In the training of the public speaker the first step is to bring the breathing apparatus under proper control. That is to say, the speaker must accustom himself, through careful practise, to use the abdominal method of breathing, and to keep his throat free from the strain to which it is commonly subjected. This form of breathing is not difficult to acquire, since it simply means that during inhalation the abdomen is expanded, and during exhalation it is contracted. It should be no longer necessary to warn the speaker to breathe exclusively through the nose when not actually using the voice. While speaking he must so completely control the breath that not a particle of it can escape without giving up its equivalent in sound.
"Clergyman's sore throat" is the result of improper use or overstraining of the voice. Sometimes the earnestness of the preacher causes him to "clutch" each word with the vocal muscles, instead of using the throat as an open channel through which the voice may flow with ease and freedom. Many speakers, in an endeavor to be heard at a great distance, employ too loud a tone, forgetting that the essential thing is a clear and distinct articulation. To speak continuously in high pitch, or through half-closed teeth, almost invariably causes distress of throat. Most throat troubles may be set down to a lack of proper elocutionary training. To keep the voice and throat in order there should be regular daily practise, if only for ten minutes. The example might profitably be followed of certain actors who make a practise of humming occasionally during the day while engaged in other duties, as a means of keeping the voice musical and resonant.
When the throat becomes husky or weak it is a timely warning from nature that it needs rest and relaxation. To continue to engage in public speaking under these circumstances is often attended with great danger, resulting sometimes in total loss of voice. It is economy in the end to discontinue the use of the voice when there is a serious cold or the throat is otherwise affected. Nervousness, anxiety, or unusual mental exertion may cause a vocal breakdown. For this condition rest is recommended, together with gentle massaging of the throat with cold water mixed with a little vinegar or eau de Cologne.
A public speaker should not engage in protracted conversation immediately after a speech. The sudden transition from an auditorium to the outer air should remind the speaker to keep his mouth securely closed. The general physical condition of the speaker has much to do with the vigor and clearness of his voice. A daily plunge into cold water, or at least a sponging of the entire surface of the body, besides being a tonic luxury, greatly invigorates the throat and abdominal muscles. After the "tub" a vigorous rubbing with towel and hands should produce a glow.
To the frequent question whether smoking is injurious to the throat, it is safe to say that the weight of authority and experience favors abstinence. Any one who has spoken for half an hour or more in a smoke-clouded room, knows the distressing effect it has had upon the sensitive lining of the throat. It must be obvious, therefore, that the constant inhaling of smoke must even more directly irritate the mucous membrane.
The diet of the public speaker should be reasonably moderate, and the extremes of hot and cold avoided. The use of ice-water is to be discouraged. Many drugs and lozenges are positively injurious to the throat. For habitual dryness of throat a glycerine or honey tablet will usually obviate the trouble. Dr. Morell Mackenzie, the eminent English throat specialist, condemns the use of alcohol as pernicious, and affirms that "even in a comparatively mild form it keeps the delicate tissues in a state of congestion which makes them particularly liable to inflammation from cold or other causes."
It must not be assumed that the throat is to be pampered. A reasonable amount of exposure will harden it and to this extent is desirable. To muffle the throat with a scarf, unless demanded by special conditions, may make it unduly sensitive and increase the danger of taking cold when the head is turned from side to side.
A leading physician confirms the opinion that the best gargle for daily use is that of warm water and salt. This should be used every night and morning to cleanse and invigorate the throat. Where there is a tendency to catarrh a solution made of peroxide of hydrogen, witch-hazel, and water, in equal parts, will prove efficacious. Nothing should be snuffed up the nose except under the direction of a physician, lest it cause deafness.
Many speakers and singers have a favorite nostrum for improving the voice. The long and amusing list includes hot milk, tea, coffee, champagne, raw eggs, lemonade, apples, raisins, -- and sardines! A good rule is to eat sparingly if the meal is taken just before speaking. It need hardly be said that serious vocal defects, such as enlarged tonsils, elongated uvula, and abnormal growths in the throat and nose are subjects for the specialist.
Whenever possible a speaker should test beforehand the acoustic properties of the auditorium in which he is to speak for the first time. A helpful plan is to have a friend seat himself at the back of the hall or church, and give his opinion of the quality and projecting power of the speaker's voice. It is difficult to judge one's own voice because it is conveyed to him not only from the outside but also through the Eustachian tube and modified by the vibratory parts of the throat and head. A speaker never hears his own voice as it is heard by another.
Nothing, perhaps, is so taxing to the throat as long-continued speaking in one quality of tone. There are two distinct registers which should be judiciously alternated by the speaker. These are the "chest" register, in which the vocal cords vibrate their whole length, and the quality of tone derives most of its character from the chest cavity; and the "head" register, in which the vocal cords vibrate only in part, and the quality of tone is reenforced by the resonators of the face, mouth, and head. The first of these registers is sometimes called the "orotund" voice from its quality of roundness, and is employed principally in language of reverence, sublimity, and grandeur.
The head tone is the voice of ordinary conversation and should form the basis of the public-speaking style.
No one who has to speak in public should be discouraged because of limited vocal resources. Many of the foremost orators began with marked disadvantages in this respect, but made these shortcomings an incentive to higher effort. One well-known speaker makes up for lack of vocal power by extreme distinctness of enunciation, while another offsets an unpleasantly heavy quality of voice by skilful modulation.
A few easily remembered suggestions are:
1. Rest the voice for an hour or two before speaking in public.
2. Gargle the throat night and morning with salt and water.
3. Never force the voice.
4. Avoid all occasions that strain the voice, such as prolonged conversation, speaking against noise, or in cold and damp air.
5. Practise deep breathing until it becomes an unconscious habit.
6. Favor an outdoor life.
7. Hum or sing a little every day.
8. Discontinue public speaking when there is a severe cold or other affection of the throat.
9. Rest the voice and body immediately after speaking in public.