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Voices of Protest: 5 Tips for avoiding voice misuse during civic action (Part 1)

Originally Posted April 23, 2017 by Gina Razon, Voice and Speech Teacher

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho — Voice abuse has got to go!

Our post-election reality seems to be one where protests and counter-protests, combative town hall meetings, and public demonstrations are now normal weekend activities. Add to this a new daily regiment of, sometimes emotionally charged, phone calls to congressional offices and we end up with something unexpected. The potential for vocal fatigue caused by misuse.
We have all abused our voices at some point or another. For most of us, the first indication of trouble is hoarseness and/or laryngitis. In truth, our voices are typically warning us that there is an issue well in advance of that.
What is vocal misuse? Any behavior or occurrence that strains or injures the vocal folds (from This may include excessive talking, throat clearing, coughing, inhaling irritants, smoking, screaming or yelling. Speaking too loudly or at an abnormally high or low pitch. Speaking over other sounds such as in a noisy room. Speaking with tension (during emotional conditions such as anger, frustration, or sadness). Speaking while constricting the airway such as when holding a phone between your jaw and shoulder or compressing the neck.
Some of us haven’t protested in many years. When I was doing this decades ago, losing one’s voice at a protest or a rally was a badge of honor. The frequency of protest in our modern reality makes this level of vocal abuse impossible to sustain. With Saturday’s protest crowd looking a lot like Monday’s product development meeting, most of us can’t indulge in losing our voices for the street cred.
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. Current activism seems to fall into three main categories:
Town Hall or other public meetings
Phone call drives
Over the next few posts, I will address each of these individually as they all contain slightly different potential pitfalls for the voice. We’ll begin with protests, marches, and demonstrations.
Protests, Marches, and Demonstrations
These common forms of activism have the most potential to cross quickly from vocal misuse to actual abuse resulting in real vocal damage. The events are typically long (multiple hours), many are held outdoors and can involve chanting, shouting and singing in alternating states of loud. That this behavior is damaging is not surprising as the results of the voice misuse are evident before the event has ended. What you may not know is that you can help yourself avoid real damage and still enjoy letting your voice be heard.
How do I protect my voice?
First of all, your general vocal health requires you to think about and prepare for the event at least a couple of days beforehand.
1. Rest
You should try to get a full nights rest in the 2-3 nights preceding the event to make sure your body is in the best shape possible to adapt.
2. Drink water, eat well
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 hydrating snacks. Cucumber, pineapple, and green apple are particularly good for the voice. Avoid roasted nuts as small particles can cause coughing and add more stress on a high voice use day. If you are packing snack bars wash them down with plenty of water.
4. Have a voice strategy
Warm up your voice lightly before you leave the house/hotel. Get online and find some easy voice warmups. I’ll post some on the website soon.  
Bring a megaphone of your own. Make one out of paper if you don’t have an electric one. You can even make several and pass them out to help others. Here is a link: Construction Paper Megaphone.
Bring a sign. Design a cool (easy to carry) sign so that you can let your message be “heard” without having to shout it.
Take breaks. Regular breaks every 10-15 for 5 minutes at a time will go a long way. Use your sign, get some water and let the group carry the message without you for a bit. Importantly, take a break whenever you feel your voice getting tired for 5-10 minutes.
BREATHE. Whether you are chanting or singing songs take good breaths in every pause. If you are out of breath from marching try to slow the breath down and take a voice break.
5. Recover
After the festivities, get some real food and drink at least two glasses of water before you even think of drinking anything else.
Cool Down. Once, you return home you will need to cool down. See the warmup post for an easy cool-down.
Rest the voice. If your strategies were successful you are likely only slightly fatigued so just resting (in other words stop talking) the voice for a few hours should be enough to start the recovery process.
Listen to your Body. If you are feeling intense discomfort in the throat and/or speaking after vocal rest, especially if you have slept and still feel voice fatigue, you might need a little more care.
What to do if you still have hoarseness and/or laryngitis?
In many cases, your symptoms will resolve themselves with continued rest however if you feel pain or localized discomfort you should contact your doctor’s office. There are specialized massage therapies and applied vocal exercises that can help get your voice back but you should rule out actual vocal damage before you see a voice-use specialist.
So that is all for this segment. Now get out there and let your voice be heard (safely). The next post will be on public meetings. How to engage with your party without losing it (your voice that is).
If you have other voice-use questions please feel free to contact me at

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.

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