What Hillary Clinton Can Teach Us About Using Your Voice


Hillary ClintonThere’s been talk about Hillary Clinton’s coughing and whether she’s damaging her voice. It made me think of how speakers unknowingly abuse their voices. Often public speakers yell in order to project. Yelling is not only irritating to listen to, but will cause eventual hoarseness. It causes strain on the vocal folds. Presenters should request a microphone, project from the diaphragm, and not from the neck muscles. And incessant coughing can also cause damage. Coughing causes the vocal folds to forcefully slam together.

One of the bigger problems for professional and public speakers is laryngopharyngeal reflux, an inflammation near the back part of the larynx due to acid rising to that point. Thirty-five million people in the United States have acid reflux.

“This inflammatory condition causes the vocal folds to function less efficiently leading to vocal fatigue and poor projection,” states Dr. Thomas Murry, clinical director, professor of speech pathology in otolaryngology at the Voice and Swallowing Center of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Columbia University. Reflux is most common among speakers because so many speakers are on the go, stressed and may have poor diets. Being aware of the symptoms of reflux can help speakers take preventative steps to take care of the problem.

The big five symptoms are:

  • Vocal fatigue
  • Lack of projection
  • Hoarseness as the day wears on
  • Throat clearing
  • Increased phlegm in the throat

Preserving the Voice

To preserve the voice, don’t constantly clear your throat or talk over noise.  Instead, Murry recommends the silent cough technique.

The silent cough technique is a way to clear the throat without violently banging the vocal folds together. The silent cough is done by breathing in air and blowing the air out fast through your throat and mouth without making a sound. Immediately after the silent cough, you should tuck your chin down toward your chest and make a strong swallow. The silent cough often clears mucous that clings to the vocal folds or near them. The silent cough is an important element of vocal hygiene and helps to prevent unnecessary trauma to the vocal folds. It is especially important to use the silent cough after surgery to the vocal folds.

If the symptoms of reflux continue, go to the doctor before the problem becomes severe.

Another common physical voice problem is vocal paresis, a weakness in one or both vocal muscles manifesting in breathiness or fatigue. Both folds must come together symmetrically to produce a clear, resonant voice. Vocal paresis can be caused by a flu or viral infection. When the nerve is inflamed, the condition can last for six months to a year, causing the speaker to change habits to adjust to the inflammation. A monotone may be an indicator of a minor defect or partial paralysis. Also, public speakers who have difficulty projecting could have some vocal fold asymmetry. Tape yourself and listen to how you sound. Also, be aware if you find people asking you to talk louder. This may be an indication that you are suffering from vocal paresis.

Breathiness and Hoarseness

Women are more inclined to get polyps or nodules, which are growths that prevent complete closure of the vocal folds and create breathiness. “In females, the back part of the vocal folds never completely closes due to the way they are formed. So the female voice is always going to be a little bit more breathy than the male’s because of anatomy,” states Murry.

If you are suffering from breathiness, take action and get checked out. It is always better to be safe than sorry. The definition of the term “frustrated and feeling sorry for yourself" is to wake up to find that you’re hoarse when you have a big speaking engagement.

When hoarseness is the problem, first determine that there is no hemorrhage. Then start a process of hydration and steam. Public speakers should travel with a facial steamer. When staying in a dry hotel room, opera singers use them every hour for five minutes. Alternatively, you can make boiling water in your coffee pot, pour it into the ice bucket, and throw a towel over your head to reap the benefits of steam.

To avoid becoming hoarse, avoid alcohol, chocolate and caffeine before a speech. They will dehydrate the mucous membranes, causing hoarseness. Finally, after an all-day motivational program, get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. Before you climb into bed, toss out those mint chocolates on your pillow; they are a double whammy because the mint relaxes the lower esophagus and allows acid to come up.

Making a difference in the lives of your audience is done with your instrument—your voice. With proper breathing, voice training and vocal hygiene, your voice will be strong, healthy and you’ll master true vocal power.

The GPS Girl's Top 10 Directions for Vocal Health for Public Speakers

I'm honored to have  Karen Jacobsen – The GPS Girl® – as my guest blogger. Read her top 10 tips for having a healthy voice. auto-325465_1280Whether you are a professional speaker or a business professional your voice is a key asset.  It’s the core of our ability to communicate, to get our ideas across and to be heard.  As a professional speaker and singer my voice is essential to my profession.  What I have discovered is that excellent vocal health happens to also result in excellent overall health.

Here are some of the ways I protect my voice on a daily basis:

  1. Be Rested

To maintain a healthy voice one of the basics is getting enough rest.  I have to make sure I am on top of getting a good 8 hours of sleep per night consistently to keep my voice in great shape.  Put sleep in your calendar like an important appointment (because it is) and prevent being run down.

  1. Drink a Crazy Amount of Water

This is an absolute essential.  I drink 6 - 10 glasses of water throughout the day (did you know that 80% of Americans are dehydrated?) and I also drink tea.  I prefer almost tannin-free tea and make sure I am drinking water and tea all day long.  If you need to, set an alarm several times a day as a reminder.

  1. Honey is My Secret Weapon

Honey has amazing healing properties, pleasant to taste and is very soothing.  If I am feeling a little tickle in my throat or I am vocally tired, I will have a spoonful of honey.  It's one of the ways I will fight off something, by having a teaspoon of honey every hour or half hour, especially before bed.

