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Take Care of Your Voice!

Public speakers should practice good vocal hygiene. The voice, like the body, requires proper care. Good posture and upright positioning improve projection. Relaxed muscles and reduced muscular tension minimize laryngeal strain. Proper breath support increases projection and length of utterance. Appropriate rate of speech and clear enunciation reduce vocal strain. Balanced resonance, varied pitch, and controlled volume also help. Vocal warm-ups and cool downs protect the voice as well as proper rest, nutrition, and exercise.

Billy Graham, the world’s foremost evangelist for decades, practiced good voice care. For more than forty years, he exercised daily and practiced speaking regularly. As he talked, Graham warmed his voice up like an opera singer does the scales. At a comfortable volume and with proper breath support, he said “Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No. No.”[1] If the great preacher Billy Graham faithfully practiced his voice, shouldn’t you? All public speakers must commit to personal vocal care

The following suggestions will be useful to public speakers who desire to practice good voice care:

  1. Avoid excessively loud volume, especially screaming or shouting. Speak only when at arm reach, and avoid speaking in noisy settings.
  2. Avoid abrupt bursts in speaking. Use a relaxed effort.
  3. Limit throat clearing and coughing. Swallow to clear mucus from the vocal cords.
  4. Drink several (6-8) glasses of water a day, especially when taking decongestants.
  5. Decrease caffeinated beverages which dry out the vocal cords.
  6. Rest your voice if your throat is infected or if hoarseness persists. Avoid whispering for an extended time. Instead, use a very quiet voice.
  7. Avoid eating milk products (ice cream, yogurt, cheese) before speaking. Dairy products may coat the vocal cords and disrupt vocal quality.
  8. Avoid eating three hours before going to bed to decrease possibility of reflux of stomach acid. Avoid eating certain foods and drinking certain beverages (i.e. spicy foods, fried foods, carbonated drinks) that may trigger reflux at any time.
  9. Vary the pitch of your voice within an octave range; however, avoid extremely high pitch and extremely low pitch.
  10. See your doctor if hoarseness or throat pain persists more than two to three weeks.

In their book, Power in the Pulpit, Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix discuss “Playing the Voice.” Because he developed a vocal nodule which required surgical removal, Dr. Vines learned the importance of vocal hygiene. He has found it helpful to be sensitive to weather and climate; to give attention to fit of clothing; to regulate home/office temperatures; to develop good nutritional habits; to get plenty of rest; to exercise regularly; to give attention to physical ailments; to avoid using the voice excessively before and after preaching; and to use the voice as often as possible.[1]

A public speaker, especially one with a message from the Lord, must develop distinct speech and care for the vocal mechanism. Make a commitment to improve speech skills and voice quality. Become an expert in using the vocal mechanism given by God.

[1] Pat and Ruth Williams, Turning Boring Orations into Standing Ovations: The Ultimate Guide to Dynamic Public Speaking (Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books, 2008), 146.

[2] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit (Chicago, IL: Moody Press 1999), 287-290.

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