Conventional (Voice) Wisdom
By Joanna Cazden
The problem is not just the sheer number of hours that you spend verbally pitching ideas or products, schmoozing with old friends, and catching up on industry news and gossip. Other risk factors include background noise, poor acoustical environments, lack of sleep, different food and drink than your body and schedule are used to, and stress.
Each of these factors can contribute to wear-and-tear on your vocal cords. When these dangers are combined into a single week or weekend, it’s no surprise that you come home sounding hoarse, your throat feeling sore, dry, or muscle-achy. Even worse, you might lose your voice completely while at the event and spend the last day or two croaking like an apologetic frog.
Trade-show hoarseness may even come to be a badge of honor: if you’ve used up your voice, surely your boss will believe that you’ve totally worked the show! But wouldn’t it be nice to work that hard and still sound good when it’s over? Here are some tips to help you.
- Stay hydrated. The vocal cords fatigue faster when your body is low on fluid, so keep a water bottle with you, sip, and refill it often. Coffee and alcohol are dehydrating, so drink water before and between those jolting cups-of-joe, and alternate alcoholic drinks with plain club soda.
- Avoid big meals late at night, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with acid reflux. Business dinners can be just as valuable if you eat lightly, drink plenty of water, and go easy on fatty or spicy foods. You’ll sleep better too, and perhaps have more time for a solid, nutritious breakfast the next day.
- Hold one-on-ones and small meetings in the quieter corners of the lobby or convention site. Drawing someone aside might take a few extra moments, but it allows you both to focus on the work at hand, rather than on yelling over noise. If this isn’t possible every time, even occasional breaks from the general din will help you survive the duration.
- When you can’t avoid background noise at a crowded party or in a booming convention hall, talk a little slower and pronounce your consonants carefully. Instead of being intensely loud, be intensely clear. Listeners instinctively read lips when sound gets muddy, so when you over-articulate you’re helping people to see as well as hear the details of your message.
- Find 5 minutes every hour not to talk at all. Bathroom breaks, walks or taxis between venues, and even elevator rides need not be crammed full of conversation. Instead, collect your thoughts and let your vocal cords recover for the next onslaught. Use texting, IM and email instead of the cell phone, even for quick meeting confirmations, just to give your throat a rest. Athletes are allowed to recover between even the highest-stress games, and your voice box will thank you for every brief “time out.”
- Take longer showers, or more than one per day, so that the steam can soothe your vocal cords. Especially if you flew more than an hour or two to get to the event, shower as soon as possible on arrival to counteract the dryness on the plane. If your accommodations include access to a steam room, use it – but not the dry sauna.
- Finally: pitch your voice up rather than down to add strength. Despite the deeply-held cultural belief that a low-pitched voice carries authority, your healthiest (strongest) zone is not at the bottom of your range. An enthusiastic “Mm-Hmm!” can show you the range where your voice is most resilient and resonant. Practice finding that sound in the days and weeks before your big event, and use it as much as you can when you’re at risk for vocal fatigue. Work with a speech coach for fine-tuning.
Following these suggestions may take some advance planning. It can feel odd, at first, to be so conscientious about the communication tool you generally take for granted. The reward for using some or all of these vocal health strategies will be a stronger, more confident voice that lasts through to the final hours of the show – just in time to close that most-important deal, and then to greet your family when you get home.
Joanna Cazden, MFA, MS-CCC, is a speech pathologist and vocal coach in Southern California, a frequent presenter at the Voice Foundation’s annual Symposium, and the author of How to Take Care of Your Voice: The Lifestyle Guide for Singers and Talkers. Find her online at www.voiceofyourlife.com.
Cazden, Joanna (2007). How to Take Care of Your Voice: The Lifestyle Guide for Singers and Talkers, Booklocker.com, Inc. 116 p. paperback or PDF download: www.booklocker.com/books/3026.html. ISBN# 938-1-60145-256-6.