Between phone and Skype calls, teleclasses, speeches and business meetings, I talk a lot — which means keeping my vocal cords in shape is a priority. So, when I feel the seasonal sniffles coming on, or the ice-cold draft of air-conditioning on a long flight, the panic rises in my throat.
The average cold can wreak havoc on your vocal cords causing inflammation, soreness and a croaky sound that I imagine is what a frog playing a kazoo might sound like. But when you’re facing an impending public presentation or performance, vocal strain can become a major concern.
I interviewed Christina Hager, a professional opera singer for ten years and current presentation coach. Here’s what she had to say about keeping your voice in top shape, even when winter is coming:
Drink 12 glasses of water a day.
I’ll admit it, I’m not a water person, but apparently staying hydrated is one of the keys to taking care of our voices. “When it’s hot outside, we are more cognizant of drinking water and rehydrating,” says Hager, who holds a Masters in Vocal Performances from the Moores School of Music. “However, when it is cold out, and heaters are blasting everywhere — that is very drying to the voice.”
Hager currently coaches businesspeople on giving presentations and suggests drinking a minimum of eight to ten glasses of water a day–or, if you use your voice a lot, up to 12. Oh, and don’t forget to sip water liberally on your next flight. Any time of year, airplanes are notoriously dry environments.
Sip on warm liquid, but skip the coffee.
Hager says that it’s important to keep your voice not only moist, but warm. While sipping hot tea or water works, she advises against coffee since caffeine has a drying effect on the voice.
Steam it up at night.
The voice tends to dry out overnight, especially with the heat blasting during the winter months. Hotel rooms can be particularly challenging since temperature control is often unreliable.
Experts recommend using a humidifier when you sleep to keep the air moist. Small humidifiers are available for travel.
If you don’t have one, try filling the sink or an ice bucket with water before you go to bed. “Some of the moisture will dissipate into the air during the night and you will wake up feeling better,” Hager explains.
Watch the wine.
Fall and winter bring on the holidays, which means parties with an abundance of food — and drink. Since wine (and alcohol in general) is drying to the voice, it’s a good idea to moderate your intake–and if you’re recovering from a cold, abstain altogether.
Also, beware of overeating. It can cause acid reflux — a huge stressor on the throat and vocal cords.
“Besides being mindful of what you are drinking and eating, consider using an over-the-counter reflux medication and propping the top half of your bed on risers to decrease the effects of the acid on your throat,” suggests Hager. If the problems persists or gets worse, it’s important to see an ear, nose and throat doctor to talk about the reflux and other treatments.
Rinse out your sinuses.
“Dry, brittle sinuses are more susceptible to infections,” says Hager, so rinsing your sinuses nightly helps to keep the nasal passages hydrated and free of germs. If you experience dryness during the day, you can use a saline spray to moisten your sinuses.
Finally, if all else fails, try this tasty brew:
Take either a red onion sliced in half or several chunks of fresh ginger and boil in water until soft. Then add a quarter cup of lemon juice, two to three tablespoons of honey, a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar, and a touch of ground cayenne pepper to the mix. Simmer on low for an additional ten minutes and remove the ginger or red onion.
Once cool enough, sip throughout the day to keep your voice in fighting shape for your next big speech.