Presentation Skills - Voice Exercises

Photo of presenter

Jane Oakshott
May 2007
Skills Centre
University of Leeds

Presentation description - Jane Oakshott BA, MA, LAMDA (Gold), MBE is a voice and performance coach working with professional voice users in business, the professions and the arts; e.g. public speakers, lawyers, actors. Jane is Trustee of the Voice Care Network UK and an accredited trainer for the Law Society of England and Wales.

Designed & developed by Skills@Library, University of Leeds, 2007

Presentation segments

  1. Introduction
  2. Nerves
  3. Relaxation and balance
  4. Shoulder circle
  5. Elastic rope
  6. Breath Capacity and Control
  7. Whoosh
  8. Mosquito zapping
  9. Clear Speech
  10. Spanish onion
  11. Big Toffee
  12. Intonation and tone
  13. Practise makes perfect


Introduction - link to large slide and long description


Hello everyone, thank you for coming. Today we're going to do a session of exercises to help you give a good performance. Now that sounds awfully 'actory' but I'm meaning performance in real life, in the sort of situations where nerves might strike.


Nerves - link to large slide and long descriptionNerves Where we need to start is 'what do you need out of this?' Everyone has a key thing that if they get that right then everything else will fall into place. So, to make sure we cover the right stuff in this session, it would be useful to know what your particular problems are, and you'll probably find that a lot of your friends will say 'Oh yes! I do that too!' So Jonquille, what do you think? When you get nervous, what goes wrong in you performance? What do you want to combat? When I get nervous I tend to run my words into each other. Okay, thank you. Cristiano, what about you? I tend to mumble. Right, so your voice gets cluttered back in your throat. Yeah. Okay. Lauren? I speak much too quickly and I'm from Manchester anyway so that makes it worse! I don't think we'll hold Manchester against you. James? I find myself stammering, I can't get my words really out. Is that just in presentations or otherwise...? Yes Right, presentations, that's awkward isn't it? And Liam? Erm, I don't really know to be honest with you, not got a clue. Okay well you do have a very tight jaw and your lower lip is quite tense which means that the sound of your voice, although it's a good voice (you've all got good voices actually), but the sound of your voice can't get out beyond your teeth, so we need to work on that. Alright.

Relaxation and balance

Relaxation and balance - link to large slide and long descriptionRelaxation and balance So, the first set of exercises that we're going to do are for the whole body, to open out the area for your lungs to give you more breath space and to make you feel more centred, taller, wider, as if you're taking up the space you deserve. And the effect of that will be to make you feel less nervous and generally more assured because you know you look good, and once you know you look good you'll feel better about your audience.

Shoulder circle

Shoulder circle - link to large slide and long descriptionShoulder circle Take your shoulders round, really work them up to your ears and a little bit further back so that your hands, your hands are quite loose and they're round about the seam of your trousers, and then let your shoulders go aaahh, slide down your back. So what you've done is taken them in a big circle and then, so they're working here, and then aaahh down your back. And the effect of that is going to be that instead of you carrying (anyone who is slightly round shouldered and you know who you are); instead of carrying your arms which weigh something like 60 pounds, instead of carrying them on these muscles and on the muscles up the back of your neck, you have them sliding down your back and counterbalanced by your feet. So instead of carrying around 60 pounds weight, you're actually just standing there carrying absolutely nothing.

Elastic rope

Elastic rope - link to large slide and long descriptionElastic rope Right, following the shoulder exercise this one, elastic rope, is a really good one to make you feel you own the world; and all it is, it's a mind game. Imagine that you have a piece of elastic rope coming out of your spine, through the crown of your head and it's attaching you to the ceiling. Now that piece of elastic is just a fraction too short, alright. So it's pulling you slightly off the ground, not forwards, not backwards, your head's not going anywhere but it is just pulling your spine up a little bit. Can you just feel that so that you're fractionally coming off the ground, in other words your weight is going slightly forward over your toes rather than back on your heels? So it's just a mind thing, you're not actually coming off the ground necessarily. Start like that of course, but then gradually see if you can get the feeling without your heels leaving the ground; once you've got the idea of coming up through your spine. That's lovely, that looks really good; really good.

Breath Capacity and Control

Breath Capacity and Control - link to large slide and long descriptionBreath Capacity and Control So, having made space for the lungs to work, we need help for the muscles that do the breathing, that is the rib muscles and, very important, the diaphragm. Have you noticed when you're nervous, it's the diaphragm which ceases up? That's what makes the butterflies happen. If you can work your diaphragm at your own will, then nerves won't have an effect on you.


Whoosh - link to large slide and long descriptionWhoosh This is an exercise to help you do that and it's called Whoosh. To do it, breathe out and then let air back in comfortably then with that air just say 'Whooshhhh...' Whooshhhh... Good, there's a lot of pressure there. Now when you said that 'shhhh' could you feel the tightening here? That's where your diaphragm is. I'd like you to do that again, in other words breathe out, get rid of stale air, allow fresh air back in and then again say 'Whooshhhhh...' and really feel that muscle working to the very end of your breath. In your own time. Whooshhhh... Excellent, good.

Mosquito zapping

Mosquito zapping - link to large slide and long descriptionMosquito zapping Okay, so moving on from Whoosh, this is an exercise which really gives force to that sound, and also, as a side effect, gives you focus when you're talking to your audience. And I call it Mosquito Zapping. I'd like you to imagine that your mouth has a laser in it and that laser is the air coming out. Imagine you can see mosquitoes around the room, just above your eye level, and I'd like you to zap one at a time with that laser gun, and the sound is like when you make a sneeze. You know that sound 'ch', okay. Can you all do that, 'ch'? Ch. Right, now imagine that 'ch' is actually a deadly dart coming at a mosquito, you have to aim at it with your eyes, and then 'ch'. So like any other breathing exercise breathe out, get rid of stale air, take in a comfortable breath, and then 'ch'. Ch. Good. Now on the next breath we're going to breathe out, breath in comfortably do 3 mosquitoes, see each of them. Ch, ch, ch. Ch, ch, ch. Very good.

Clear Speech

Clear Speech - link to large slide and long descriptionClear Speech Obviously when you talk to people, the place where you have to begin is that they need to hear what you're saying. Not at a volume either, you can talk REALLY LOUD and be unclear. What's very important is clarity of speech, much more important than being loud. So what do you do to make your voice clearer? Where the words are shaped is actually in your mouth, with the lips and the tongue. They chop up the sound as it comes through and make it into words.

Spanish onion

Spanish onion - link to large slide and long descriptionSpanish onion So, a really good exercise for relaxing your mouth muscles and making them more flexible is this, it's really easy. Shut your lips and say 'onion' four times over. [With lips shut] Onion. Onion. Onion. Onion. Good, excellent. Now say it without shutting your lips. Onion. Onion Okay, and enjoy the feeling of being able to open your mouth. So three times through, onion, with your mouth closed and then the fourth time, hooray! I can open my mouth! So. [With lips shut] Onion. Onion. Onion. Now open. Onion. Excellent.

Big Toffee

Big Toffee - link to large slide and long descriptionBig Toffee This is another exercise to help the words, your words, to come out more clearly by working the muscles of your mouth. Behind your teeth you will find if you put your tongue on your teeth, take it back a little bit, there's a hard ridge. And in that ridge there's an arch right in the middle. Put the tip of your tongue on that arch, like that, and keep it there whilst you say the days of the week very clearly. As in: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday etc. Can you do that? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... Move your mouths, move everything else. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Right the more you move your jaws and your lips, the better the words will come out. Let's do it one more time, half way through the week with your tongue here and then the rest of the week from Thursday onwards, no let's have the weekend free. So Monday to Friday is cluttered up and then Saturday, Sunday! You can move everything again. And make sure the tongue isn't behind your teeth; make sure it's on the arch, here, further back, okay. So, when you're ready. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, [clearly] Saturday, Sunday. Lovely.

Intonation and tone

Intonation and tone - link to large slide and long descriptionIntonation and tone Of course, the end product we will hope in our own voice is going to be that it's interesting and that people will want to listen to it. And a lot of that comes from the way the tune of the voice goes, the pitch variation. To a certain extent, if you do the exercises for clarity, in other words those which make the lips and tongue work harder, so all the lip and tongue sounds come out firmer; (as in the difference between buh and BUH, just as one example); then your voice will gain interest, anyway, it will gain energy and tune. But one to give you practice in varying your pitch is a favourite singer's exercise called 'Sirening' and to do that you find an 'ng', you know the sound in the middle of 'ringing', 'ng', 'ng', wait tongue goes up at the back and it all comes down your nose, 'ng'. Okay, now on that, imagine you're going along a road and you're coming to a set of traffic bumps so instead of going 'ng' (in a monotone voice) you're going 'ng' [voice goes up and down] and the bumps are getting bigger so it's 'ng' [voice goes up and down but rising more]. Okay, try that, don't forget to breathe. Ng [rising and falling] Well done, and you'd be surprised at how many more notes you've got there from the ones you will use in everyday life. Do you know most people only use about 3 notes in their voice in everyday life? Where as we have 2 octaves to go at. It's amazing.

Practise makes perfect

Practise makes perfect - link to large slide and long descriptionPractise makes perfect