December is a great time of year for holiday parties and dinners. That can make it a rough time of year for your voice.
Opera singers know that the foods we eat and the way we treat our body affect our singing voice: we avoid certain foods (dairy) and liquids (coffee or alcohol), we get plenty of rest, and we even speak and laugh in certain ways.
It’s the same thing with our speaking voice.
Think about the most recent holiday party you attended: you were probably shouting to be heard above the music while drinking a tasty but strong alcoholic drink that was drying out your throat. If you were throwing the party, maybe you even stood on a chair and shouted a few words of welcome to the noisy crowd.
Here are some tips to keeping your voice healthy and strong through the holidays:
Stay hydrated. Drinking coffee or alcohol doesn’t count as both of those drinks can dry out your vocal chords. Start and finish the day with a tall glass of water or a warm cup of herbal tea with honey, and drink water throughout the day.
Limit your time at noisy parties. Sometimes those office parties are unavoidable – but that doesn’t mean you need to stay there the whole time. If you can, arrive early before it gets too noisy and leave well before it ends. In my experience, networking is easiest early on in an event, when people are fresh and more approachable.
Listen more than you speak. Speaking at a noisy event can really hurt your throat, whether you’re at a bar, restaurant, or the office. Take this opportunity to be more inquisitive than talkative and you’ll have the added benefit of building stronger relationships with your clients and colleagues.
Use a microphone. If you’re speaking to a group of more than 20 people, always use a microphone. It makes it easier for people to hear you and easier for you to speak.
Breathe deeply and speak “on the breath.” The holidays can be a stressful time, whether you celebrate them or not. Use deep breathing to find your calm and stay centered, and speak “on the breath” to support your voice so you can project clearly. To learn how to do that, see “Breathing is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking,” an article I wrote in the Harvard Business Review a few months ago.
If you’re sick, stop talking. One of the most damaging things you can do is speak on a sore throat. Not only does it physically hurt, but it can lead to long-term damage to your vocal chords. If you’re losing your voice due to sickness, then stop speaking completely for 24 hours. Complete silence does wonders to your voice.
Exercise and stretch. Exercise and movement improve your posture and warm up your body, including your voice. On the day of a big speech, I make sure to exercise in the morning and it gets my blood pumping, my energy up, and my body ready to be on stage.
Get plenty of rest. The amount of sleep you get determines how your voice sounds. Think about waking up early after a long night out and answering a ringing phone. Your voice probably croaked, “Hello?” Now think about speaking to customers that way. Getting a good night’s sleep will help you feel rested and your body and voice feel strong.
December can be an exciting and chaotic time; make time to keep yourself physically and vocally healthy, and you’ll make the most of the season.