Jan 25 2010
You are just about to make your point, bringing your dynamic and well-prepared speech to its exciting climax, when you open your mouth to speak and hear a horrible croak instead of your usual voice. Frustrated, you clear your throat, and try again, but you sound like you are speaking underwater this time! Again you clear your throat, loudly and aggressively. Now, your voice is more clear, but you can still feel the crud rolling around in there, and sure enough, a few words later, there it is again. Croak! Someone from the audience rushes up with a glass of water. You guzzle it down in relief, but you know the moment has passed. The audience is now feeling a bit sorry for you…not what you had intended at all!
Well, it happens. In other articles, we have talked about how to keep your voice healthy, how to deal with laryngitis and acid reflux, but there are minor issues that come up that cause problems that are NOT long-lasting. Here are 3 things you can do , on the spot, to get rid of a frog in the throat, and also to deal with a couple of other vocal horrors: the “tickle,” and “the tremor.”
- If your voice croaks like a frog: Immediately, stop, lift up your hand to tell your audience “just a minute”, turn away from the mic, and create a little compression in your throat (like the beginning of clearing your throat, but without all the noise.) It’s a little graveley sound you want to create, and you can do this very quietly two or three times. If it doesn’t clear up, stop, let the audience know you need a minute, and drink several large sips of water. Wait another few seconds, use that little compression sound to clear your cords, and speak. If you still get some croaking, drink some more water. In fact, over the next few minutes drink the entire glass by sipping between ideas. Water thins out the mucous and creates a nice lubrication usually eliminating the globs that are causing the problem.
- If your voice shakes : Sometimes your voice is unsteady because of nerves. If you suspect this is the case for you, stop, and take a breath. Calm yourself down with low, expansive breathing. Then speak again. For some, starting each talk with a resounding, confident “Hello!” may be the cure for a shaky voice. It gets the air moving, which is what you really need. For more tips on handling nervousness, please read this post by Sandra Zimmer on Six Minutes.
- If you get a tickle: Your first response is probably to take a sip of water, which may work just fine. But the tickle is in the larynx, usually, not the esophagus, so if the tickle doesn’t go away, a slight cough can help to clear the larynx of phlegm. A tickle may also be caused by dry air on the vocal folds. In this case, breathing in through the nose will help warm and moisten the air; take a low breath, letting the abdominal muscles expand and your throat relax. Then be sure to actively use the air in the sound when you speak.
While there are potentially many aspects of a presentation that can take away from your presentation if not addressed (please read Joan Curtis’ Blog post on Communication Culprits), there is no doubt that a voice malfunction can make you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Don’t let it. Learn these tricks for dealing with it physically because sooner or later, you will need this information. But when it happens, know that it’s just part of the deal. Your voice is your greatest asset as a speaker or singer, but it is part of your body and it has its good days and its bad days, just like your hair.
What other vocal issues come up for you as a speaker? Write a comment about it and let’s see what we can do to solve it or give you a quick remedy. And if you stump me, I’ll do the research and get back to you. I look forward to hearing from you!
Update: Great recent post on another problem for speakers: stuttering. Please read Eloquent Woman