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Preventing Vocal Strain and Fatigue on Virtual Calls


Highlights | Preserve your voice

  • Virtual calls can strain your voice.
  • Having a hoarse, raspy or strained voice after meetings might mean you need to change how you communicate.
  • Try adjusting microphone settings or choosing an appropriate headset.
  • Resting, resetting your voice and hydrating can also help alleviate discomfort and hoarseness.
  • Watch the video by the Performing Voice Clinic to find out more.

Now more than ever we are participating in Zoom calls, phone calls and other physically distant ways of communicating that require us to rely on our voice.

Maybe you have experienced a hoarse or raspy voice after hours of Zoom meetings or an achy, strained throat. We demand a lot from our larynx, vocal cords and other structures involved with voice production, and this can put us at risk for developing more serious voice problems.

The team at the Performing Voice Clinic in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, provides tips to help preserve your voice during virtual calls.

Adjust your Zoom settings

By simply adjusting your Zoom audio settings, you can make sure that listeners can hear you well so you can avoid vocal fatigue.

Alex Schenck, a speech-language pathology clinical fellow, recommends opening up your audio settings, choosing the highest quality microphone you have available and checking the box that reads “Automatically adjust microphone volume.” There is also an option to suppress background noise so that participants can hear you better depending on your environment — like if you are in a busy or shared office or your dog barks at the mailperson during your 3 p.m. meeting.

You can learn more about optimizing your audio settings at the Zoom Help Center.

Practice voice resets

If you have been working your voice a lot lately, Juli Rosenzweig, a speech-language pathologist, suggests doing voice resets like cup bubble phonation or gentle humming, which can help your throat feel less compressed, strained and uncomfortable.

To practice cup bubble voice reset, you need a cup, straw and water. Fill the cup up about a fourth of the way with water and place your straw in the cup. Blow through the straw to create bubbles in the water. Once bubbles are established, add some sound, like an “oo,” through the straw. Then add pitch glides by increasing and lowering the tone of your voice. Finally, try singing a song into the bubbles.

Rosenzweig says it’s not about volume but rather an even rolling of bubbles, airflow and sound. Do 10 seconds of bubbles, one minute of bubbles with sound, one minute of bubbles and pitch glides, and one minute of singing into the bubbles. If you don’t have a water glass and straw around, try gentle humming to get the reset benefits.

Self-monitor your voice and posture

Being able to clearly hear yourself will help prevent misuse and overuse of your voice.  Andrew Lee, a speech-language pathologist, suggests leaving one ear uncovered if you are using headphones during calls to hear the feedback from your voice.

Other tools like decibel meter apps can help you monitor the decibel level of your speech and alert you when you are speaking too loudly.

“It’s easy to get carried away by what you are saying instead of how you are saying it,” says Lee.

Watch yourself on the screen when you talk to monitor for tension in the head, neck and shoulders, which can affect your voice.

Don’t be afraid to remind participants to turn up the volume on their end. If you have good quality audio, are talking in a healthy decibel range and the person on the other end still can’t hear you, then it’s likely they need to increase their volume rather than you increase the volume of your voice.

Get the right equipment

“When looking for ways to mitigate the burdens that teleconferencing has placed on our voices, it’s important to consider the technology that we are using,” says John Paul Giliberto, MD, laryngologist. “While the integrated speakers and microphones on many of our laptops and mobile devices are quite convenient, separate stand-alone microphones or headsets do provide improved quality of the uploaded audio as well as minimize the background sound.”

Although the analog jack is common, using digital interfaces (like a USB connection) improves the quality of your sound and decreases interference so you don’t have to project as loud.

If you use wireless Bluetooth headphones or earbuds, Giliberto says the quality of the microphones can be variable and he suggests testing them out before purchasing.

Make vocal hygiene a priority

“It’s important to think about your vocal hygiene — the daily regimen of good habits to maintain the health of your vocal folds,” says Neel Bhatt, MD, laryngologist.

According to Bhatt, the top two most important vocal hygiene steps you can add into your regimen are hydration and vocal naps.

First and foremost, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Bhatt recommends 64 oz of water per day and using a humidifier at night to increase salivary flow.

Secondly, vocal naps — short breaks without talking — can help improve your vocal endurance. Think of it like resting between sets when lifting weights. We need to give our voices time to rest and recover, too. 

Watch the video

Still experiencing voice changes or throat discomfort?

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