In the real story that inspired the movie, the little mermaid lost her voice because she presented a poster the day before.
It doesn’t take much for some people to lose their voice, or have it severely impaired. Minor infections or stress can do it. Look at this list of things the National Institutes of Health recommends for taking care of your voice, and think of some of these in the context of a research conference:
- Limit your intake of drinks that include alcohol or caffeine.
- Try not to overuse your voice. Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is hoarse.
- Get enough rest. Physical fatigue has a negative effect on voice.
- Avoid talking in noisy places. Trying to talk above noise causes strain on the voice.
A conference with no coffee, no booze, where everyone is well-rested and talks in quiet surroundings is not like any conference I have ever seen.
Academics are not necessarily the chattiest people on the planet. You might be in your lab or office, dealing with a few people. But you’re probably not in a non-stop conversation from morning ’til night. But that might be exactly what you do at a conference: talk, talk, talk. It’s kind of the point, right?
Now imagine if you lose your voice after the first day of a four or five day conference. It might be caused by doing a poster presentation, or come before your poster presentation. In any case, it’s a bigger worry with a poster than a talk, since a talk normally has a microphone, and, good or bad, usually only lasts about 15 minutes, whereas a poster can go on for hours.
This ABC News story on laryngitis lays out some common cures for losing your voice that don’t work.
- Drink tea with lemon and honey? Busted.
- Slippery elm? Busted.
- Hot toddy? Busted.
- Whispering? Busted.
The one thing they do recommend is drinking lots of water. However, many of the websites I’ve seen talking about laryngitis also repeat the “eight glasses of water of day” myth, which doesn’t inspire confidence. A lot of the stuff that turns up in a quick Google search for tips on how to regain your voice looks extremely iffy.
I did find a journal article on the subject by Hanson and Jiang in Medical Problems of Performing Artists (artists get their own journal about their medical issues?). This article talks more about the possible causes, and less about prevention. They do note that acid reflux that occurs at night can cause voice problems. This is apparently something that can happen more at night than the day, so even people who don’t suffer heartburn during the day can have problems with digestive acids if they eat late at night. Hanson and Jiang recommend not eating for two or three hours before bedtime to minimize the chance of voice problems.
If anyone has suggestions and references for how to keep your vocal cords in good shape at a conference, and particularly peer-reviewed articles, I’d love to hear them!
Hanson DG, Jiang JJ. 1998. Laryngitis from reflux: prevention for the performing singer. Medical Problems of Performing Artists 13(2): 51-55. https://www.sciandmed.com/mppa/journalviewer.aspx?issue=1100&article=1104
Photo by Miikka Skaffari on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.