The Prime Minister’s ‘frog-in-the-throat’ moment will be something that any preacher will know. It might be something that you are aware of but has never happened – but if, like me, you know it from the inside, you identify with her panic, and her inability to solve the problem.
It feels as though your entire speaking system has gone on lockdown, and that nothing seems to help. Your vocal cords have gone AWOL, and nothing can bring them back.
It might be a cold. It might be nerves. It might be, as it was on one occasion I still recall clearly, for no apparent reason at all.
So what to do?
First, even if you are healthy, plan the the right support. Ideally, I try to avoid dairy for a few hours before I speak, because apparently that generates mucus (sorry, gross moment there). Black coffee, black tea, green tea – keep yourself milk-free.
Second, if you have a cold, go in properly prepared. Generic cough sweets are all very well, but really, any sweet you can suck will do the basic job of lubricating your throat with saliva (sorry, they keep on coming). Obviously the branded ones have added menthol so forth which can clear your nose temporarily, but on the throat point, any one will do in a crisis.
Add two weapons to that. If you’re near a music shop, pick up some Vocalzone pastilles. Tried and trusted by musicians and actors, they are the best of-the-shelf solution to keep you going. Better than those cold sweeties anyway. And if you are near a herby health-food shop, pick up some Throat Coat infusion bags. You’ll need to keep your fluids up anyway, but they are the best secret weapon I know.
Third, while you’re speaking, have the right drink beside you. My least favourite is a glass of water (What? Hear me out). That’s what the Prime Minister was offered in her crisis, and while it as well-meant, there are two easy and better options.
Take hot or at least warm water with you. It’s less of a shock to the vocal system and is less likely to keep the vocal cords in some kind of panic attack. You’re aiming to relax and release some muscles and dangly bits in that throat, so be kind to it. In the PM’s crisis, some aide should have put the kettle on. Knowing she had a cold, she should have had that ready anyway.
And if you really want to prep like a pro, add a small pinch of salt to your hot water. Not enough to taste, but enough to get the saliva working.
Fourth, in the emergency, stop, apologise, ask for a cup of hot water, and take a brief pause. The PM’s stakes were so high that she obviously felt she couldn’t take that risk, although even there I’d argue that she’d so lost her rhetorical mojo by that point she’d have been better off leaving the stage, getting the voice sorted, and coming back on in command. But for us, where our jobs aren’t on the line in the same way, I’d assume that people were sympathetic, ask for a cup of hot water, and say you were going to stop for a minute to get yourself sorted. People will understand.
Anything else you’ve learned? Pile in!
9 comments on “Pro tip for preachers – what to do when you have a ‘frog-in-the-throat’”
I think point 4 is really important, and really hard to do. It takes humility to stop as we (well at least I do) like to think we can power on through. However, we need to remember why we’re preaching. To build up the saints, and if we’re coughing, spluttering, croaking, they won’t hear a word we’re saying, they’ll just be concerned for us. For instance, can anyone remember what Theresa May actually said?
I agree point 4 is vital … and perhaps symbolic of the politician’s challenge and maybe particular play out a number of the PM’s perceived limitations. But these are the same ,imitations and weaknesses we face to recognise that there is a time when you are tempted to keep pushing on with something for fear of failing/ looking weak when the best thing you can do for everyone is to stop. It’s not just a speaking thing
Interesting about diary… I’d heard caffeine is bad for your throat (I think dries it up rather than mucus). One well known speaker told me he avoids caffeine for 24hrs before a conference.
Helpful advice Chris. And I agree on point 4. That was Mrs May’s biggest mistake, to just keep ploughing on.
“when struggling with voice projection, Friar’s Balsam,steaming twice a day and humming hot water work”
Was given this tip by a vocal coach when I had been over using my voice on a mission trip
Vocalzone are brilliant – the dairy link is tenuous. Some professional singers swear by avoiding it where as others say it is an old wives tale. And if you’re losing your voice rest it completely, the worst thing you can do is whisper (puts strain on the vocal folds) rather if you have to speak use a low grumble type of voice
Thanks, Katie – several pro singers round here have told me the same story about dairy, so I’m just following the old wives…
Hot orange was my secret weapon. Acidic enough just to cut through the goo.
Also Potter’s Catarrh pastilles.
Oh, and the Chinese also told me to lay off dairy and it’s helped.