When I was a young whippersnapper pursuing my BFA at the prestigious Boston Conservatory, nothing could phase my voice. Partying, staying up late, singing all kinds of crazy hard music — you name it, I was immune. Fast-forward over a decade into my professional career, and sadly, my Cords of Steel are now more like Cords of Very Fragile, Persnickety, Antique Glass. And boy do I miss being invincible.
What does this have to do with the business world? Well, giving a presentation is a very physical job, and can often be just as physically challenging as performing in a play or musical. Speaking to your audience mostly non-stop for 30-45 minutes straight can really take a toll on your voice. Luckily I’ve relied on technique and been able to maintain my instrument these many years. And of course, in the event that my voice is less than cooperative for show time, I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve too! Here are some helpful hints (and presentation skills tips!) that usually get me out of a bind:
Shhhh! Be vewy vewy quiet. Seriously, nothing derails my voice more than overuse. When family and friends come to see a performance, I’d love nothing more than to go out and celebrate with them afterwards, but usually, there’s a performance the next evening. I know my voice cannot stand up to loud talking over loud music at a big table in a restaurant. So sadly, I often greet them at the stage door and say goodnight, so I can run home and be quiet. The same goes for the next day before the next show – the less strain I can put on my vocal cords with unnecessary talking, the better. So save the toasts and celebrating until AFTER your presentation is done. The night and/or day before, take it easy and conserve your vocal power for show time.
Hydrate. It’s no secret that drinking lots of water and staying clear of drying agents (alcohol, certain medications, smoke, etc.) are helpful for your voice. But water is only one method of hydration. Try steaming your vocal cords: buy a personal facial steamer, or heat up a pot of water on the stove, turn off the heat, cover your head with a towel and lean over and breathe deep. Don’t have a stove in your hotel room? A hot steamy shower will also do the trick. If you’re at home, try sleeping with a humidifier too — moisture in the air can help keep your vocal cords in top shape while you sleep.
Warm Up. As we mentioned earlier, presenting is a very physical activity. You wouldn’t run a marathon or start a strenuous workout without a warm-up first, right? Don’t neglect this step when prepping for your business presentation. Allow yourself 15-30 minutes for gentle stretching and vocal exercises before your presentation. Feeling vocally tired? Don’t overdo the warm-up, but don’t neglect it nonetheless. Throat Coat tea and Grether’s Pastilles are also helpful to soothe a sore throat or strained voice. Make sure you have water available for you at your lectern, too, if possible, in case of cottonmouth or hoarseness during your presentation.
Hopefully this helps you the next time you have a big presentation coming up. The list is certainly not comprehensive but includes some of my biggest lifesavers.