Vocal warm ups

The trilogy - body, breath and voice

Vocal warm ups are essential for effective public speaking.  Quite simply, you need them!

Image: wind up teeth toy with speech balloon. Text: Public speaking warm ups - you need the trilogy: body, breath and voice.

Time spent warming up is time well spent

The benefits of doing them are minimizing the possibilities of straining your voice, stumbling over words, forgetting what was coming next, and succumbing to a fit of the nervous jitters. All good things to do without!

Vocal warm ups help channel the natural pre-performance adrenaline rush positively. In short, these exercises prepare and center you so that you'll be ready to speak with ease.

The ideal warm up session

In your lead up to speaking complete all of your stage and prop checks and then aim to set aside a minimum of ten - fifteen minutes for vocal warm ups in a private quiet place before you take the stage. (And often for me that's the ladies' loo!) 

Pick and mix from the body, breath and voice exercises taking care to work all three areas equally.

You'll find the warm up session works wonders for focusing, relaxing and settling any nervous tension as well as improving the quality of your delivery.


Thorough vocal warm ups focus on 3 areas

  1. body
  2. breath
  3. voice

Make a balanced selection from all 3 areas to fit your specific needs.


Warm up exercises for the body

Rag doll flop and drops

Begin by standing with your feet a shoulder width apart.

Then breathe in through the nose and bending from the waist allow yourself to flop and drop like a rag doll while breathing out through your mouth.

Shake any tension out of your arms, neck, shoulders and allow yourself to literally hang loose.

And then breathing in through your nose very gently and slowly bring yourself upright and breathe out through your mouth.

Shake it up, baby!

Shake out your arms and hands until you feel they're warm and relaxed. Then do the same for your legs.

Shoulder hunch

On an in-breath hunch your shoulders as high as your ears and then let them go while gently breathing out. Repeat until they are at ease.

Neck rolls

Let your head flop forward and then slowly, smoothly and gently roll it up and around to the right and then back. Repeat for the left side.

Face scrunch

Warning: these facial warm-up exercises (scrunch, jaw release, mouth stretch and tongue waggling) are not pretty! If you do them with a class you could end up with a helpless riot of giggles. I found a great way to push through that was to give lots of praise for looking the best of the worst! 

On an in-breath tighten every muscle in your face as much as you can and then release on the out-breath. 

Jaw release

Yawn widely, as wide as you can, letting all the tension it might be holding go. Repeat. Massage any points of residual tension, particularly where it hinges around your ears.

Mouth

Smile and stretch your mouth as wide as you can. Hold, and then release.

Tongue

Extend it as far as you can and now sweep it around the outside of your mouth, over your lips.  Do a complete rotation to the left and then another to the right.

Repeat with your mouth closed, running your tongue around the outside of your teeth. Once to the left and then another to the right.

Lizard tongue

Flick your tongue rapidly in and out of your mouth as fast as you can.

- Try Mrs Tongue Does Her Housework for extra help with training a lazy tongue.

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Vocal warm ups for breath

Becoming conscious of how you are breathing is essential for sustaining and supporting your voice. This exercise will relax and center you while giving your voice grounded strength.

Banish thinking and focus solely on the in and out flow of breath. Follow it in your imagination. Share its journey into and out of your body.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diagram of diaphragmatic breathing
  • Stand with your feet a comfortable shoulder width apart.
  • Support the weight of your body through your hips and legs rather than locking your knees.
  • Consciously release and relax your shoulders.
  • If you're holding your stomach in, let it go.
  • Place your hands on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Count slowly. As you inhale feel your belly expand as your diaphragm moves downwards to make space in your lungs for air.
  • Breathe out through your mouth to the count of five and now feel your belly move inward as your diaphragm moves upwards to expel the breath.
  • Do several rounds of inhale and exhale while making sure you keep your shoulders, stomach and legs relaxed. Increase the count to six or eight if you wish.

More breathing exercises

Click for more breathing exercises. You'll find several variations adding sound and stretching.

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Voice warm ups

To warm your voice unite the breathing exercise above with sound.

Sounding vowels

Use the out breath to sound each of the vowels in turn. Let each go without force, flowing smoothly from your relaxed throat.

For example:
'A' is going to become ahhhhhhh... as in 'are'
'E' is Eeeeeeeeeeeee... as in 'easy'
'I' is Iiiiiiii... as in 'eye'
'O' is Ooooooo...as in 'Oh'
'U' is Uuuuuuuu...as in 'you'

Feel the shape of the sound in your mouth and enjoy its resonance.

Sounding consonants

Now try the consonants. Go through the alphabet or select those you need to to focus on.

Be sure to shape the letter fully and feel the sound each makes.
b, b, b, b, b...
c, c, c, c, c...
d, d, d, d, d...
f, f, f, f, f...
t, t, t, t, t...

Hum

Hum on one note on one out breath feeling the resonance vibrate. Extend the hum to sliding up and down a scale without strain.

Articulation

For articulation do a few rounds of tongue twisters.

Here's a couple to get you started.

'Theophilus Thistler, the thistle sifter, in sifting a sieve of unsifted thistles,
thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.'

'You know New York,
You need New York,
You know you need unique New York.'

More articulation exercises

You'll find more covering most of those tricky-to-say letter combinations on this page of tongue twisters. Pick the sounds you know you find the most challenging.

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If you found this page on preparation warm ups useful you'll also be interested in:

  • exploring what vocal variety can do for your delivery
  • understanding just how important vocal image or what we sound like to others is in shaping how audience's receive what we have to say
  • the role of rehearsal in achieving public speaking success.

Video of warm-ups

Jeanette Nelson - Head of Voice, National Theatre, video demonstrating warm-ups

Watch Jeannette Nelson, Head of Voice, National Theatre, UK working two young professional actors through a series of vocal warm ups. The video covers breathing, opening up the voice, resonance, and articulation.  I'm sure you'll see things here you'll want to try for yourself.