Information About Voice Care for Tour Guides and other Professional Voice Users
- Created: Saturday, 03 December 2011 18:48
- Updated on Wednesday, 10 June 2015 11:55
Professional voice users
As professional voice users, tour guides comprise a special group in terms of the ways they are expected to use their voices. Whether they are guiding groups around buildings or parks and gardens, or on coach tours, they can expect, from time to time, to encounter speaking situations that are not compatible with good vocal function. Sometimes therefore, they are at risk for voice problems.
Voice problems are usually caused by a number of small difficulties interacting to cause a larger problem. Luckily, there are ways to look after the speaking voice which combine to prevent or minimise them. It is reassuring to know that the voice is a very strong and durable physiological mechanism, designed to wear well over a lifetime. It has great powers of recuperation and restoration.
Keep the larynx and vocal tract moist
A wet larynx (voice box) is a healthy larynx. A normal, healthy vocal tract is wet from the nostrils to the tracheal bifurcation. The larynx produces its own mucus, and steps up this mucus production whenever it feels any irritation.
If your larynx feels "too wet" look for possible irritants (e.g. allergy, pollution). Look for the culprit too, if your vocal tract feels too dry. The biggest contributor to drying of the vocal tract is air conditioning; and of course many of the places tour guides work have to be air conditioned!
Drink plenty of water, especially before a tour. Sometimes tour guides in galleries, theatres, private homes, places of religious significance, and museums find it inadvisable to drink water in the present of their tour party if they (the party) have been requested not to eat or drink. In such circumstances, if your mouth becomes dry during a tour, massage under your chin during a suitable pause in your presentation, to stimulate the flow of saliva. For preference, though, have a drink of water.
Some professional performers, especially operatic singers, are enthusiastic about various fruit juices to counteract drying conditions and encourage the correct viscosity of the laryngeal mucus. However, Speech-Language Pathologists/Speech and Language Therapists generally advocate tap, filtered or bottled water at room temperature to maintain the overall hydration levels of the body, and hence the right degree of "wetness" in the vocal tract.
Don’t suck medicated or mentholated pastilles, as they have a drying effect. Chewing gum, boiled sweets (candy) or barley sugar are preferable.
Tour guides, because they are in contact with many people, including those with ailments "imported" from overseas, and because they sometimes work in difficult atmospheric conditions, can be prone to respiratory tract infections.
If your throat is dry or sore, or you have a niggly cough, have a steam inhalation twice during the day and also at bed time. Remember - just steaming water, with perhaps a few drops of lemon juice - but no balsam, menthol, peppermint or eucalyptus added to the water. Avoid drying medications such as antihistamines and cold cures, and use medicated throat pastilles in great moderation (no more than 4 a day). Avoid volatile inhalants and chest rubs.
In general, keep out of (drying) air conditioned atmospheres as much as possible. Go for a long walk in fresh air or have a swim after lengthy plane flights, or during extended stays in hotels. Regard the combination of plane travel, coach travel and staying in artificially heated or cooled hotels as potentially hard on the vocal mechanism. If your skin feels excessively dry, assume that your larynx is too, and try to identify the cause and deal with it. Often it will be too much air conditioning and "forgetting" to drink water.
Reduce throat clearing and coughing
Try not to have a throat clearing or coughing habit, as both are very hard on the vocal cords, can lead to inflamed cords or nodules, and are distracting to listen to. To break the coughing-throat clearing cycle: take several deep breaths and then push the air out and swallow. Try, if you can, to identify the cause(s) of the throat clearing or coughing (tension, irritants, dryness, allergy, etc.). Increase your awareness of throat clearing or coughing habits - for example, ask a colleague to signal when you do it, use a reminder sign 'not to', or record one of your presentations and count the "throat noises". Above all, feel some pity for your vocal cords being G-R-O-U-N-D together every time the throat is cleared.
Pace the amount you use your voice
Have a period of voice rest PRIOR to leading a short tour, or prior to, during and after long tours. This means 5 to 10 minutes of not talking at all. This can often be worked into a guided tour quite naturally during photo stops, visiting special exhibits where the party has some quiet time just to look around, and so on. Try not to converse with individual tour members during the breaks in your presentation to the whole group.
Rest the voice AFTER a presentation e.g., on the way home in the coach or car. If you have had a heavy day of talking at work, minimise telephone conversations and other voice use at the end of the day.
