Pre-speech Warm Ups

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109

Exercise2Concept description

Exercises before speaking can improve a presentation or speech.

In her article, Pump Up Your Speaking Voice with a Strength Training Workout (reference below), Kate Peters notes that there are more nerves in the muscles of the larynx than any other muscles in your body, with the exception of your eyes, and that you use three quarters of your body when you speak a word. She concludes that it’s not surprising that your voice can be adversely affected by excitement and stress.

Marla Elliott’s basic warm up

Marla Beth Elliott, a performance artist and Professor at Evergreen College (reference below), recommends the following warm up before delivering a speech or presentation.


  • Yawn and stretch. Check yourself kinesthetically and work your tight spots. Be sure to breathe and sigh. Give yourself the basic centered stance: feet about a shoulder width apart, insides of the feet parallel, knees flexed. Center your knees over feet, hips over knees, waist over hips, chest over waist, shoulders over chest, head and neck over shoulders. Lengthen your spine, relax, and breathe. Let your arms float to the ceiling, first from the elbows, then from the wrist, then as if someone were pulling on strings attached to each finger. Let your head fall back, open your mouth, and extend all your energy upwards.
  • Drop your wrists, drop your elbows, drop your shoulders. Drop your head forward, curl down your spine, bend your knees and suspend your spine from your hips. Stretch, shake, moan, breath, hang out and relax. Curl up your spine from the bottom, one vertebra at a time, leaving your head for last. Repeat.
  • Let your head drop to your shoulder. Rest your hand on your ear for an extra stretch. Remember to breath and release. Come back to center, repeat to the other side. Do each side at least twice.
  • Drop your head forward to stretch the back of your neck. Clasp your hands on the back of your head for an extra stretch. Roll your neck back up to center.
    Drop your skull back and let your jaw drop open and stretch your jaw muscles. Remember to let your lower jaw sit back in its hinge joint, rather than pop forward. Open your throat wide and visualize a clear channel going deep into your abdomen. Keep your throat open wide as you lengthen the back of your neck to bring your head back to center. Repeat going forward and back again.
  • Roll your head around in a circle.
  • Shrug your shoulders high and drop them three times. Roll them backward in circles. Shake out your shoulders. Shake out your arms.
  • Extend your arms, lower your shoulders, lengthen your neck, rotate your wrists four times each direction. Let your arms float down to your sides, shake them out.
  • Move your rib cage to the side, center, other side, center, several times. Move your rib cage forward, center, back, and center several times. Take your rib cage around in a circle.
  • Stretch your spine by letting your arms hang floppily at your sides, pivoting around to sight a spot behind you; swing back and forth, arms flopping, spotting at your spot each time. Slow down before you stop.
  • Move your hips forward, center, back, and center several times. Move them to the side, center, other side, center, several times. Take your hips around in a circle.
  • Shake your legs and feet out. Jiggle up and down on the balls of your feet, lengthening and letting go.
  • Let your feet spread across the floor. Feel your whole foot on the floor. Shift your weight to your toes, back to center, to the heels, back to center. Shift your weight to the insides of your feet, back to center, outsides, center. Repeat.
  • Feel a current of electricity run from the center of the earth up through your feet, up your legs, up your spine and out the top of your head. Take a minute to breathe and be part of that energy.
  • Continuing to lengthen your spine, shift your weight to one foot. Bring the other knee up and let it dangle like a marionette. Let it drop and come back up several times. Then extend your leg and rotate your ankle, several times each direction. Set your foot gently down and repeat with the other leg.
  • Run a kinesthetic check through your whole body: center each part of your body like a building block on the part below it. Lengthen your spine, release as many muscles as you can, relax and breathe.

Face and mouth

  • Massage your face. Rub around your eyes, sinus cavities, nose, cheeks, and jaw. Give special attention to your jaw joints.
  • Make funny faces. Scowl, grimace, pull your face diagonally. Monster and pirate faces. Pull your face into the center like a drawstring bag (“tiny face”). Then stretch it all open (“silent scream”).
  • Shake your face out and make your jowls flap. Blow your lips out until they’re flabby.
  • With your mouth closed, run your tongue in a circle around your teeth inside your lips.
  • Stretch your tongue by putting the tip behind your lower front teeth and letting the middle roll out of your mouth, like a wave crashing. Feel the stretch all the way down the back of your throat. This should create an impulse to yawn.
  • Once you start yawning, exploit and sustain your yawn impulse. Yawn in different ways: horizontally, vertically, on one side at a time, while grinning, while holding your lips in an “ooo” shape, etc. Make up your own yawns. Yawn AT LEAST until your eyes start watering.


  • Lie down on the floor with your arms at your sides, palms facing up. Center your body as you did when standing. Release your body into the floor as if you were a sandbag and all the sand ran to the bottom.
  • Let your mouth hang gently open without forcing. Rest your tongue on the floor of your mouth. Allow your throat to open wide. Breathe easily through your mouth.
  • Be aware of a warm spot in the center of your body, about two inches below the navel and in the center of your belly. Allow the breath entering your body to move to that spot first. Visualize a tube running from the back of your throat to that spot in the pit of your stomach.
  • Notice your impulse to breathe and give in to it. Let each breath be a little longer, a little fuller than the breath before it. Put your hand on your stomach to feel your abdomen fill with breath.
  • Now that you are relaxed and have all the breath you need, find an effortless touch of sound with your vocal chords. Make the sound pleasurable. Feel it rather than hear it. Allow its vibrations to fill more of your body and enjoy the feeling of the sound. Experiment with the vibrations.
  • Change the pitch to drop the vibrations deep into your stomach. Siren up to move the vibrations into your chest, throat, mouth, and head.

