How to save your voice while speaking

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jacopo AKA Bracco

It amazes me that students sometimes get hoarse just from delivering a five-minute speech. I can talk for hours without affecting my voice by following a simple procedure.

We know just enough biology to cause ourselves problems. People know their vocal cords are in their throats, so they think that you have to do something with the muscles there in order to project more effectively. However, the best thing you can do with your throat is to relax it–get out of the way!

When you relax your throat, you gain three benefits.

  1. You let the sound out. Tightening the muscles around your vocal cords just chokes off the sound.
  2. You gain a natural amplifier. When you relax, the area around your vocal cords opens up, causing it to work more the way a hollow-body guitar does. This helps with projection–and, by the way, it’s better to think in terms of “projection” (filling the room with your voice) than “volume” (talking loudly).
  3. You speak more in your natural pitch. This gives you greater range of expression, sounds more conversational, and protects your vocal cords from damage.

One simple insight can make relaxing your throat easy.

Professional speakers keep a bottle of water with them not so much to keep their mouths from drying out, but to keep their throats relaxed. Taking just a sip of water is enough to open up, and when you remember this purpose you’re more likely to benefit from the sip. You can accomplish the same thing even without something to drink.

Try this. Go through the motions of taking a drink–just bring your hand up to your mouth as if you were holding a glass. Just as your “glass” reaches your lips, notice what your throat is doing. Notice what it feels like.

Once you note that feeling, you can reproduce it without having to bring your hand to your mouth (which could make you look a little weird in front of an audience). That’s your throat relaxing, opening up in preparation for a drink.

Practice this off-stage until you get used to it. The first few times, you might induce a yawn, which isn’t something you want to do in front of an audience!

Keep the open feeling going as you speak, and not only will your voice project more effectively, you can talk for hours without getting raspy or straining your voice, and you’re most likely to speak at your natural pitch as well.

[Edit: I have a related guest post on]

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  1. Michelle Mazur

    I suffer from a big bout of laryngitis at least once a year and if I do a lot speaking – I do tend to get hoarse. These tips are awesome. I NEVER thought about my throat tensing up and just simply pretending to take a drink of water will help my throat relax. I feel like this is a major revelation that will keep me speaking.

    • Donn King

      Glad to hear it sounds useful! You’re in the trenches a lot–let me know how things go with using that.

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