Why you should warm it up before speaking

Look after your voice, and it will take care of you! What do I mean by that? Since your voice is unique – like your fingerprints – whether you like it or not, the information the sound of your voice communicates to people about you enables them to form their opinions about you. Interestingly, it’s not just the content that comes out of your mouth that gives information about you.

The richness of your tone, pitchiness, and speed and volume with which you speak; all these factors involuntarily tell a story about parts of your life. Remarkably, only a fraction of the words – approximately 500-700- that both men and women utter actually convey a point of value to their listener(s). We have learned to introduce many filler words into our daily conversations that have little or no value to either the speaker or listener. As a competitive public speaker, my speeches are tailored to a maximum of 700 words, which is almost 7 minutes of speaking time when you take into account pacing and pauses.

If we talk and use a lot of words, then surely we don’t need to care for our voice?

No, this isn’t true. You can tell someone who has had a voice-based office job who hasn’t looked after their voice when they get older. Often, there will be a rasp or a slight tremor that has developed over time. So many people use the term “smokers voice” wrongly. Not everyone with a raspy voice is a smoker.

I once met a woman whose voice was subtly scratchy and quivery, making her sound permanently nervous – she doesn’t smoke. In her mid-thirties, her job requires a great deal of verbal communication, both face-to-face and via telephone, and the strain on her voice is evident in how she speaks. If she were to do some vocal warm-ups in the morning while she’s having a shower and getting dressed, she would most likely find the scratchy tremor would begin to dissipate over time.

When you overuse your voice – because you have to – and don’t take care of it, it can cause your vocal cords to become angry and inflamed. Think back to how rough your voice felt the day after you’d been cheering or screaming at an event. Researchers say that shouting at the top of your lungs can damage your vocal cords, sometimes permanently.

Most actors, singers, and professional speakers take preventative measures to protect their voices. Many of us don’t even realise that many occupations put demands on our voice that exceeds the norm. Since some occupations that make the voice vital to job performance, such as receptionists, secretaries, teachers, barristers, lawyers, customer service, and sales staff, taking extra precautions is essential to voice health.

Four tips to keep your voice at its best

  1. Your vocal cords vibrate extremely quickly. Therefore, water is needed to ensure that the mucus surrounding it is at the right consistency. Having lots of water in your body improves your throat’s ability to self-lubricate.
  2. Before beginning a speech, deep breathing can positively affect you on three levels; 1) it’s calming, 2) it’s relaxing, and 3) it brings your heart rate down. All these positives help lower anxiety and promote composure, which will be noticeable to your listeners. Refer to the article, Why Focus on Breathing’.
  3. Next, try and reduce the tension held in your neck and face. You can stretch your neck by slowly doing head rolls, and as you do this, you can open your mouth wide, then close your lips and pursing them tight. Keep repeating the process until you feel your neck relax. Once you have done this, try gently massaging your face and temples. I find that placing my two ring fingers of my hands between my eyebrows and gently applying pressure, then moving them outwards towards my temples, helps relieve tension in my face as a whole.
  4. Your articulators, resonators, and vocal cords need to be relaxed and supple to produce your best vocal sounds. Your vocal articulators are your tongue, soft palate, and your lips. The resonators are your throat, mouth cavity, and nasal passages. Some of the best way to relax these are:

Lip trills release tension in your lips and can help relieve any tightness held in your vocal folds. Lip trills also help connect your breathing with your speaking. Loosely place your lips together and blow the air through them. The sound that you’re aiming to make is a horse noise. Be sure to hold the sound steady and keep the air moving past your lips.

Tongue trills relax the tongue and engage your breathing and voice. Breathe in, expanding your ribs as you do. When you exhale, trill your tongue with an ‘r’ sound, rolling your ‘r’s. The sound should be unchanging to keep the breath connected. Once you’ve maintained a steady sound, try to vary the pitch up and down while trilling. Don’t push beyond what feels comfortable to you both at the top and bottom of your range.

Woo buzz increases the echoing emphasis of the sound and continues work with maximum stretch on your vocal folds. The mouth shapes are easily created by imagining you are sucking in spaghetti as you inhale. To make the ‘woo’ sound, you will need to let the air pass through your pursed lips as you exhale. The sound will feel and sound like a buzz. Hold the sound steady for three attempts, and as with tongue trills, vary the pitch up and down while making the woo buzz.

Humming focuses on frontal vibrations in your lips, teeth and facial bones. Start by gently closing your lips and keeping your jaw relaxed. Take a deep breath in, and then exhale while the word ‘hum’ passes between your lips. Hold the sound steady on the ‘m’ for a couple of seconds, then gently glide from a low to a high pitch and then from high to low, as if you were sighing.

Tongue twisters are a great way to get your brain, mouth and lips to work in unison and help you speak clearly. Refer to the articles, ‘Speak Clearly to Prevent Mumbling’ and ‘Diction Exercises’ for some tongue twisters.

Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking and Communications Consultant and founder of ‘Building Voices Communication’. She is an award-winning public speaker who is the top female public speaking coach in Australia (Yahoo Finance). She is currently studying for a Diploma in Counselling and is passionate about helping others communicate confidently.