit; chomp a balanced diet of quality foods as well as tons of fruit and vegetables; and take supplements if you need them. Many professional presenters rely on Vitamin C pills, Echinacea drops or Astragalus tincture which additionally protects against breathing tracts and lung infections. A dozen drops in water every day and regular gargling will give infection protection.
But what if the worst happens, and you in reality feel a cold coming on? A few squirts of Vick's "First Defence" or equivalent merchandise up the nasal passages can help obstruct a cold in its tracks if it's caught early on. It's basically thick gel made of plant substances that stops the infection spreading and it has a beneficial success rate. Another piece of advice is to go to the leisure center, but don't perform too much exercise if you're feeling a bit off colour; simply sit in the hot steam room or sauna for ten minutes and the heat may well destroy sour 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 seminar speech or present a broadcast programme with a sore throat or if you are all "bunged up", abide by my tips.
Don't use your voice on full volume until you really have to - whisper to folks until it's "show time"! A sore throat can be calmed by gargling with warm salty water every few hours; be cautious it doesn't make you sick though! There's no point in gargling with a medicinal antiseptic, this will just inflame the throat if it's already infected. It's critical to keep drinking water steadily 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 spotted on a tissue. Fill a bowl with very hot water, position a towel on top of 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 pills that can for the time being clear you, but don't employ these on a regular basis.
But what if you're 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 may perhaps unclog the mucus from your passages long enough for you to blow it out before your speech or broadcast!
Finally, I know a lot of individuals don't look after their precious vulnerable vocal folds by coughing too much or clearing their voice noisily. This is really bad news for your poor throat and vocal cords, and it's far better to learn to do the "silent cough" procedure. 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- it's like a vast 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 individuals and we propose you drink eight glasses of water a day, avoiding dairy products and eating a correct balance of protein and carbohydrates. Keep fit, and your voice will reward you!
Good luck with your next presentation!
Peter Baker is a broadcaster, writer and presentation coach, with experience on air at BBC & commercial TV & radio stations. Check out more tips and advice at http://www.presenterskills.co.uk and sign up for the newsletter! Peter has also co-written the material on http://www.practicalstressbusters.com - a comprehensive resource offering self-help advice, written and media downloads to help people cope with stress in their lives.
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