As people around the world spend more and more time on video calls and in virtual
meeting rooms, we’re using our voices and postures in new ways. In response to the
new virtual environment, UNC assistant professor of Acting and Performance, Rebecca Rich, offers a set of tips aimed at keeping your voice in top shape.
Consider these breathing basics
Breathe when you need to. There’s no need to run out of breath before you take a new
breath, and there’s no need to shout or push your voice out. Often times, slowing
down the rate of your speech allows yourself to catch your breath. Your audience will
also feel less rushed and anxious. If you’re already defined as a “slow talker,” be
aware of your breath and carry your energy through to the ends of your thoughts. If
you are already defined as a “fast talker,” take another breath and invite people
to listen as opposed to thinking you have to get your thought out quickly.
Remember this mantra: Deep breathing brings deep thinking, and shallow breathing brings shallow thinking (Elsie Lincoln Benedict, in Practical Psychology, 1920).
Warm up your body and voice
Try not to roll out of bed and go sit for a call or class where you have to use your
voice. Before Spring Break and the pandemic, most of us got up in the morning, moved
around, busily getting ready, and generally had movement in our body and breath before
we went to our first meeting or class (getting in and out of the car counts as movement!).
Now, you're getting out of bed and might go straight into a meeting. Now, you should
add in movement before you sit for your call/class – get your breath moving — I suggest
at least 15 minutes of cardio, such as fast walking in place or outside, or dancing
in your room. Then, stretch.
To get your breath moving, find some ease in your spine by doing stretches; roll your
shoulders forwards and backwards; reach your arms forward, making swim-like movements
with your arms; lift your legs or feet up and down if that’s possible. Lightly warm
vocal range with "hmmms" and "ahhhs," gliding pitches up and down. Stretch your tongue
(it’s a muscle that needs to be well-used to be of use!). Be aware of jaw tension
and massage your jaw; the jaw can either act as a prison gate to your thoughts and speech, or it can act
as an open door to free speech (Kristen Linklater, Freeing the Natural Voice, 1976).
These YouTube videos should give you some ideas for easy warm-ups:
Cool down after you use your voice extensively
After a call or period of extended speaking, give yourself a break. Take a few minutes
rest; light “hmmms” and “ahhhs” gliding pitches up and down can, again, be useful
to ease you back into no or limited use of your voice. Generally, every 90 minutes
of speaking deserves at least 10 minutes of vocal rest.
Be aware of your spinal alignment
Typically, we are bent over or reaching forward with our heads and necks to "reach"
the people on the screen or through the phone. Give yourself gentle self-reminders
to keep “ease” in your spine — keep your body alignment in the direction of up and
above at the same time as you’re sending your energy forward and to the front when
you speak. Imagine your head
floating on top of your shoulders and neck, especially when you’re sitting for any
length of time.
Drink at least six to eight glasses of water per day (at least 64 ounces total). Have
water or another easy beverage such as decaffeinated tea within reach during calls,
and take sips whenever you can. This this will give you a moment to pause in your
speech and rest your voice for a moment between thoughts.
Elevate amounts of cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens and elevate amounts of
high fiber fruits in your diet; they contain good nutrients and vitamins, most of
which help keep the voice healthy and lubricated.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, salt and sugar (especially processed sugars) — they all dry
out your vocal cords and throat.
Keep a humidifier running in the place that you sleep, and also in the place where
you work or are most often using your voice.
Assess your technical options
If you have the option to wear headphones with a built-in mic, they may help you HEAR
the others on your call more easily, then you will feel less inclined to push your
voice out to reach the screen and more inclined to invite people to listen to you.
Avoid excessive throat-clearing
If there’s legitimately something in your throat, then it makes sense to clear it;
however, many times there’s nothing there. It’s that your throat is dry, or that you’ve
developed a habit of clearing your throat. Throat clearing involves banging your very
vulnerable vocal cords together — it is a violent act to your voice, and if you continue
to bang something, it’s going to get bruised or worn out. Retrain yourself to either
swallow, lick your lips, or pause for a sip of water in place of clearing your throat.
(Note: There are simple and complicated medical conditions — such as acid reflux or
GERD — that make certain individuals more prone to throat clearing, so check with
Six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half hours is the healthy range for most adults; a tired
body is a tired voice!
Rebecca Rich has worked as a professional actress for more than 20 years and as a theatre
educator and director for 12. She is not a medical doctor, nor a speech therapist.
If you are experiencing persistent issues with your voice and speech, it is recommended
that you seek out medical assistance and/or speech therapy.