A new friend sent me a text yesterday, “Do you have any advice for voice control in and out of the pulpit?” he asked.
I should have responded, “You are asking the wrong person.” Instead, I ventured a brief answer. I doubt it was helpful. This post is my fuller answer to the question I should not be answering in the first place.
My father had a big, preaching voice. And many of my early preaching heroes sounded like preachers, whatever that means. However, I do not have a preacher’s voice. I sounded like Simba practicing his roar in the Lion King. This resulted in me losing my voice often in preaching.
I had to learn a way to protect my voice in and out of the pulpit. Over the years, these simple practices have helped me to maintain my voice for preaching.
- Get some rest. Nothing saves your voice for preaching like resting it before you preach. Unfortunately, there are many Sunday mornings that I give the Lord a ready mind and heart, but a tired body. One of the best things you can do for your preaching overall is go to sleep on Saturday. Or take a nap before you preach an evening service. Rest your voice.
- Drink plenty of water. This may be the only good habit in my diet. I drink a lot of water before I preach. I even keep a glass of water on the pulpit at my home church, just in case. If I need it, I will pause to drink it. But it must be room temperature water for me. If I drink cold water before I speak, it will close up my voice.
- Avoid exotic vocal cures. I knew a famous preacher who drank ice-cold sodas before he preached. Many other preachers drink special concoctions before to clear their voices. I think rest and water are good enough. Avoid becoming dependent upon special remedies. A guest pastor drank a special potion before he preached for me. A few weeks later, my voice was sore between services. The ushers made me that potion. I sat in the pulpit looking troubled. One of the preachers asked if something was wrong. I mumbled, “I cannot feel my lips or my tongue!” True story.
- Get good monitors. Having floor monitors on the platform, which will project your voice back to you, is quite helpful in protecting the voice of the preacher. If I cannot hear myself, I start talking louder and preacher harder. I assume the congregation cannot hear me, because I can’t. Unfortunately, there are many days when my presentation is shaped by the fact that I cannot hear myself. If you are a pastor, make sure you have good monitors. Make sure you have people on the soundboard who know what they are doing!
- Pace your presentation. In this regard, voice lessons, speech training, or presentation feedback can be valuable to the preacher. You need to learn how to pace yourself in the presentation. Talk at a comfortable pace. Use pauses. Raise your voice sometimes for emphasis. Whisper other times. Speak in your pitch. I was preaching at a convention. In my nervousness, I started preaching in a high voice. I was thinking to myself, “What are you doing?” But I couldn’t stop. Halfway through the sermon, I had no voice. The same will happen to you if you do not pace yourself.
- Guard your instrument. Some singers where hats and scarfs out on warm, sunny days, determined to protect their voices. You do not have to go to extremes. But protect your instrument. Where a coat, when necessary. Don’t ride to the service with the air in the car on you. Refuse to sit under AC vents in the service. I don’t know what else to advise here. But do what it takes to guard your voice.
- Do your homework. I am always nervous when I stand up to preach. However, after the first minutes of the sermon, I am able to calm down. It is the ministering help of the Holy Spirit that enables me to relax and preach. It is also the assurance that I have not done my homework. I know what I want to say and, most times, how I want to say it. This eases tension and removes anxieties that I believe can affect your voice as you preach.
- Don’t worry about it. As a young preacher, I had the opportunity to quiz one of my favorite preachers. I asked him what he does to protect his voice. Firmly but graciously, he responded that young preachers like me worry about stuff like that. He claimed that he did not worry about it anymore. He just gets up with whatever he has by way of voice and preaches the message God has given him. I thought his answer was ridiculous. But now as an older preacher, I fully agree. Focus more on the message than the delivery. And trust that God will give you what you need to be faithful to your assignment (2 Co. 12:7-10).