How do you prepare your voice for a presentation, performance, or practice? Before you do anything else, use these 3 essential exercises.
Your voice is like a muscle. The more you use your voice with correct vocal technique, the more healthy your voice will be, just like any other muscle in your body.
A healthy voice is nice to listen to. A healthy voice is less prone to damage. A healthy voice is more effective at conveying your message.
Whenever you need to use your voice, you should always warm it up beforehand. Whether you are giving a presentation, teaching a class, recording a podcast or singing in a show: warm up your voice!
But, how do you warm up your voice?
Choosing Voice Exercises
There are hundreds of great warm up exercises you can use for your voice. Which exercises should you choose? Well, it depends on your unique vocal needs. Every person has slightly different vocal needs so everyone's warm up will look a little different.
You can think of it a little bit like warming up your body for a sport. Perhaps you have a particularly stiff right leg. If you were going running, you might incorporate some exercises which specifically target your right leg to loosen it up before you start running (e.g. leg swings).
The same is true for your voice. As you learn to use your voice over time, you will start to settle on some "favourite warm up exercises" which target the specific aspects of your voice which you know need the most work. For example, I personally spend a lot of time on articulation exercises to help me speak more clearly because I naturally mumble.
But, even though there are many possible exercises, there are three essential voice warm up exercises you should always do before you use your voice.
Why Are These 3 Exercises Essential?
The three warm-up exercises I explain below are essential because they set your body up for effective, healthy voice use.
Good voice use can only happen when your body is balanced and released from tension. Without a released, balanced body you are in danger of damaging your voice.
Using your voice is a physical activity. Just like any other physical activity, before you start doing energetic voice exercises you must prepare your body.
The 3 Essential Voice Warm Up Exercises
I do these three exercises before every presentation, every rehearsal, every video recording, every networking event and any other time I use my voice to "perform".
1. Centre Your Breathing
Breath is the fuel of the voice. Just like a car cannot function properly without good quality fuel, so our voice cannot function properly without good quality breath.
What is good quality breath?
- Good quality breath is free and relaxed.
- Good quality breath is deep, not shallow.
- Good quality breath feels easy.
The first part of this exercise is simply to stand up, with your feet hip-width apart, and take note of the quality of your breath.
Stand for a minute. Breathe naturally through your nose (if you can). Just keep your attention on your breath.
As you stand there, silently ask yourself the following questions:
- Where in my body do I feel my breath most strongly?
- What part of my body moves most when I breathe? My chest? My shoulders? My Belly/Stomach?
- Am I taking deep breaths or shallow breaths?
Stand for a minute or so, just feeling the sensation of breath entering and exiting your body.
After you have stood there for a minute or so, try the following visualisations. Even if you find them difficult to imagine, just hold each image in your mind and breathe for several breaths before you move onto the next one:
- Imagine your breath is coming into your body through your feet. What does that feel like?
- Imagine your breath is coming into your body through the base of your spine (or your bum, if it's easier to imagine). What does that feel like?
- Imagine each breath filling up your entire body as you breathe in, starting from your belly and filling all the way up to your head and down to your toes.
That's it. That's the exercise!
You might feel that this is kind of simple — it hardly feels like an exercise at all! You are basically just standing and breathing. However, it's actually a very powerful exercise.
In fact, this exercise does a lot to release your body and voice.
How does it work?
- It makes you stop for a few minutes to focus only on your breathing and encourages you to let go of the thoughts and the stresses of your day.
- It encourages you to take deeper, fuller breaths.
- It brings your breathing down "into your belly" (an expression which is really just shorthand for "breathing as your body naturally should breathe) instead of breathing high up in your chest.
2. Release Your Tension and Yawn
Our bodies hold a lot of tension, in our neck, our jaw, our back, our arms… everywhere, really. That tension affects our voice and can even be damaging.
Each of us has our own personal set of tensions which we carry around with us. We need to use targeted exercises to release that tension before we use our voice.
Personally, I usually hold the most tension in my jaw, neck and shoulders.
The other day, I was doing a stand-up comedy set. Usually, I would do a vocal warm up before such a performance. However, I had been ill that day and the idea of doing any sort of exercise at all seemed too much. When I got off-stage, I realised that my neck was stiff and sore. Because I hadn't done my usual warm up I had been holding tension in my neck throughout the entire performance. Nerves were almost definitely a factor too because I'm still new to the stand-up comedy game.
Thankfully it was only a 5-minute spot so I didn't do much damage. However, if it had been a different type of speaking event — an hour-long presentation, for example — I could have lost my voice halfway through the performance.
- Where in my body do I usually hold the most tension?
Try to stretch and warm up those areas of your body where you personally hold tension.
The corkscrew is a good exercise to release tension from your jaw, neck and shoulders, which are particularly important for voice production. Here's how to do it:
- Clasp your hands together.
- Stretch them out in front of you, with your palms facing away.
- Move your arms up over your head, with your hands still clasped.
- Detach your hands and move your arms down to your sides.
This exercise is even more effective if you yawn while you are doing it.
When you yawn, it stretches and releases the parts at the top of your throat called the pharynx and soft palate. These are key areas in the creation of the sound of your voice, so it is especially important that they are released from tension.
3. Let Your Spine Be Long and Free
The final essential warm up exercise is to "let your spine be long and free".
Your spine is the support for your body, and thus your voice. When it is straight and free from tension, it can support your voice properly.
What does it mean to have a spine that is "long and free"?
- A long and free spine is not slouched or bent.
- A long and free spine is released from tension, not rigid like a stick.
- A long and free spine feels easy and energising.
This exercise requires you to use your imagination quite a lot. If you haven't done this type of exercise before, it can be a bit confusing (it's common to think "Alex, I don't know what you means by this!") but just try to use your imagination as best you can. It's quite easy when you get used to it.
As you did in the first exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Let your knees be very slightly bent — not locked out straight nor overly bent, just released from tension. We call these "easy knees".
Imagine that a thread is supporting your spine, going from the crown of your head (that's the big bulge at the back on top) all the way up to the sky.
Imagine the thread is completely supporting your spine and your is body hanging below it, like a marionette puppet.
Feel your feet fully supported by the ground as though they were buried into nourishing soil.
Just stand in this position for a minute or so, and focus again on having full, easy breaths.
Okay… that's the crazy imagination stuff over with… for now.
Next, Use Targeted Voice Exercises
Of course, these three essential exercises are only the start to warming up your voice.
They are like the warm up jog you do before your 30-minute exercise session.
Now, you might like to use more specific voice exercises to target those areas of your voice which you would like to develop further.
If you'd like to learn more exercises, make sure to sign up for the newsletter. I often send out voice exercises to the mailing list. You can sign up using this form: