Can you imagine a professional sports person not warming up before their event? No doubt they would experience all sorts of problems both physically and mentally. From a physical perspective their muscles and joints would not be limbered up, not primed to perform at their best and there would be a strong risk of injury. Mentally, they would need to take some time to focus on the task at hand, to eliminate distractions and ensure they have a winning mind set. They will have visualised their desired outcome many times in their preparation and they will likely run that movie again in their head just prior to their event. Many sports people have a routine that they repeat before each event or match and some are quite superstitious about ensuring that this takes place each time.
Performers also have to warm up physically and mentally to ensure that they are in control of their body and voice, as well as ensuring that they are totally focused on their performance. A proper warm up is vital in so many areas where peak performance is crucial to getting exceptional results. So why is it that so many people fail to prepare their mind, voice and body prior to delivering an important presentation, pitch or speech?
Most professional speakers have some sort of routine to prepare them for a speaking engagement. I personally wouldn’t dream of delivering a speech, training session or presentation without first preparing my body, voice and mind. My background as an actor has provided me with a variety of techniques that I now incorporate into my preparation routine prior to a speaking engagement. I’ve included them in the list below along with warm up tips from other professional speakers.
- Breathe deeply into the diaphragm and slowly exhale to assist with energy levels, supporting the voice and controlling nerves
- Arm swings in opposite directions help get the blood pumping; if you circle them all the way around it facilitates the left and right side of the brain working together and if you concentrate your eyes on a single spot it helps to focus the mind and centre your body
- Another left brain/right brain activity is to touch your elbow to the opposite knee, (right elbow to left knee, then left elbow to right knee) bringing the knee up and the elbow down to meet it; then swap sides, and do it at least 4 times
- Squeeze and release muscles around the body especially the shoulders to help with relaxation
- Shake the body to release any tension as well as energise your body
- Roll the shoulders and gently stretch the neck muscles to free up the neck and throat which is important for vocal control and projection
- Check your posture and the position of your arms and legs so that you are not hunched forward or crossed (even when sitting waiting to speak) as this can impact on your confidence and expressiveness
- Warm up the voice with some gentle humming at various pitches and open it out into a ‘maaaahhhh’ sound which will help with tone, projection and flexibility
- Rub your jaw joints with your fingers, massage your face and neck, poke your tongue in and out and roll it around the inside of your mouth to wake up your articulators
- Recite some tongue twisters, trying to incorporate as many different letters and sounds as possible to ensure that your speech is crisp and clear and you don’t ‘trip over’ your words
- Do a quick mental check of what you want to bring to the presentation and what you want to achieve as a result of your talk
- Remind your butterflies to fly in formation
- Some people find a short mediation or prayer is helpful for calming nerves and focusing the mind
- Others find that listening to a certain piece of music or song gets them in the right frame of mind (upbeat for energy, calming if you’re too jumpy)
- Decide to enjoy yourself as this will maximise the chance of the audience enjoying themselves
- Find a mantra that works for you and repeat it to yourself e.g. ‘I’m calm, I’m confident, I’m in control’ or ‘I now command my subconscious mind to assist me in helping as many people as possible’
- Empty your mind of your speech; stop the mental rehearsing and trust that your preparation will enable you to say exactly what you need to say, when you need to say it and in the way you need to say it
- Arrive early and ensure the space is set up the way you expected it or work out how you will adapt
- Thoroughly check all of your equipment and decide where you will put any notes, water, etc
- Walk around the room and check out the stage area from the audience perspective
- Stand on the stage, check out all the areas, walk around the space and visualise yourself succeeding so that when you stand up to speak you will own the space
- If there is an opportunity, some speakers like to get to know the audience beforehand, meeting, chatting, shaking hands and finding something interesting, positive or common to note as a way to develop rapport with them and to weave into their presentation
- Note the smiley faces – it’s always easier to connect with a smiley face in the first few minutes of your talk
- No matter how many people in the audience, they are listening to you one at a time; therefore, remind yourself to speak to them as though you are having a one on one conversation
- Remember that it’s not about you or even how technically well you present, it’s all about the connection and the message you are bringing to the audience
Every speaker is individual and will require a different preparation. My advice is to find what works for you and make sure that you do it every time you speak to ensure that you give each audience the best delivery possible. If you already have a warm up routine, share your tips in the comments section. If not, try incorporating some of the above tips into your preparation prior to your next presentation and let me know how you get on. Here’s to your continued speaking success!