Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Use It Dont Lose It

Writen by Ellen Dunnigan

A major component of effective speech delivery is the physical health of your voice. Under the duress of a cold, of dehydration, or even of excessive speaking, your speech quality may dwindle. Even the most precise and energetic of speakers are susceptible to voice injuries that may affect their business, whether they are sharing information, closing a sale, or giving instructions as a project manager.

Do you talk a lot at work? If you're a teacher, coach, trainer, lawyer, singer, factory worker, politician, broadcaster, salesperson, minister, receptionist, secretary, stock broker, Realtor, cheerleader, telemarketer, or other heavy voice user, you have probably experienced that dry, scratchy, lump-in-the-throat, hoarseness at some time in your life. You've heard coaches after the "big game" who have hardly any voice left. Untreated and repeated, this can lead to permanent damage and permanent loss of a young and vibrant voice.

Have you ever noticed after a night out at a busy restaurant or nightclub that your voice feels dry and sounds a little "husky"? Many waiters and waitresses wind up seeing me after their first year on the job in the "hot" new venues. My friend Kate is a prime example. She's constantly clearing her throat and never quite has her regular voice. Well, that's because of the irritants and noise in their work environment.

Here are tips on keeping it in top shape from a voice and speech coach:

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking which dry out the vocal cords and surrounding tissues. Instead of reaching for that third coffee or diet caffeinated soda, fill up on a glass of water or juice.

Protect the lining of the respiratory tract by avoiding smoky, dusty, and chemically toxic environments. If you're in one of these environments temporarily, use a steam inhaler when you return home. You can purchase these inexpensive devices in most pharmacies.

Keep yourself hydrated. If your throat feels a bit dry, keep a decaffeinated beverage nearby. Eat "wet foods" during the day, such as soups and fruits, and sip water when speaking for longer amounts of time and during conversations and meetings. People who speak all day, such as salespeople and teachers, should drink several glasses of water to help maintain their voices.

Avoid dairy products, oily foods, and mayonnaise during lunch if you'll be speaking after lunch. These make you feel as if you need to clear your throat, which strains your vocal cords. If you suffer from acid reflux, your larynx may be affected. Because the entrance to the esophagus is near the larynx, your voice may be easily strained with even a normal amount of speaking. When preparing for a presentation or other demanding speaking commitment, be sure to treat acid reflux according to your doctor's recommendations.

Rest your voice and use it less if you feel that it is starting to sound hoarse before your presentation. If your voice feels tired after the presentation, be quiet and try not to talk for the rest of the day.

Avoid cough drops and mints as they irritate the throat and the vocal cords. Over-the-counter cough drops rely on chemicals such as menthol that can diminish the mucous membranes in your throat and larynx, making the vocal folds more vulnerable to irritation and infection. Lozenges with pain-killer properties may also mask illness or vocal strain. Instead, try lemon drops (hard candy) or ice chips.

Repeated throat-clearing can damage your voice. You may be reacting to a nervous habit and clearing your throat without a physical reason. If excessive throat-clearing persists without physical symptoms, you may want to consult a voice professional.

Perhaps more important than all the other tips: if you continue to experience difficulty, seek help early; don't wait for a chronic problem to develop. Training is recommended for those who rely on their voices professionally. A voice consultation can be a business lifesaver for many. Speaking techniques and vocal-protection techniques can be taught that will bring out your most effective voice, protect your voice from minor problems and more permanent damage, and keep your voice sounding healthy and young.

Accent On Business founder and CEO Ellen Dunnigan is a seasoned voice and speech coach for business professionals. For nearly two decades, Ellen has coached leaders, entrepreneurs, sales people, media personalities, amateur speakers, and those with voice issues to become more charismatic and influential. She is locally and nationally known for helping leaders give voice to their vision, and for creating confident, memorable, and credible speakers.

Ellen Dunnigan is a masters prepared speech-language pathologist with specific training in voice, English, foreign-accent reduction, and neurolinguistic programming. She is nationally certified by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

Dunnigan offers more advice on professional communication and public speaking skills on her website

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