The Voice is a Terrible Thing to Waste (or Lose!)

Joni Wilson

Author of The 3-Dimensional Voice

This month's feature article comes from my good friend Joni Wilson. Joni knows more about the human voice than anyone I know. You can learn more about Joni at her website,

The Voice is  A Terrible Thing to Waste (or Lose!)

"Oh no ," Jamie moaned. "Itıs the day of my big session and I have NO VOICE... What do I do now ?"

There is a good chance that at some time in your voiceover career you too will come face to face with that dreaded menace called "Vocal Blowout". Also known in some circles as a "Speakers Flat", this pesky problem usually shows up at the worst possible time. (Like the day before your first paid commercial session.) Well donıt panic, just open up your vocal tool box, take out that old red tire pump and start pumping the air back into your voice. Like the tires on your car, your voice thrives on the air you pump into it. Without air, it will soon go flat and useless.

In my 16 years of training voices, I have found that most vocal problems begin and end with the breath. The human voice is a wind instrument, and can not operate effectively with out a steady flow of air. Picture the lottery balls spinning on top of a column of air. If someone turns off that air, the balls will all fall.  So goes the voice! Learning how to breath like a skilled horn player who pumps a steady stream of air up the wind pipe and out the lips is the key to good voice control and endurance.

Where to Start?

The first thing you'll need to do is become aware of how all of the body parts work together to produce your most important asset as a speaker, namely your voice.  Now don't get nervous, it's not all that complicated. Your voice uses only three major body parts for power and sound: Your Vocal Cords to create the sound, your Abdominal Diaphragm to pump the air, and your Pelvic Diaphragm to compress the air into a strong steady stream that flies out of your mouth and into the ears of your audience.

Yes, you heard right there are two Diaphragms at work here, not just one. The Pelvic Diaphragm, located at the base of the rectal area, compresses the air that is pumped by the Abdominal Diaphragm, located at the bottom of your rib cage. This action sends the air up the wind pipe through the vocal cords and out the mouth. In other words this voice runs on compressed air and is powered by the opposite end of you body from the vocal cords. Isnıt that interesting?

Because this vocal instrument is your whole body, it is subject to all of the events that go on in your life, both emotional and physical. When of the riggers of constant travel, stress, environmental conditions and just plain vocal fatigue get too heavy for them, those beautiful little vocal cords just get tired and shut down. (Like Jamieıs did). The voice, like a good stereo system with a built in alarm, shuts down before it burns out. This prevents you from doing permanent damage to the vocal cords. If you continue to force and push the voice the end result is...  Wa-La... No Voice!!!  As voice artists, our voice  is our career! Now here is the question... "How many of you have actually taken the time to learn how your voice works... Hmmmmm?" 

Here are Some of the Voice Problems Voice Actors Face Daily. 
How would you handle them? 

Head Colds and Sinus Infections. ("That kid on the plane kept sneezing on me...")
Water magnifies sound. So when my clients have a major presentation and a head cold all at the same time, I tell them to enjoy the resonant sound. The voice is produced in the vocal cords down in the larynx/Adam's Apple area. Nasal congestion is produced in the nose and sinus area. These two are not even close to each other. The major concern here is to beware of the medication you take. If it dries up your mucous (as decongestants do), it will dry up your vocal cords because they are mucous membranes and need that mucous to lubricate them. Steaming the mucous membranes of the nose and throat with a few drops of eucalyptus oil (any health food store has it,) will work wonders. If you don't have a steamer, simply boil a pan of water on the stove and drop in a few drops of the oil, place a towel over your head and breathe in the healing steam all the way down to the bottom of the lungs. If you’re in a hotel room, take a hot steamy shower and with your mouth wide open, breath that steam in and out. Stay away from anything Menthol!!!  

Heartburn and Stomach Acid. ("Must have been that chicken surprise I ate.")
Stomach acid can move from the stomach up the larynx and irritate your vocal cords affecting your voice big time. Reflux laryngitis is common in those who have stomach problems. Do not eat before a performance or presentation, and never swallow anything with caffeine, alcohol or citric acid in it. Warm herbal teas are soothing to the tummy and the voice. (Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinal is my favorite tea and you can get it at Henry's and other health-food grocery stores).

Chronic Throat Clearing ( "If I could just clear it out....")
This is a very common problem for voice artists and professional speakers. We have all sat in an audience listening to a speaker who constantly clears his/her throat. It not only irritates the audience but it is extremely irritating to the vocal cords. (This could be a nervous habit carried over from puberty.)  Remember, the mucous that coats the vocal cords is there to protect them and when you continually scrape out the mucous to clear the throat, the body's defense system calls up the "Mucous Army". The more mucous you scrape, the more mucous the cords produce to protect themselves from all that scraping When the mucous army  begins to resemble The Gulf War, it's time to stop all that destructive clearing and try another tactic. Clearing the throat does NOT work!!!  Small sips of water will put your Mucous Army  "at ease." Also dropping the jaw in a relaxed "Yawn" position will help relieve pressure in the vocal cords. While in that yawn position say "Haaaaahhhhh" sliding down your pitch . This is  called a "yawn sigh" and itıs a great tension reliever.

Most major voice problems can be avoided with good understanding, and a bit of loving care. Always remember;  No "quick fix" is a substitute for good voice technique!

Joni Wilson is an internationally known voice and performance coach and creator of the 3-Dimensional Voice Technique.  She is a professional speaker, singer/entertainer, author of the Wilson Voice Series. Book one, the 3-Dimensional Voice is the number one best seller on under voice/public speaking. She is a board member of National Speakers Association, San Diego and you can visit Joni at: for more tips on voice.

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