  1. Carry a Scarf

I carry a scarf with me 12 months of the year as I am often in some kind of artificially heated or cooled environment.  Even in the height of summer when walking into a restaurant or a convention room it is icy.  Being able to protect my throat with a scarf helps my body temperature and specifically my throat.  If I find my throat or neck is exposed and it is unusually cool I can catch a chill and it can be downhill from there, potentially leading to a vocal problem.

  1. Oil Pulling

We already know about keeping hydrated and I recently learned about an ancient Ayurveda treatment called Oil Pulling.  This is amazing for overall health, and involves swishing cold-pressed organic sesame oil in the mouth for between 7 and 20 minutes first thing each morning.  I learned this from a top New York vocal coach, Joan Baker, and a great side effect is a vast improvement in dental health.  There is a lot of excellent information online about oil pulling.

  1. Yelling is Telling

If you are in a loud environment and straining to be heard over music or talking, or at a sporting event, do not yell.  Do not scream.  Do not cheer super loudly.  It's something to be extremely conscious of to protect your voice.

  1. If it Hurts, Don't Do It

This may sound pretty obvious, but we've all been in a situation where we are a little too exuberant with our voice and it starts to hurt.  You may be giving a presentation and the microphone isn't working properly, or you are trying to be heard over loud music or conversation.  If it hurts in any way, it is hurting your vocal cords and could lead to major problems.

  1. Beware of Dairy

If you have to use your voice more than usual and know you will have to talk with people all day long at a conference or trade show, or with back to back business meetings when you are usually have a quieter workday in the office, watch how much dairy is in your diet.  It can create more mucus and the vocal passages are not as clear.

  1. Skip the Ice

In the U.S. ice is routinely served in cold drinks and this can lead to big vocal problems.  It can tighten or numb your vocal cords, and for me it just irritates my throat and leaves me more susceptible to a sore throat.  Always ask for water with no ice and wean yourself off ice in all beverages.  This can have an amazing impact on your vocal comfort.

  1. Clearing your Throat can Cause Injury

Do not under any circumstances 'clear your throat.'  This can actually injure your vocal cords.  Instead, take a sip of water, cough gently or swallow to clear the throat

Building the strength of your voice and preventing vocal problems is a lot more enjoyable than having them show up.  Rest, hydrate and pay attention to the way you are using your voice on a daily basis and enjoy excellent vocal health.  You might just feel so much better in the process.

Karen Jacobsen is The GPS Girl®, an entertainer who moved in 2000 from Australia to New York with a suitcase and a dream. Karen gives directions as the speaking voice of  “Australian Karen” in over 400 million GPS and smartphone devices around the world. A professional speaker, singer and voice-over artist, Karen travels the world speaking and performing concert-style keynotes to groups who want to be able to “recalculate” and give their best in business and life. Karen has appeared on ABC World News Tonight, NBC Today Show, CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, NPR, The New York Times, NY Daily News, Glamour Magazine, and was named one of People Magazine’s Most Intriguing People. Sharing the bill with Norah Jones, Neil Sedaka and Christopher Cross, she has performed The Star Spangled Banner at many major sporting events including the New York Jets game at Giants Stadium. Karen Jacobsen currently serves as President of the National Speakers Association-New York City.

For more information visit thegpsgirl.com. Connect with her @thegpsgirl on Twitter and Facebook.com/thegpsgirl 


It's World Voice Day - Do You Have a Voice?

Woman Yelling In MegaphoneDo you have a voice? Voice matters. Everyone has a right to express their voice. But you can't do that if you've lost your voice.  It's World Voice Day, a day dedicated to the care of the voice. You use your voice everyday and vocal misuse and abuse are not uncommon. Follow these tips for  a healthy voice.

Vocal Hygiene Tips

Avoid Vocal Fry

Vocal fry is a phenomenon that is taking off around the nation. Watch my interview with Nancy Redd on HuffPost Live to hear what it sounds like:

Even NPR broadcasters have fallen victim to vocal fry. Recently, they reported that they have received a fair amount of hate mail about the young women on their staff using vocal fry. Ira Glass investigates: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS

Don't Use Uptalk

Uptalk is another vocal phenomenon that robs the speaker of his power. What is uptalk? It's when the speaker uses a rising inflection at the end of their sentence so it sounds like a question. Watch my video to hear it and to learn why it's spreading.

Women Need To Speak Up

World Voice Day is a perfect time to revisit the importance of women speaking up so they are heard. Some women speak in a breathy voice, and are too soft spoken. Uptalk and vocal fry get in the way of effective self expression.

Are you guilty of hindering your own communication? Ask a buddy to listen to you speak. Are you using uptalk, vocal fry, or a breathy, soft voice? Have your friend tell you when you do it so you can learn to stop it. Just make sure it's someone who will be honest with you!


Vocal Fry Can Hurt Your Presentation and Job Interview


huffpost live with nancy redd diane diresta 10 30 14Does your voice crackle like bacon? You may have vocal fry. Vocal fry is sweeping the nation. This creaky vocal pattern, also known as croaking, is a low vocal pitch that's often heard at the end of a sentence. It's prevalent among women and this pattern of public speaking is becoming a form of peer identity for the millennial generation. Kim Kardashian, Brittney Spears, and other young celebrities have popularized this form of speaking. In one study, vocal fry was noted in two thirds of college students. However popular, vocal fry communicates a negative impression and doesn't serve professionals who want to be taken seriously in the workplace. Not only is vocal fry an irritating sound for a public speaker; it can also be deadly in a job interview.

Women job applicants who presented themselves with vocal fry were perceived as less competent, less educated, and less trustworthy. To learn more, watch my interview with Nancy Redd on Huffington Post Live: