I know it’s hot but your voice isn’t warm!
The thermometer is pushing three digits and the idea of warming up anything is probably just not on your mind. However, if you have to give a talk, you need to warm up your voice before you practice, and definitely before you go on stage or on camera. The question is, what do you do to warm up a voice? Vocal warm ups are a three step process.
1) Get the vocal muscles warm by increasing blood flow and oxygen.
a. Breathe deeply. Expand the lower abdomen as you inhale and contract it to exhale. Make this kind of breathing part of your presentation as well. Practice with this audio file: 06-how-to-breathe;
b. Align your body and awaken your support system. Stand tall, with your shoulders back and your chest high. Stretch and walk as you breathe deeply. A series of body warm-ups will help here.
c. Make funny sounds. You can’t exercise your voice without making a sound, and the sounds are usually just as funny to the ear as my push-ups are to the eye! Nevertheless, get your voice going with “mmmmmmmm,” “zzzzzzzzzzzz,” “ney ney ney,” “mum mum mum,” and “nu me nu me nu me.” Repeat several times. Feel your face and nasal passages vibrate and buzz with those sounds. Sigh a few times out loud starting higher and higher each time. Use your full range.
2) Get your brain working with your voice
a. Use tongue twisters. Make a list of words that are difficult for you to say and practice saying them together in sentences. Or use traditional tongue twisters from this list.
b. Use mask resonance to speak through key points of your talk. Mask resonance can be found by saying, “Mm-hmm.” Feel the buzzy sensation in the front of the face. Now practice speaking your outline aloud and emphasize the m’s and n’s as you do. Example: MMMMy nnnnnammmme is Kate.” For more practice, listen to this audio file08 Learning to Identify Mask Resonance and 09 Learning to Use Mask Resonance
c. Speak your personal intention aloud. Everyone needs a personal intention as a speaker or presenter. Perhaps yours is to inspire and uplift others. Perhaps yours is to entertain or create a safe place for others to express who they are. Or maybe it’s to motivate people to buy your widgets so you can send your kids to college. Whatever it is, write it down and then speak it out loud several times before moving on to the third step of warm-ups.
3) Align your voice with your content and your intention
a. Speak your intention for the talk aloud. In step 2, you spoke aloud your personal intention as a speaker. Here you will say your intention for this particular talk. Perhaps your intention is to sell your widget to this particular customer. Perhaps your intention for the talk is to provide the background for a project kick-off or it’s to introduce another speaker. Whatever it is, say it out loud several times. You can find more on intention here.
b. Break down your talk into segments and create a new vocal color for each section. Let’s say the first section is the introduction, the second is the history of the situation, and the third is the challenge that has to be overcome. Try a new “role” for each section by evoking pathos, so that you don’t sound the same all the time. In this case, the first role may be light and friendly, the second, educational, and the third a bit more dramatic.
c. Practice the conclusion aloud. Create a good closing and practice it as much as the opening.
Other suggestions for practice now that you’re warm:
Find a good place
If you are practicing at home or in the office, you will need to find a place that is resonant. You want the sound to reverberate a bit because otherwise, you will overuse your voice without even knowing it. The shower is a great place to practice (and everyone knows we all sound better there anyway!), as are areas that have a hard surface and no curtains or carpeting. If all of your rooms are carpeted and draped, try finding a corner wall space that has no curtains on it.
Set aside time for your voice
It takes a good thirty minutes to warm up most voices. Set that time aside before you go on. In addition, spend as much time offstage practicing as you are going to spend on stage presenting. That means, if your talk is an hour long, practice an hour a day for a week or two before presenting. If you regularly give presentations that are four or more hours long, as trainers do, you need to make sure you keep your voice healthy with a daily work out, but you also need to make sure you get plenty of vocal rest between presentations.
Other resources for vocal warm ups:
Five Stealth Ways to Find Time to Practice from the Eloquent Woman blog