Plan for balanced voice use on days you know you will have to present often - in the breaks read a book, go for a walk, listen to music, have a swim, etc. - remembering to relax and rest the voice.
Warm up the voice before use
Get into a routine of warming up the voice if you are going to do more than two hours of guiding/talking during a day.
Hum scales gently up and down; practise vowels (ee..oo..or, etc) gradually increasing and decreasing volume; do facial and neck stretching exercises; chew gum to relax the jaw.
Compensate for difficult speaking conditions
If you have to conduct a tour close to noisy restoration, maintenance or construction work, or against other background noise (e.g. adjacent to a busy road, close to a noisy group of people or against background music or a rehearsal), see if you can move to a better spot. Sometimes moving close to a solid wall or thick curtain will improve the acoustics for you.
During a presentation to a tour party, never walk and talk at the same time. You won’t be heard by the whole group, and you will have to repeat yourself. Stand still, and organise your group before you begin your presentation, so that they are in front of you in a block, with the taller people to the rear. This works better than a semi-circle. Arrange it so that you can face all of the with as little head movement as possible. If available, stand on something which raises you about a head higher than the group (e.g. on the second step up of a staircase).
Don’t allow talking within the group while you are presenting - wait for silence. If listening conditions are bad, be brief. Articulate clearly, and speak slower than usual, making sure your face is well illuminated and clearly visible. Slowed speech rate has added advantages for tour party members for whom the language you are speaking is difficult. If in doubt, ASK, "Can you see me?" and "Can you hear me?"
Ensure adequate mouth opening, keep the jaws relaxed and the tongue free. Project your voice rather than just trying to make it louder. Increase your use of gesture and non-verbal cues to supplement what you are saying. Don’t turn away when you point to something. This is particularly important if the group includes hearing impaired people. Use non-verbal means to get attention and STOP during your presentation if the audience is noisy. Don’t ask the group questions in poor listening conditions - wait until later, when you and the rest of the group can be sure of hearing the answers and discussion.
Physical and mental relaxation
Relax your mouth, neck and shoulders before starting to speak. This need only take a minute or two. Gently blow air through "flabby" lips then tense and relax the lips alternately (grin-pout-grin-pout...). Shrug your shoulders a few times. Stretch your neck right up, and then relax it. Do shoulders - neck up- neck relaxed three times. Relax the vocal tract by doing a huge yawn. Make chewing movements, and then sigh three times. THINK about the feeling of being relaxed and prepared to use good voice.
Deal with work tensions and pressures promptly
Stress at work will influence your performance and be reflected in your vocal presentation.
The voice is a very effective barometer of how we are feeling - when we are tense we SOUND tense, and when we are relaxed and confident we sound OK.
Use helpful imagery
Think of yourself looking good, sounding good and knowing your subject. Avoid "nerves" by being well-prepared. Anticipate questions. Think of the group enjoying the information you are sharing with them. They have come to hear something special from you.
Seek positive feedback about the way you present, and constantly polish your performance. Watch others perform. Be punctual and well organised. Enjoy your audience and your subject.
Use optimal talking methods
- Dress comfortably.
- Maintain an upright balanced posture.
- Produce voice comfortably without forcing.
- Face your audience - never stand on an angle to them.
- Be no more than 1 metre from the people in front.
- If amplification is available and necessary, let the microphone work for you - but know its limitations.
If more serious voice problems occur ...
A temporary loss of voice with acute laryngitis, or hoarseness associated with the flu, or other infection, or with allergy or asthma, should be taken as a sign to reduce vocal demand while the mechanism restores or heals itself. In the absence of an infection or allergy, hoarseness, huskiness or a weak voice are not normal, and generally signal vocal abuse, misuse, injury or pathology. Medical advice should be sought for hoarseness which does not resolve within a week to ten days with conservative, simple and commonsense voice care.
10 golden rules for voice production
Gain the attention of your listeners, and:
Maintain optimal breathing patterns.
Speak relatively slowly.
Speak at a comfortable pitch level.
Speak at a comfortable loudness level.
Use pitch change rather than loud volume for emphasis.
Monitor and maintain good posture.
Avoid monotonous delivery.
Watch out for muscle tension.
Be yourself, talk naturally, and enjoy your presentation and your audience!