Originally Posted May 2, 2017 by Gina Razon, Voice and Speech Teacher

In the first part of this post, we discussed the potential for voice abuse during civic action and in particular how to prepare for and prevent voice abuse during Marches, Protests, and Demonstrations.

Today we will discuss voice use during public meetings and when engaging with political action either in person or via phone.

Why should you care?

Beyond the very simple fact that most of us need a voice to do our work, it is simply not practical to damage your primary method of communication. Also, the voice is second only to your face in how people recognize you as you. You owe it to yourself to know how to care for it, develop it fully and help it recover when it is tired.

What can be done?

The key to avoiding voice misuse is planning and awareness.

One has only to look to video on CCN, and FOXNews to find videos of heated encounters in public meetings between constituents and their representatives in local or national government. Some of us are also attending party meetings where the tone is not much friendlier in discussing many of the important issues in flux in this political climate. I think it is important for us to engage with our political parties and our representatives as we stay engaged in our democracy. However, we cannot allow our voices to be damaged as they are heard so here are some steps to take to protect your voice.

For our purposes, I am going to divide this post into two sections.

Giving testimony in a large public setting (such as a meeting).

Engaging in activism over the phone.

Section One:  

Town Halls and other public meetings have become places to confront contentious issues and too often a combative representative or two from our governing bodies. In these settings, you are less likely to be chanting slogans and more likely to be erupting in response to a statement or action. It is also not uncommon for people to give testimony in these meetings.

Some of the advice for protests and demonstrations still applies here so I will repeat it. Before the event:

1. Rest

You should try to get a full night’s rest in the 2-3 nights preceding the event to make sure your body is in the best shape possible to adapt.

2. Hydration and Nutrition

Likewise, you should focus on getting the best nutrients in your diet and hydrating well (8-9 glasses of water per day) in the days leading up to the event.

3. Pack well

Make sure you are carrying water, a snack, throat lozenges (I’ve listed some good options below) and a hydrating snack. Cucumber, pineapple, and green apple are particularly good for the voice.

4. Have a voice strategy

Make a paper megaphone. You can even make several and pass them out to help others. Make a Megaphone.

Make signs. For public meetings having two small signs (no more than letter-sized so that they aren’t confiscated) with Agree or Disagree written on them. No voice required.

BREATHE. Try to get into the habit of inhaling before you speak so that when you do use your voice, it is supported by air.

If you decide to give testimony and/or participate in Q&A you will be directed to a microphone. Take the time to point the microphone so that the top is directly in front of your mouth. If you can’t move the stand perhaps you can just remove it and hold it close to your mouth.

  • Breathe before you speak.
  • Speak slower than usual and breathe often.
  • Speak in a normal tone and try not to raise your voice. Let the microphone do the heavy lifting.
  • If you find you are getting emotional, just keep breathing and try to imagine that breath is making your voice stronger (because it is).

Section Two:

Political action through phone calls is another, less obvious, way we can misuse our voices. Background noise on either end of the call, connection issues, and habitual tendency are all issues that can cause us to speak too loudly over the phone. This strained and overly percussive speech pattern can be very damaging in very short spans of time. Add to this the potential that these phone calls become emotional or in other ways contentious and we have the perfect storm for voice abuse. As an added bonus, we can use these same tools the next time we have to call a vendor about an incorrect bill.

Maintaining your vocal health on a phone call is actually pretty easy. The first step just involves remembering that our voice is under our control.

If you did not initiate the call and it will potentially be contentious take a moment to get a glass of water and get into a comfortable place to engage with the caller. If you don’t have the time to do that at the moment you should ask them to call back or have you return the call. Seriously, it’s not worth the mental or vocal strain.

If you are initiating the phone call (most common), make sure you have water, throat lozenges (one unwrapped), tissue and a mirror nearby. A hand mirror is fine but a full-length mirror is ideal. In a pinch, even your computer’s screen can become your reflection. Take the time to pick a comfortable location and to have any documents, a writing implement, and paper at the ready.

1. Prepare what you plan the phone call to be about. Write down the important points you need to cover. Practice out loud if you are making a particularly important call or even if you just feel nervous about the subject matter.

2. BREATHE. This is becoming a theme because it is so important. You must breathe before you speak and continue breathing as you listen. If you stop to jot something down chances are you are holding your breath so remind yourself to breathe. A well-placed post-it note as a breath reminder can be a great help.

3. Listen to the volume of your voice. It is extremely common for people’s voices to increase in volume when on a call. This jump in normal volume can be extremely fatiguing. When in doubt try to speak on the lower end of your regular volume. If there is a bad connection or too much background noise, it is okay to call back or even reschedule the call. If you must proceed with connection challenges remember to breath more often and really focus on how well you pronounce everything rather than how loud you are.

4. Take pauses during the call. You can take a moment to drink some water or even use your unwrapped throat lozenge. If you need to, excuse yourself for a few seconds and get back on so that you can keep breathing and on track. If you find your throat getting tight or feel that your voice is straining, you can use the mirror to check for visible tension. Sometimes, just catching your locked jaw will make it go away.

Remember, that of all the methods of activism you have the most control on a phone call. It is your voice and you are using it as designed.

I hope you enjoyed Voices of Protest: Tips for stopping vocal misuse during civic action. I hope to see you out there raising your voice, and caring for it.

Recommended Throat Lozenges

  • Thayers Slippery Elm Lozenges
  • Grether’s Black Currant Pastilles
  • Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops
  • Luden’s Sugarfree Throat Drops
  • Wedderspoon’s Maruka Honey Drops

In general, just avoid drops with menthol or eucalypus when you are using your voice.  They are fine while you are resting.