Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator


How to Save Your Voice

It's your turn to tell a story. You open your mouth, but nothing comes out! How could that have happened? Last night at the basketball game, your voice was loud and clear as you cheered your team to victory. And now - soundless air, or at best, a hoarse bellow, escapes from your mouth. How can you possibly tell a story without a voice?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened - your yelling and screaming strained your larynx (vocal cords,) causing the tissues to swell. The vocal cords became thick and were unable to vibrate to produce sound. You've got laryngitis!

Also called the voice box, the larynx can be affected by other conditions such as a cold virus, germs, breathing irritating substances, and improper use of voice. So what does a storyteller do when laryngitis hits?

If possible, cancel, go home and get in bed. Don't use your voice - the more you try to talk (even whisper) the more you irritate the condition. But, if canceling is not an option, use a mike. Request that the audience get quiet, and remain that way! Avoid stories such as those with monsters, dragons, etc. or sounds that will strain your vocal cords. Keep a glass of cool (not iced) water handy, and sip it often.

Of course the best thing is to avoid the condition completely, which means softening your cheering and other loud sounds. And since the cold virus attacks through eyes, nose or mouth the virus is usually carried by contaminated hands. Washing hands often, especially before eating, is important. In a pinch, use moist towelettes, which will effectively wipe off viral germs. Be mindful of your gestures - keep your fingers at a safe distance with no actual contact with your eyes, nose or mouth. A cold can quickly settle in your throat, so don't push your voice. This could permanently damage your vocal range and volume since the cords are inflamed.

Your throat will work better and longer if you get into the habit of "exercising" your vocal cords. Just like sports figures who warm up their muscles before a game, you need to warm up your throat and surrounding muscles before you tell a story.

I played the tape again while transcribing the entire story as I had told it. Starting and stopping the recorder was a bit arduous, but worth the effort. I had to refrain from making changes as I typed, but self-discipline won out, and I completed the story. Next I printed out the full story (double-spaced, of course.) This gave me something to tangible to hold with words to look at, and spaces in which to write my observations, thoughts, and ideas. This was my first draft, and my story began to take shape with a fullness and richness that previously had been missing.

Here are a few things you can do about five minutes before you tell to loosen up. These simple exercises that will relax your throat, face, neck, chest and abdomen can be done in the shower, in the car on your way to the program, backstage, in the restroom - anywhere.

  • Roll your head slowly around - first in one direction; then the other
  • Open and close your mouth several times (wider is better)
  • Twist your mouth from one side of your face to the other
  • Thrust your tongue in and out of your mouth - quickly - like a snake
  • Sit with sunken chest and suck in your tummy; release and repeat several times
  • Breathe from the bottom of your abdomen, using stomach muscles to push air out through a relaxed chest, throat, and slack mouth.
  • Vocalize starting with vowel sounds on a single, low note. Work your way up through your range one note at a time. Do this two to three times.
  • Slide through some scales up and down several times. Increase your volume by pushing with the abdomen. (Don't let your throat and mouth get in the way.)
  • Sing a simple song - one that has a narrow range and fairly short note intervals. Be aware of the relaxation and flow of sound. (It doesn't matter how you sound!)

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