I referred in one of my blogs last month to physical “tricks of the trade” that can help develop a speaker’s voice and vocal cords. Since I focussed on general principles in that blog, I thought I’d follow it up with a post about a few specific exercises – and give a little bit of detail about each. That said, with any exercise of this sort it’s important to get it spot on, so consider this post more of an introduction than a ‘how to’!
The Basic Warm-up
Like any other muscle in your body, your vocal cords will perform better if you prepare them properly before use. This is about getting your vocal cords ready for the exertion of speaking at length – treat them well and they’ll do a great job for you, time after time.
First thing’s first: try humming your favourite tune. You don’t have to do this at any particular volume, just the act of running air through your vocal cords and managing airflow to make the notes of your tune will get the “engine running”, if you like. Then loosen your other speaking muscles: pretend to chew gum slowly to relax your jaw, and swish your tongue around your mouth to release any tension.
Perform Regular Work-outs
Just as if you were training for a marathon, regular exercise is key to building stamina and energy levels. A vocal work-out begins with ten deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth – and then often involves saying “Mmmm” several times, perhaps a half-dozen, before then running up and down your vocal range perhaps ten times, again on “Mmm”. This will develop what is known as “mask resonance”, a vocal quality that adds clarity and vibrancy to your voice.
Resonance should be matched by articulation, so the next stage of a speaker’s work out is often to make an “OoooEeee” sound, again up and down the vocal range. As your voice opens out and your muscles relax, tongue twisters can also help with articulation: “Three free throws” is a devilish but effective one! Every work out should end as it began – with a few deep breaths to cool back down again.
Tension can really inhibit good public speaking. So it’s always a good idea to add to your daily regime some exercises which seek to relax your vocal cords. This will make your voice sound less harsh to audiences, and much more confident.
Try speaking normally whilst standing up with your hand lightly on your throat – can you feel any tightness of your muscles? Now open your mouth wide and yawn, finishing with an “mmm” sound you hold for a few seconds. Now, with your mouth closed, move your jaw from side to side whilst humming – and repeat. If you now speak again with your hand to your throat, you should be able to feel that the muscles have relaxed!
Again, the best exercise regime is arrived at in consultation with an expert – and supervised at first to ensure that you’re doing things as you should. But hopefully I’ve given you a sense of the sorts of technique some professional speakers use to keep their vocals limber. Do consider doing a little more research if you’re set to be speaking regularly.