How to avoid losing your voice

Last week I was teaching a four day technical course to a group of software engineers. The biggest challenge when teaching a long course is maintaining your voice. You have to project your voice to fill the room, which means you lose much more moisture through your mouth. After about ten minutes my mouth was feeling dry and sticky, and by the end of the first day the back of my throat was sore and my lips are dry.

Last year in India I taught two three day courses with a weekend in between. My voice held out until the last day, but for the next two days my throat was so dry and sore I couldn’t speak above a whisper. The hot climate, polution and dry air during the flight home were all contributing factors. Since then I’ve started to take steps to protect my voice even if I’m speaking close to home.

Use a microphone if one is available

Using a microphone is extra hassle. It may take some time to set-up and it’s one more thing that could go wrong. But if you’re speaking for days rather then minutes an amplification system can help save your voice. The half hour on the first day looking for batteries and untangling wires will be worth it in the long run.

Warm Up

If you’re presenting away from home you might not speak to anyone between waking up and arriving at the venue. I don’t think it’s healthy to jump immediately into loud voice projection after saying nothing for hours. Singers will warm up their vocal chords before performing. Forever Singing suggests humming the lowest note you can make which “loosens the vocal cords and helps remove mucous”. At the very least you should introduce yourself to the attendees as they arrive and have a normal volume conversation before you begin.

Sip room temperature Water

You need to replenish the moisture you’re losing through your mouth. I’ve read lots of conflicting advice about the best way to rehydrate (including herbal tea, chewing gum, water spray, water/tea with lemon). The one consistent piece of advice is that you should drink water at room temperature. Take sips often, and be prepared to take lots of toilet breaks.

Lip Balm

You’re lips will get dry and chapped. A chap stick can make things much more comfortable.

Rest your voice

Allow plenty of time to rest your voice. If possible have a co-presenter so you’re only talking for half the time. Take breaks throughout the day and try to avoid getting caught in lengthy conversations during these times. In the evenings you should avoid noisy bars and restaurants where you have to shout to be heard, which may be difficult if you’re away from home and have no choice but to eat out.

Presenting a long course is a daunting task, but it gives you massive exposure to public speaking and can really help you build your stage presence. Following these simple steps will make you more comfortable and clear. Happy Fillibustering.

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