The REAL reason behind the Speakers Cough… and it’s NOT dehydration

by May 3, 2018All

Have you ever been speaking on stage and had the overwhelming sensation that you need to cough?

That dreaded speakers tickle in the throat can make the speaker lose focus, lose the attention of the audience, and worse still prevent them from speaking altogether.

When the speaker feels a tickling sensation in the throat, as though they are about to cough, many of them will automatically reach for a glass of water thinking that dehydration is the culprit. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Most of the time, dehydration is not the problem, the WAY the speaker is speaking is the problem. If you are sensing a cough coming on or feel a tickle in your throat when you speak, you probably have tongue root tension ( TRT).

Don’t worry if you have never heard of it – most people haven’t. Only singers, actors and voice teachers mostly know about TRT and what it sounds like. But most importantly – today’s article will tell you not only what the root cause is, but also how to get rid of it so it wont bother you when you are speaking.

Below are 3 exercises you can do on a regular basis to make sure your next speaking presentation is not peppered with coughs or incessant throat clearing due to TRT.

*Please note: If you have a plate or braces, you might have to adjust your airflow in your consonants  while you’re working your tongue around that issue.


  1. Raspberries:  Yes, it is what it sounds like. That silly childish sound we used to throw at each other to exclaim our frustration at someone as young children. You simply stick your tongue out forward in front of the lips and blow a raspberry. Try making the sound with just air , with the lips and tongue vibrating, and then adding sound from the voice box as well. If you cant DO a raspberry, you may well have a very tight tongue! The goal with this exercise is to make the sound and sustain it for 5 -10 seconds in a relaxed and easy way. The sound should be floppy and relaxed and feel very free in the throat.
  2. Th Non Voiced and Voiced: These sounds are called fricatives and are airflow, even sounding consonants great for practising even airflow during speech. Start with the non-voiced TH as in Thistle, Thick and Thin and then move onto a voiced TH as in This, That, There .., Just practice the sound TH first and sustain the non-voiced sound for 5 seconds, followed by the voiced TH for 5 seconds. If you find this difficult, it probably means you have tongue root tension and you need to practice these exercises daily until they are easy flowing and even-sounding with no tension at all! Keep in mind that how well you use your articulators ( teeth, tongue and lips) during this exercise, will determine the quality and strength of the sound.
  3. Yawn Release: This one is quite opposite from the other two exercises as it has to do with releasing throat tension instead of tongue tension. Since everything is connected, most people who have throat tension often have tongue root tension as well. So this yawn release exercise is important for most speakers. Take a big yawn and feel your throat muscles open wide. Make sure you feel all the cool air hitting the back of the throat and feel the sensation of the open space there. Do not pull the tongue backward during the yawn, but instead make sure it is lightly resting on the bottom of the mouth with the tip against the bottom row of teeth. As you yawn make an audible soft and open AHHH sound that is free, relaxed and gentle. Feel the airflow leave the throat in an even ghost-like fashion. If you sound like a strangled or drowning cat during this exercise, you are doing it wrong!

Two great examples of the sound of Tongue Root tension in singers, are Cher and Shakira. Both singers sing with their tongues way back in their throat which gives them a tight “froggy” sound. It is not comfortable to sing OR speak like this and mostly will lead to a sore throat and most likely a coughing fit.

If you would like some training on how to free your voice for all public speaking, learn how to Master Your Voice and bring your message to the world in a more powerful way, book a free initial session with me here.