With the time to start packing for Winter Fantasy upon me, time to post some useful content. From an actual professional no less. John duBois provides us with tips on how not to lose our voice while DMing at conventions.
Having lost my voice several times at a convention I for one will be trying to follow the tips below and many thanks to John for his insights.
Keep Your Voice Healthy, by John duBois
Convention DMs are known as a hardy bunch. They spend long hours prepping adventures, spend weeks mastering their craft at home, and have positive attitudes in the face of even the most difficult players. Yet even the most stalwart convention DMs share one great fear. Specialists who study it call it aphonia, and laypeople call it laryngitis, but the most common term is descriptive enough: losing your voice.
As a convention DM, public speaking coach, and speech pathologist, voice loss is something I’ve encountered frequently, usually when others get it, but sometimes when I’ve had it myself. I’ve learned, and am sharing with you now, seven tips based on clinical research that will prevent you from suffering a DM’s worst nightmare – the physical inability to verbally communicate an adventure’s story to players.
A couple caveats before I begin:
- First, not all tips are necessary for every convention DM. People’s ability to avoid voice loss varies from person to person based on a variety of factors, including physiology, genetics, and how much someone uses their voice on a daily basis outside of conventions. That said, all seven tips will make you less likely to use your voice, regardless of who you are.
- Second, all of the below suggestions start at least one week BEFORE the convention AND throughout the entire event – not just the slots when you’re DMing! If you’re reading this for the first time because you’re feeling like you’re starting to lose your voice, you’ve already missed the best opportunity to stop it.
TIP 1: No Funny Voices.
You know how, when you’re imitating the gruff voice of a dwarf, you sometimes feel a rattle in your throat? Or when you’re making gnomes sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks, the top of your throat feels a little uncomfortable? That’s a sign from your body that you are using your voice in a way it is not designed to be used. Sure, you can keep up a squeaky voice for Glingleglib the Gnome or Bob the Halfling for a short while, but you will wear your voice out faster if you use pitches that you don’t use in your everyday life. The further your voice deviates from your normal register, the faster it will leave you. This means that most men can handle low register voices longer than most women, and most women can handle falsetto Halfling tones for longer than most men, but there is a limit no matter who you are.
TIP 2: Drink Water.
Different voice professionals will tell you different things to help you keep your voice and get it back more quickly when you do lose it. I’ve worked with singers, public speakers, and teachers, who have tried remedies ranging from a hot toddy with honey to eating pure sugar.* And I’m going to phrase this the way I’m phrasing it for everyone who thinks they know what works: The Only Consumable With Clinical Research Demonstrating Effective Prevention And Treatment Of Voice Loss Is Water. Some of my friends who sing have a gross, but effective saying: “Pee clear, sing pure” – meaning that a good way to see if you drink enough water for “professional” level voice use (which convention DMing is) is that if your urine has no color, you’re drinking enough.
TIP 3: Talk to the Wall.
Your speaking environment is vitally important to you being able to run the vocal marathon of convention DMing. If you know that you are prone to losing your voice, or you feel like you might be starting to, you need to pay attention to where you’re sitting at your table**. You want to sit as far away from the nearest wall as you can, so that you are speaking in the direction of that wall. This creates a couple important effects: First, it reduces competing noise levels for your players; by putting the voice they need to hear in a position where it’s between them and all the competing voices they’re going to hear, you’ve reduced the demands on your own voice, and you don’t have to speak as loudly. Second, if you manage to actually score a table close to a wall, the wall itself provides a physical barrier that, again, helps your players hear your voice more prominently than competing noise.
TIP 4: Avoid High-Noise Areas.
This one’s fairly simple. As you try to talk, you are going to raise your voice to talk over any competing noise. The louder your voice is, the sooner you will lose it by either irritating or exhausting your vocal folds. This one’s more of an “away from the table” tip – be aware of places at or near the convention where there are large speaker systems, construction vehicles, or that one guy who has no volume control (because every convention has at least one of that guy). If you’re competing with lower volumes, you can sustain your vocal volume for longer.
TIP 5: Don’t Get Sick.
Getting sick – especially if you catch a respiratory illness like a cold or flu – can irritate your vocal folds and get in the way of your body’s natural healing process. The best ways to prevent getting sick that don’t make you look like a germaphobe include frequently using hand sanitizer (“frequently” meaning “as soon as possible after touching other people or things they’ve touched”), washing your hands regularly (at least between slots, after eating, and after using the restroom***), not touching people in general, and getting a daily shower in – more than one per day if you tend to sweat a lot.
TIP 6: What To Do Because You Can’t Always Control Tip Five.
Even if you do everything you can to avoid getting sick, the Con Crud is a Thing, and you will sometimes catch it. When this happens, you need to double up on every other tip, especially drinking water. If you’ve got a slot where you aren’t busy, go to your room and sleep. If you’re really sick, tell convention HQ that you need a slot off – a sick DM isn’t a good DM, and is usually doing nobody any favors, including themselves.
TIP 7: Take Care of Yourself.
There are a number of articles, sayings, and guidelines for personal hygiene at conventions. These are usually presented as ways to make sure you’re adequately fed, well rested, and don’t smell like a Magic: the Gathering prerelease. All of these tips are also great for keeping your voice as well. Your body only has so much energy to make up for neglect, and you already know that it’s going to be absorbing the strain of talking more than you usually do. If it’s trying to make up for a lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or other forms of additional use, it’s not going to be able to take care of your voice’s recovery the way it normally would.
In short, you’ll probably do pretty well with your voice at conventions if you talk as close as possible to the way you normally do (volume and pitch), exercise good hygiene habits, and drink lots and lots of water. And, of course, have fun, because that’s what we’re all here for!
*For reference, on a scale of “awesome idea” to “terrible idea”, hot toddy with honey is “mildly good idea with beneficial side effects” and pure sugar is “did you recently offend the person who suggested this to you?”
**Your ability to control where you were seated may vary based on the room you’re in and how tables are assigned to DMs, but when I marshalled for Dave during the LFR days, I asked a DM to give a wall-hugging table up so that a DM whose voice had gotten shaky could sit there on more than one occasion. It never hurts to ask – as long as you do it before marshalling for the slot begins.
***If you aren’t already washing your hands after every restroom visit – regardless of what you do in there – that’s just gross, and if I catch you, I will call you Typhoid Mary Plague Bearer to your face from here until the heat death of the universe.