Five Simple Ways to Care for Your Voice in Winter

Winter’s cold, changing weather and dry indoor climates can put a lot of stress on your body, especially the respiratory system and your voice.  Here are five easy ways to care for your voice this winter:

Hard Candy
Hard Candy.
Photo: Adam Zivner
  • Drink lots of fluid, especially water
  • Use a humidifier
  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol if you have to speak, as they dehydrate
  • Avoid milk products and chocolate, as they can lead to mucous congestion
  • Suck on hard candy for added moisture

Everyone’s system is different, so know how you react to different foods and environmental conditions.

How do you protect your voice in the winter?  Please feel free to share any tips or hints below.

Throw Away That Popsicle!

Popsicle BreakA glass of ice water, a slice of chilled watermelon, a grape juice popsicle.  Sounds great in hot weather, doesn’t it?

If you’re a public speaker or a singer like I am, beware.  These ice cold  refreshers triggered some of the nastiest asthma  and allergy attacks I’ve had,  leading to extensive mucous in my throat, constant attempts at  throat clearing, and finally triggering irritative laryngitis or reflux laryngitis (when gastric acid backs up into the larynx, pharynx, and esophagus).

I admit it: I may be hyper-sensitive.  Anything mucous-producing, from alcohol to milk products, chocolate, and even red meat, can set off an allergic attack.

Years ago, when I was doing some professional singing, I went to a noted otolaryngologist who was THE go-to doctor for opera and theater legends, from pop singers to opera divas. His first piece of advice: avoid red wine, milk products and chocolate. My own voicePopsicle, Lime, Cold.  Yum. teachers were also telling me to avoid very hot or very cold drinks, instead sticking to room temperature or warm beverages.

Only years later, after researching and consulting doctors, did I learn that cold can trigger an allergic reaction leading to reflux, and, just as cold weather can trigger an asthma attack, so can drinking or eating something cold.  In short, it’s a shock to your vocal chords.

Now that I know the culprit, I’m careful about assaulting my throat with very cold foods or beverages.  And when symptoms flare, I head for my asthma inhaler and an antihistimine-decongestant.  No more popsicles for me!

Photos courtesy of Kristin Resurreccion and Sergio Feria via Flickr.

Best and Worst Broadcasters

Commentators and TV hosts with good voices and delivery: Among women, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Leslie Stahl, Cynthia McFadden, Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, Sue Simmons in New York. Men: Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Larry King.

What do they have in common? Soothing, pleasant voices, a sense of authority, and good delivery.  They pronounce well, exude an air of relaxed confidence, credibility and experience.  Their voices are pitched at a level that is easy to listen to, they make their listeners feel comfortable, and their pace of delivery makes it easy for the audience to understand what they’re saying.

Contrast these examples of excellent delivery with the shrill and whiney broadcasters  we hear on some of the Cable, sports and financial TV channels.  High-pitched nasal voices with “rapid fire” deliveries who talk so fast they actually swallow their words, and make it hard for listeners to follow them.  I won’t name the stations, but if you channel surf, you’ll easily spot them.

Tell us who you think is the best and worst broadcaster. Take our quick survey.

What not to do

Interesting how some “experts” make speaking 101 mistakes.  This post was inspired by a You Tube video of a public speaking “expert” delivering a presentation to a conference based on his new book.  The presentation was so boring that I turned it off after slightly more than a minute into it. 

Just as you can learn from good speakers, watch for things you don’t like, and avoid them in your speaking.  Here are some of the mistakes this speaker made:

  • Keep your hands off  your face.  This speaker started by unconsciously rubbing his face.  Whether it’s pushing the hair out of your face or scratching an itch, keep your hands off your face.  It’s distracting and signals insecurity.  When I was acting years ago, we were taught that if we had an itch, we had to ignore it.  Good advice.
  • Don’t tell a joke if you’re not good at it.  It’s no joking matter. The speaker made a feeble attempt at a joke.  No one laughed.
  • Finish your sentences.  This speaker would start a sentence, then go on to another one without finishing the first thought.  This gives your listeners a sense of being disorganized and disjointed.
  • Limit your presentation.  The You Tube video went on for nearly 15 minutes.  The introductory minute was so bad that there was no way I could sit through 14 more minutes.  People today are time-challenged.  Less is more.  Better to leave them wanting more than wishing you would stop.

Why did this speaker do so badly?  It was obvious in only a few seconds that he hadn’t prepared.  He may have been tired, and obviously thought he could “wing it.”  This is one of the worst mistakes people make: thinking you can get up and just deliver something without practice and structure.

No matter where you’re speaking, your audience deserves more.  Think through every presentation, outline it, practice it.

Loaded Words

Just like loading a gun with ammunition, high-impact words can have a powerful effect on politicians and political and other campaigns.

Consider the current healthcare reform debate, and the language used by opponents. Listen to the types of action words and labels they use. Whether you agree or not, such words have strong emotional impact when used in the public speaking arena:

big government
government takeover
mainstream America

Q and A Sessions: from danger to safety

Current town hall meetings on health reform have become hornet’s nests for politicians. For public speakers, they illustrate the opportunities and pitfalls of handling Question & Answer sessions. If your content is controversial, you may want to think about how to handle the Q & A format in advance.

Here are my rankings of safest and most dangerous approaches for the speaker.

• Take questions directly from audience – most dangerous
• Give questioners numbers and call each by number – middle ground
• Have audience submit questions in writing in advance and read questions — safest