What ridiculous thing is the ever ethereal Anne Hathaway doing at the Les Misérables premiere?
She’s warming up.
Or, more precisely, she’s demoing one of the insane vocal warmups she did as prep for the epic musical.
Hathaway’s lip flutter may be instructive for the next time you take the stage to present a Power Point. If you’re going to do something vocally demanding, you can’t just master the material; you need to warm up your voice.
“In any presentation your heart is pumping a bit,” says Mary Birnbaum, a New York opera director who moonlights as an executive speaking coach. “You’re probably prepared, but you’re not as warmed up.”
This can cause all sorts of presentation slip-ups. You might lapse into upspeak, that vocal quirk where you end you statements like they’re questions? This habit, it’s been shown, has a way of making people not take you seriously.
Not only that, Birnbaum says that a lack of warm-ups will exaggerate any nervousness you’re feeling. Rather than speaking in your lowest register — which is the most attention grabbing — your voice will jump all over the place. No matter how strong your argument is, you’ll sound foolish if you haven’t taken the steps to say it with authority.
Following Birnbaum’s advice, we can learn from the people who best know how to project from a stage: actors. Let’s take the following cues from Jeannette Nelson, the head of voice at the National Theatre of England.
1. Get your breath fluid.
If you work at a keyboard all day, there’s a good chance that your shoulders are scrunched, your back is hunched, and your jaw is tight — none of which are helpful to fluid, dynamic speaking.
Nelson recommends getting to know the ground to loosen up. It’s easy: just lay down, feel your back on the floor, and breathe naturally. Then, to open up your voice, help out that jaw by giving it a little massage, as these actors do.
It looks silly, but it’s effective.
And yes, you can do it standing up.
2. Then you resonate.
The next tool is surprising: humming.
“We use humming to get a sense of buzz right through the body,” Nelson says, “so that actors are speaking from their whole body.”
Nelson says to hum while moving your body — swing your arms, shake your legs, get a sense of how your voice moves around your body. And your head.
Opening up your voice means screwing up your face, evidently:
By moving the hum around your body — and your face — you’ll be speaking with more of yourself.
3. Then you “open the voice up” by opening up your body.
Your voice radiates up from your lungs, right? So Nelson says to open up your ribs to give those lungs some room. It looks a little like yoga:
4. Warm up the muscles that you articulate with.
“Actors have to have have enormous freedom and dexterity in the muscles of articulation in order to speak clearly,” Nelson says.
To do that, you need to give yourself an “articulation workout,” where you use all the muscles involved in projecting your voice.
The most major muscle, of course, is the tongue.
Do big circles, she says. It works the root of your tongue.
After all these admittedly wacky steps, you won’t just know your material — you’ll be fully warmed up.
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