By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 03-28-2022
Vocal warm ups are essential for effective public speaking.
Are you a person whose career depends on your voice?
Are you a singer, an actor, a TV or radio presenter, a teacher, salesperson or call center customer support worker?
Or perhaps you're preparing for an important presentation?
If you've answered yes, then quite simply, you need the magic trilogy: warm ups for your body, breath and voice.
The benefits of doing warm up exercises are minimizing the possibilities of straining your voice, of stumbling over words, of forgetting what was coming next, and of succumbing to a fit of the nervous jitters. All good things to do without!
In addition you will sound better and feel more in control of yourself. Your vocal presentation will be relaxed, flexible and easy to listen to; in part achieved by channeling the natural pre-performance adrenaline rush positively.
A serious athlete warms up before performance because they know pushing themselves without doing so is more likely to cause harm, particularly in the long term. These exercises are the speaker's equivalent.
They will prepare and center you so that you'll be ready to speak with ease, and to the best of your ability.
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.
Make a balanced selection from all 3 areas to fit your specific needs.
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 out your arms and hands until you feel they're warm and relaxed. Then do the same for your legs.
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.
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.
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! And to arrange the class in rows facing forward so they were looking at the back of the people in front of them.
Yawn widely, as wide as you can, letting all the tension it might be holding go. Repeat x 3 or more. Massage any points of residual tension, particularly where it hinges around your ears.
Smile and stretch your mouth as wide as you can. Hold, and then release.
Flick your tongue rapidly in and out of your mouth as fast as you can. (I call it lizard tongue!)
- Try Mrs Tongue Does Her Housework for extra help with training a misbehaving tongue.
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.
Click for more breathing exercises. You'll find several variations adding sound and stretching.
To warm your voice unite the breathing exercise above with sound.
Use the out breath to sound each of the vowels in turn. Let each go without force, flowing smoothly from your relaxed throat.
'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.
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 on one note on one out breath feeling the resonance vibrate. Extend the hum to sliding up and down a scale without strain.
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.'
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.
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 you'll want to try for yourself!