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Warm Up Your Voice

How to keep your voice strong and healthy.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
Episode #048

Listener and blogger Scott from acoupleofquitters.com asked:

How do you warm up your voice before speaking?

Scott, as you know I use my voice for a living, so I probably do more things than the average bear to warm up and protect my voice. I feel strongly about the importance of keeping my voice healthy and strong.

But I didn’t always feel this way. I used to say, “I don’t need to do anything special; I can just talk right?” Nope! When you use your voice a lot and you don’t take care of it, it causes your vocal cords to become irritated and inflamed. Think about how it feels the day after cheering and screaming for your favorite team. Researchers say that yelling at the top your lungs can actually permanently damage your vocal cords.

That’s why most actors, singers, and speakers take extra precautions. But there are many professions that also have a very high demand on the voice: teachers, attorneys, receptionists, tech support staff, customer service and sales reps. According to doctors, it’s usually these folks who aren’t thinking about protecting themselves and then run into trouble. The docs tell me it’s also important for people who work in noisy environments, like restaurant workers, factory workers, or police officers to protect their voices. And it’s even important for the sports fan who enjoys enthusiastically cheering for his team.

So, today, I'll share with you some of the exercises that I do to warm up my voice just before a speaking gig, and also what I do for general preventative maintenance.

Just Before A Speech or Podcast

First, for every event I request a wireless microphone, even in small rooms. If I am using a microphone I don't have to use my "loud" voice. For people who talk a lot as part of their job, I highly recommend this. It can reduce strain significantly.

Next, the day before an event I try to rest my voice as much as possible by not talking. The day of the event, I usually begin with a few warm-up exercises starting with deep breathing. If you’re a regular listener, you might remember I covered techniques for deep breathing in episode 3 cleverly titled “How to Breathe Properly.” For me, deep breathing brings my heart rate down. It’s calming and relaxing.

In general, the idea is to relax the daily tension that we hold in our neck, face, and mouth. I usually stretch my neck by doing slow head rolls. I work the muscles in my face by massaging my face and by exaggerating smiles and frowns. The idea is to smile big and hold, then frown and hold, smile and hold, frown and hold. Other ways to stretch are by yawning (yawn) and by sticking your tongue out—as far as possible. And move it from side to side. Oh and don’t forget your lips. You can try exaggerated chewing motions and exaggerated lip movement by saying "Red leather, yellow leather" Here’s how it will sound (Oh man, am I GLAD this is just audio and not VIDEO!)

In order to produce the best possible sound your vocal resonators, articulators, and vocal cords need to be loose and relaxed. The resonators are your throat, mouth cavity, and nasal passages. The vocal articulators are the tongue, soft palate, and lips.

Next, I usually say a few tongue twisters. Rubber baby buggy bumpers. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore. That last one is my favorite because I tend to trip up on sibilants (which are s’s and f’s). Of course, you should pick tongue twisters that are specific to your trouble spots. 

If I've got time or it’s an important gig, I'll run through a few singing scales. I like to start by singing the vowel sounds--Eh, Ee, Ah, Oh, Oo-- …Eh, Ee, Ah, Oh, Oo. And then I add in consonant sounds…Ma, Me, Mi, Mo, Mu, La, Le, Li, Lo, Lu. I also do scales. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do, Do, Ti, La, So, Fa, Mi, Re, Do. And so on up the scale. Even though I’m not a singer, and clearly I’m not a singer, singing exercises the vocal cords and the other muscles of the throat much more so than just speaking does.

As part of my general preventative maintenance of my voice, I try to sing every day. That helps to keep my muscles strong. It also puts me in a good mood and I can do it anywhere.

General Preventative Maintenance

So as part of my general preventative maintenance of my voice, I try to sing every day. That helps to keep my muscles strong. Besides I like to sing. It puts me in a good mood and I can do it anywhere.

Again in the category of prevention, just like for your general health, the best thing you can do is stay hydrated. I drink plenty of water throughout the day. Also, I drink water before I go to bed and keep a glass by my bedside. If I wake up in the night, I take a drink. And, in the morning, I drink the rest of the water. My kids do this too now too.

Your vocal cords vibrate very fast and you need the water be sure the lubrication is the right consistency. It's kind of like keeping your motor oil clean. If it gets too thick and mucky it doesn't do as good a job. Basically, by having lots of water in your body it optimizes your throat's mucous production.

By the way, some of you may have heard that you should avoid milk because it stimulates mucous production. However, according to recent research there’s no proven correlation between drinking milk and excess mucus production. Turns out it only feels that way because there is a slight, temporary, thickening of saliva after drinking milk. So if you like to drink milk, go for it, but maybe not just right before speaking.

In addition to water, I enjoy drinking tea. Hot tea is very soothing. I mostly drink decaffeinated tea, because caffeine causes dehydration. Some people like to use “throat coat” tea which is an herbal blend that purports to support throat health.

Of course, both water and tea are ways to internally hydrate yourself, but you can also externally hydrate your vocal cords. I sometimes take a shower or just turn on the shower so I can breathe in the steam. Some people use a personal steamer. You could also run hot water and put a towel over your head and breathe in the steam. For similar hydrating reasons, some people like to regularly use a humidifier. (In fact, we keep our home humidified and one time the humidifier broke. I noticed it immediately because of the way my mouth and throat felt.).

Ok, so there you have it, some quick and dirty tips to warm up your voice and keep it healthy and strong. Scott, I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is. These tips are not just for performers and other professionals that put a stress and strain on their voice; it’s important for all of us to be able to communicate with a healthy and strong voice.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

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