Help me get my voice back


Help! A heavy chest cold has left me virtually voiceless and I have an important presentation to give in two days time. How can I get my voice back?

Adam, Atlanta

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Janet Howd's Answer:

Unfortunately there is very little you can do to hurry the process of healing. Even with steroid treatment there is no guarantee that you'll sound OK.

As I explained earlier this month, the vocal cords don't emit any warning sensations. When pushed to the limit they simply swell up so that their tough edges Ė so tough that Teflon is the material used to repair them Ė cannot get close enough together to instigate vocal sound.

If that happens, no matter how important the occasion or how famous you are, you simply cannot go on.

Only this week, Prince let it be known that though his fans expect him, he may not appear at after show parties during his twenty consecutive performances at the new London concert venue formerly known as the Dome. He may be a star in the eyes of the world, but he knows when it comes to voice use he is just an ordinary mortal. To ask him to do a lot of loud party talking between shows and still deliver the goods each night is to ask him to perform a superhuman task.

I would advise you to take a leaf out of Prince's book and try to be as silent as possible until two hours before your presentation.

In addition:

  • Brief a colleague so that s/he can stand in for you if necessary.
  • You may need to take antibiotics.
  • Inhale steam every hour or so taking care not to scald yourself.
  • Take almost constant sips of warm liquid - but not alcohol, as that will dry your throat.
  • Avoid cheese, milk and chocolate and other mucous creating foods.
  • Eat apples.
  • Suck throat lozenges.
  • Gargle gently with a medication of your choice but avoid solutions containing Asprin as they can cause bleeding.
  • Arrange for there to be a throat mike available.

If when you finally try out your voice two hours in advance of the actual performance it still feels like cotton wool, I'm sorry to have to tell you that you'll have to get the person waiting in the wings to give your presentation for you. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise.

The message is always more important than the messenger. If your voice sounds really ropey an audience will be unable to concentrate on anything except the discomfort your discomfort is making them feel and that is how they will always remember you.

If, on the other hand you have the courage to stay silent, your reputation will stay intact and you will live to tell the tale and be listened to another day.

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About our Expert

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.