Welcome to the new way to communicate during the pandemic…non-stop use of videoconferencing platforms for conducting business, taking or giving classes, personal conversations with friends and family, and even telehealth visits with your healthcare providers. After long days and weeks of doing this, have you noticed that your voice is suffering? Maybe it’s getting fatigued, hoarse, even sore after a full day of online speaking.
Now, you’ve probably seen our blog and website page on Online Voice Preservation Training. Maybe you’re not ready to commit to formal training yet, or like for so many, finances have become tight since March. And we understand that. So it’s time to share some helpful tidbits from the Voice Preservation course.
We use many different techniques to help people preserve their voices for all the activities of daily living, both personal and professional. But to keep it short and sweet, we’re going to make you smart as a W.H.I.P. with these 4 quick voice care tips. And they’ll be easy to remember when you’re facing a hectic day of online meetings, because their first letters spell out W-H-I-P!
W ? Warm up your voice! No, not like an opera singer (unless you want to!). Try simple, gentle up and down slides or sirens on lip trills (the motorboat sound you make with your lips, with voice added), tongue trills (like an Italian or Spanish “r” sound where you roll the “r” with your tongue), humming, or saying “hoo” through a straw (it should sound like a kazoo and feel “buzzy” and tickly). Do these sirens lightly, with a good breath before each one. If you like to sing, you can use these same exercises with simple melodies or a 5-note scale. Try doing the warm-ups to get your voice sounding resonant and clear and feeling effortless, before you start your first meeting, as a reset for your voice between meetings, and very gently as a cool-down when your day is done.
H ? Hydrate and breathe steam before/during/after meetings. As we said in our blog about hydration, vocal folds (a.k.a. vocal “cords”) work more efficiently with less effort when they’re wet vs. when they’re dry. (They’re covered with mucus membrane, just like the lining of your mouth. Imagine if that was completely dry!) Wet membranes are healthy membranes, and now more than ever, we need to stay healthy. Room temperature water is probably the best way to go; also try warm honey water or even caffeine-free herbal tea. (Water takes a while to get through your digestive system and out to your cords, so plan accordingly).
Steaming (which is direct and immediate moisture for your vocal folds) can be accomplished either from a hot steamer or with a portable USB nebulizer which uses sterile saline vials. Research has shown that the tiny nebulized particles of 0.9% saline solution (considered “normal” or “physiological” saline, since it “matches” your body’s physiology) are smaller than those produced by hot steam. The nebulized saline, therefore, moisturizes your vocal folds and lungs more effectively than the larger molecules of water found in hot steam. The larger particles may still be effective at moisturizing your nose and mouth. (And on a cold winter day, it just feels GOOD!) This video by My Vocal Mist explains how moist vocal folds work more efficiently than dry ones. https://youtu.be/VzyLJBEdvFg. And just as a hint, when I steam or nebulize, I use a sipping-through-an-invisible-straw motion, not a gulping motion, which prevents throat irritation and cough.
A quick checklist for keeping your larynx “lubed” with moisture:
- Have one or two glasses of water and/or herbal tea before you start your first remote conversation. (You haven’t hydrated overnight, so you’re starting the day “a quart low”).
- Sip water throughout each meeting, and in between meetings/sessions/classes.
- Increase water intake if your day is stressful. Stress/anxiety can lead to shallow mouth-breathing, even reflux; these can dry/irritate your mouth and throat.
- “Breathe” a glass of water by inhaling steam, either warm or nebulized cool mist.
- In a pinch, use lozenges such as Zarbees, Go Organics Honey, or Thayers Dry Mouth Lozenges to moisturize your mouth and throat.
I ? In the Mask. This is where you want your voice to be resonating. The mask is the area that encircles the nose and mouth. The “bulls-eye” of the mask is the little indentation above your top lip (the philtrum, for those who NEED to know ?). When your voice buzzes or tickles in the mask, you are producing a good voice. See our blog/video called Vocal Problems? You Need a GPS for Your Voice for tips on how to get your voice into the mask using the common affirming expression “um-hmm”. (https://provoicecare.net/vocal-problems-you-need-a-gps-for-your-voice/). Remember to use “um-hmm” frequently throughout your online meetings. Every time you feel that “buzz” near your top lip, memorize that pleasant feeling. That’s where you want your voice to be all the time. It will stay resonant and clear, and is less likely to tire or get hoarse. (P.S.: All of the exercises that we listed in Section #1, the Warm-Up section, will also help to get your voice into the mask).
P ? Posture. Don’t forget what mother always said: sit up straight! Posture has a direct effect on your voice, breathing, even your general overall health and well-being. Sit up tall, chest up, shoulders back, ears directly over your shoulders and chin tucked slightly. NO craning your neck forward and jutting your chin out toward the screen! Align the top third of your device’s screen with your eyes/forehead, using a laptop stand or a stack of books if needed. See our blog on posture while videoconferencing, with tips from Back Intelligence.com https://provoicecare.net/if-your-voice-is-bothering-you-it-could-beyour-laptop/ and our blog on general posture suggestions with some wicked pictures of yours truly demonstrating good and bad posture (https://provoicecare.net/posture-and-voice-straighten-up-and-sing-or-speak-right/)
In addition to the W.H.I.P. protocol, it may be helpful to use headphones or ear buds, headset microphone or a good external USB microphone and/or even a Bluetooth speaker to hear yourself better, so you’re not tempted to use a louder-than-normal vocal volume on your remote calls. Remember to speak conversationally, and let technology do the work to amplify you. Be sure to optimize your audio settings on Zoom and check to see that the volume is up on your device before beginning the meeting (but watch out for excessive volume if you’re using headphones or ear buds, to avoid damaging your hearing). Minimize background noise in the room where you’re conducting the online session, and ask your listener to do the same. (Hint: I usually ask the person I’m meeting with if they can hear me OK. Sometimes I ask them to turn up their volume and optimize their settings as well.)
We use many techniques at Professional Voice Care Center to keep your voice healthy, online or in-person. And during everyday life activities, remember to avoid those behaviors that could injure your voice, like yelling, talking over noise, and shouting from one room to another. (After all, many more family members are home at the same time than in the past, so things could get a bit noisy!) Also, remember that your voice is part of the human body, and it will benefit from adequate sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management.
Remote communication is here to stay. If you follow these simple suggestions, you could be smart as a W.H.I.P. about how to keep your voice healthy!