Maintaining your voice for quality and longevity

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By Goke Ilesanmi

It is a reality that most speakers have complex about the way they sound. They lament that their own voice is very boring and therefore wish it could sound like someone else’s voice. The good news is that the voice can be naturally and professionally enhanced. So, accents can be minimised and articulation improved upon so much that your speech is clear and understandable. It is good to learn how to find your best pitch, control your pace and speak in a way that is pleasing to the ear.

According to Susan Berkley, a veteran voice coach and author of “Speak to Influence: How to Unlock the Hidden Power of Your Voice”, reporters are talking about a trend in vocal makeovers, in cosmetically improving the sound of the voice. Berkley says if a “voice lift” were surgically possible, many people would be standing on line to have one.

In her words, “But keep this in mind. When it comes to your voice, the thing you may need to change the most is your attitude. The qualities we admire in others are often the qualities we fail to value or appreciate in ourselves… It took me 5 years of getting paid for speaking as a voiceover artist and broadcaster before I realised my voice was probably okay… Learn good speaking techniques and use these skills to enhance what you have been given.”

It is noteworthy that some speakers have mastered these good speaking techniques and how to use their voice for effects. However, they do not always use the voice effectively. Experts say this can cause different types of illnesses which can prevent them from speaking. Research shows that one of the bigger problems for professional speakers is Ilaryngopharyngeal reflux. This is an inflammation near the back part of the larynx due to acid rising to that point. Reflux is most common among speakers because so many speakers are on the go, stressed up and may have poor diets. About thirty-five million people in the United States alone have acid reflux.

Dr. Thomas Murry, the Clinical Director, Professor of Speech Pathology in Otolaryngology at the Voice and Swallowing Centre of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre, Columbia University says this inflammatory condition causes the vocal cords to function less efficiently leading to vocal fatigue and poor projection.

Awareness of the symptoms of reflux can help speakers take preventive steps. The big five symptoms are vocal fatigue, lack of projection, hoarseness as the day wears on, throat clearing and increased phlegm in the throat. Noticing that you have some of the above symptoms is one step you can take to begin to reduce the problem.


Precautionary measures

To preserve your voice, do not talk over noise or constantly clear your throat. Instead, Murry recommends the silent cough technique. It is a way of clearing the throat without violently banging the vocal cords together. The silent cough is done by breathing in air and blowing the air out fast through your throat and mouth without making a sound. Immediately after the silent cough, you will tuck your chin down towards your chest and make a strong swallow.

The silent cough often clears mucous that clings to the vocal cords or near them. The silent cough is an important element of vocal hygiene and helps to prevent unnecessary trauma to the vocal cords. It is especially important to use the silent cough after surgery to the vocal cords. If the symptoms of reflux continue, go to the doctor before the problem becomes severe.


Vocal paresis

Another common physical voice problem is vocal paresis, weakness in one or both of the vocal cords, manifesting in breathiness or fatigue. Both cords must come together symmetrically to produce a clear and resonant voice.

According to Diane DiResta, President of DiResta Communications, Inc., a consultancy based in New York City and author of “Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz”, vocal paresis can be caused by a flu or viral infection. When the nerve is inflamed, the condition can last for six months to a year, causing the speaker to change habits to adjust to the inflammation.

Research indicates that a monotone may be an indicator of a minor defect or partial paralysis. Also, speakers who have difficulty projecting could have some vocal cord irregularity. Record yourself and listen to how you sound. Also, be aware, if you find people asking you to speak louder. This may be an indication that you are suffering from vocal paresis.


    Breathiness and hoarseness

If you are part of a speakers’ club, have one meeting dedicated to voice quality. Often what you think is normal may actually be an indication that something needs to be checked out. According to DiResta, if you have women in the group, note if they speak in a breathy manner. This is because women are more inclined to get polyps or nodules, which are growths that prevent complete closure of the vocal cords and create breathiness. Murry reinforces this fact thus: “In females, the back part of the vocal folds never completely closes due to the way they are formed. So, the female voice is always going to be a little bit more breathy than the male’s because of anatomy.”

If you are suffering from breathiness, it is better to take action and get checked out. It is always better to be safe. No professional speaker wants to wake up only to discover that he or she is hoarse when he or she has a big speaking engagement. When hoarseness is the problem, first determine that there is no hemorrhage. Then start a process of hydration and steam.

Speakers are advised to travel with a facial steamer. You can boil water, pour it into the bucket and throw a towel over your head to reap the benefits of steam.

To avoid becoming hoarse, experts advise that alcohol, chocolate and caffeine should be avoided before a speech. These items can dehydrate the mucous membranes, causing hoarseness. Finally, after an all-day speaking engagement, have enough rest and drink a lot of water. Before you go to sleep, take anything that has mint. Mint relaxes the lower oesophagus and allows acid to come up.

To be continued

PS: For those making inquiries about our Public Speaking, Business Presentation and Professional Writing Skills programme, please visit the website indicated on this page for details.

GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.

Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng

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