What if I only have a few minutes to warm up and I’m in a public place?

  • Go into the handicapped stall in the bathroom. Take five minutes to roll down your spine and up again, center yourself, stretch your throat, and get in touch with your breathing. Then fix your hair and clothes that got tousled when you hung upside down, murmur your affirmation, and go do your thing.
Susan Berkley’s two-minute vocal warm up

The Benchmark Institute’s performance skills exercises include Susan Berkley’s Two Minute Vocal Warm Up (reference below). Berkley says:

Good speech takes muscle. And just as your leg muscles work better if you warm them up before a run, so will your speech muscles work better if you warm them up at the start of your day. Your voice will sound better, stronger. Your articulation will become more clear and crisp. You’ll be easier to understand. And as you strengthen your speech muscles, you’ll be able to talk longer without vocal fatigue.

The short version of Berkley’s favorite vocal warm up involves reading the sentences below which have been designed to work many of the vowel and consonant sounds in the English language.

Before you begin, drink a glass of warm water. Then, read each sentence aloud slowly, pronouncing each word as carefully and properly as you can. These are not tongue-twisters. DO NOT RACE.

  • Eat each green pea.
  • Aim straight at the game.
  • Ed said get ready.
  • It is in Italy.
  • I tried my kite.
  • Oaks grow slowly.
  • Father was calm as he threw the bomb on the dock.
  • An awed audience applauded Claude.
  • Go slow Joe, you’re stepping on my toe.
  • Sauce makes the goose more succulent.
  • Up the bluff, Bud runs with the cup of love.
  • Red led men to the heifer that fell in the dell.
  • Maimed animals may become mean.
  • It’s time to buy a nice limeade for a dime.
  • Oil soils doilies.
  • Flip a coin, Roy, you have a choice of oysters or poi.
  • Sheep shears should be sharp.
  • At her leisure, she used rouge to camouflage her features.
  • There’s your cue, the curfew is due.
  • It was the student’s duty to deliver the Tuesday newspaper.
  • He feels keen as he schemes and dreams.
  • Much of the flood comes under the hutch.
  • Boots and shoes lose newness soon.
  • Ruth was rude to the youthful recruit.
  • Vivid, livid, vivifying.
  • Vivid experiences were lived vicariously.
  • Oddly, the ominous octopus remained calm.
  • The pod will rot if left on the rock.
  • Look, you could put your foot on the hood and push.
  • Nat nailed the new sign on the door of the diner.
  • Dale’s dad died in the stampede for gold.
  • Thoughtful thinkers think things through.
  • Engineer Ethelbert wrecked the express at the end of Elm Street.
Kate Peters strength training workout for your voice

Kate Peters (reference below) recommends the following:

  1. Breathe deeply and exhale on a hisssssssing sound.  Repeat 10 times.
  2. Say “Mm-mmm (as in yummy) Mmm-hmm (like yes) ” Repeat 5  times.
  3. Say “Mm-mmm.  Mmm-hmm.” up and down your vocal range, from low to middle to high and back again, 10 times.
  4. Raise your volume a bit and say “Mmmmmmmmy name is…” Repeat this ten times up and down your vocal range.
  5. Say “Ney, ney, ney, ney, ney” loudly but without yelling 10 times up and down your vocal range.
  6. Starting at mid range, make a siren sound with Oooo and Eeeee by sliding down your vocal range several times, starting higher each time.
  7. Say “Mmmmmmm” until you feel a buzzy sensation in the front of your face. Repeat 5 times.
  8. Now, for isolation of muscles for articulation, try some tongue twisters like those below. To get the full workout, say them each several times but only as fast as you can go and keep them clear.  You can increase your speed over time:
    • The blue bluebird blinks.
    • Three free throws.
    • What time does the wristwatch strap shop shut?
    • Strange strategic statistics.
    • Freshly fried flying fish, freshly fried flesh.
  9. To bring it all together, speak a few sentences out loud.  Use an opening or closing of a talk, a favorite poem or long quote, or song lyrics.
  10. Every good work out needs a cool down. End with 5 more big, deep breaths.

Playlist for Vocal Warm-Ups for Public Speaking PlayList, 22 short videos, at, accessed 2 February 2016.

Eric Arceneaux, Professional Vocal Warmup 1 – “Opening Up The Voice,” almost 5 million views on YouTube at,  accessed 31 January 2016.

Eric Arceneaux, Professional Vocal Warmup 2 – “Increasing Vocal Range,” almost 2 million views on YouTube at, accessed 31 January 2016.

Eric Arceneaux, Professional Vocal Warmup 3 – “Improving Vocal Tone (Freeing the Throat),” over 1 million views on YouTube at, accessed 31 January 2016.


Drawn from Marla Beth Elliott, Marla’s Basic Warm Up, at, accessed 2 February 2016; Susan Berkley, Two-Minute Vocal Warm Up, at, accessed 2 February 2016; Kate Peters, 2010, Pump Up Your Speaking Voice with a Strength Training Workout, at, accessed 31 January 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Speaking to Persuade and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 2 February 2016.

Image: Vocal Training, at, accessed 31 January 2016.