Warming Up

By Matthew C Wallace

…and I don’t mean heating up.  I’m, also, not making chicken noodle soup.  No, no.  I mean warming up yourself for an event, game or match.  Before a game, athletes warm up, right?  They stretch.  They run in place.  They perform drills.  They psyche themselves up.  They review things with a coach.  In fact, most have a routine they follow which limbers them up mentally and physically for the forthcoming game.

What about announcers?  Do they warm themselves up?  Some do.  Some don’t.  The better ones do.  Why?  They want to be at their best on the mic.   If you don’t warm up, little things happen no matter how good you are.  The voice pops.  Complex names get stumbled over.   Generally, more boo-boos happen than normal.  Not warming up is how athletes end up playing badly (and in some cases, injured).  Not warming up is how announcers end up performing poorly.

Public Address Announcer Best Practices

There should be the “ROUTINE“.  I am not an expert but, I have my way and know, with certainty, that others have theirs.  With a routine, a person can build a practice.  Nearly all professionals, regardless of vocation, have a practice they follow.  The top dogs have their practice down to an efficient science.  The champions of a profession leverage best practices into a veritable art.

Let’s take any sports contest.  My first order of duty, upon arrival and as silly as this sounds, is to use the restroom.  Using the restroom reduces stress.  Even if I don’t have to “go“, I go splash some water on my face and wash my hands.  It’s amazing what a calming effect washing one’s hands has.  If my throat is not feeling 100%, I will bring a bottle of salt water and gargle in the restroom.  I might even return at halftime and gargle again to refresh and reinforce.

Public Address Announcer Checklist

My next step is to go setup.  I put together a small mic stand.  I test the microphones.  I check all my paperwork.  I clean my glasses.  I check that all the rosters match the official documents.  I connect with keep people like the SID and the scorekeeper.  I take a look to see if the officials have arrived.  I tape papers down…and so on…and so on…  This is so routine for me that I even drew up a checklist of everything and, as my practice, I check off each item on the check list every single time.  Irrespective that it is memorized, I check it off.  We are human and prone to forget.  The list keeps me on a straight line rambling forward towards the game.  Believe me, it works.

Nearing the bottom of my checklist is an item labeled Warm-Up.  This item comprises all the components to get me set to speak.  I stretch first.  I open my mouth really wide several times to loosen my jaw.  I stretch out a smile or a frown to work on my lips.  I rub my hands all over my face and neck as if I’d been sitting in a chair studying a book for hours.  I’m sort of massaging my face and neck if I stop to think about it.  However, this activity reduces tensions and loosens all associated muscles that I have in my face and neck.  It refreshes me in the most peculiar way.  Try it.  Take both hands, right now and rub them once over your forehead, cheeks, nose and neck.  It feels good, doesn’t it…:)

Public Address Announcer Rotate Neck

I follow all this up by rotating my head and neck around nice and slow.  No, I do not want to throw up.  No, I don’t want to crack the bones in my neck but, I do want to limber up that neck and bit of my shoulders.  Lastly, I pull my arms back then straight up then out forward.  My goal in all this is to limber up my upper body for speaking for 2-3 hours straight.  Everything in the human body is connected; therefore, the chest, shoulders, neck, nose, jaw and face all work together in concert.  It’s common sense.  The heart, lungs and other organs are in play, too but, I digress.

I read a warm up article for singers which suggested even the legs and feet affect the voice.  One singer used yoga before she sang to ready her whole person.  I buy into it.  I do.  Now, I don’t stretch out the whole nine yards but, I do stretch enough of me to reasonably get me going for speaking.  I’ll leave all the yoga for those who like it.

Public Address Announcer Mouth

How about the voice?  Of course!!!  Not warming it would be like a pitcher getting everything about himself ready for the mound but then not throwing any practice pitches before the big ballgame.  How ridiculous would that be?!  There are 5 parts which concern me in warming up my voice: breathing, the box, lips, tongue and teeth.  Oh, please.  How do you warm up teeth?!  You warm up teeth by warming up that jaw.  I stretch my jaw downward as aforementioned and, I have my tongue articulation exercises to get the jaw moving.  Move the jaw, move the teeth.  Consider brushing your teeth before an event as well.  Any nagging bacteria or taste in your mouth is removed.  You feel refreshed for having done it.  When you feel refreshed, the tendency is to become relaxed.  A relaxed announcer is an announcer that can handle anything.

I want to dive into breathing, though.  Speaking is all about the air.  I like to take a nice, slow, steady deep breath in through my nose.  I expel all that air out in a nice narrow, slow stream via my mouth.  Here’s the deal.  When you breathe in through the nose, it heats and moistens the air going in.  Trust me when I say this is good for you.  On top of it, sucking nice slow inbound air streams for a minute will slow down your heart and calm you.  I cannot stresses how important being as calm as possible will help your performance.  In addition, learning to slow breathe teaches you how to control your air.  This is good because you can, ultimately, get more out of one breath, meaning you can speak longer on one breath.  This is really good for some of that never ending copy you get from administrators.  So to get my voice up and running, I take several nice long breaths in and out to start with.

SECRET:  Breathing in through your nose also sends the germs you take in up into the nose, trapping them and keeping the bad stuff from getting into your lungs.  Remember, those nose hairs are like little filters similar to the lint trap in your dryer.  You might just get less colds.  Interesting, huh.  Go check it out.

Before I start to use my voice box, I add oil to the engine.  I drink some water.  The voice likes things wet.  If your voice is dried out, you are done for.  You might as well pack it all in and go home.  For me, personally, it’s got to be water.  Not coke.  Not coffee.  Not milk.  Water is the universal treatment for the voice.  There is always a bottle of water sitting on the table for me.  Always.  Without, fail.  Forget your water?  Vending machine!  Ask the administrator to get you one.  My face will turn blue telling the world it cannot publicly speak or sing without a wet voice.  Anyone one who speaks or sings professionally knows exactly what I am saying.  AND, the voice dries real easy.  This means a performer is taking a sip frequently throughout an event.  H2O and away we go!  In fact, H2O and we can keep on truckin’!

Public Address Announcer Engine

I will stick with the engine analogy.  Time to turn my engine over.  For me, this means fluttering lips, uttering vowels, working tongue twisters and reading copy/rosters.  I do about 5 to 10 minutes of this fully functional nonsense.  Lips, teeth and tongues make the consonants and vowels come to life.  The box is in the frequency business (the notes if you will).  The diaphragm is your volume control because it’s how a person regulates how much air is pushed through.  Cool, huh.  All these parts making things hum.

Fluttering Lips – All I do is blow air through my lips to make bubble noises.  I will do this while making a voice note or just blowing air.  My lips will vibrate so much they start to feel tingly.  This is my cue to stop because I want them warmed up and not numb.  There are lots of letters that depend on the lips like B, P, F, M, V, and Y.

Vowels – A E I O U.   Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.   Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.  Oooooooooooooooooooooo.  Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.  Well, there’s a bit more to it than that.  Being an ol’ singer from my dark rock band past, I will do a 5-note scale or two sometimes.  I recommend adding consonants that trouble you.  For me, “TH” is a nightmare due to my overbite.  So, it’s not unusual to find me saying, “Thoooooooooooooooooooooo” prior to working.  Vowels rev up the voice engine.  If you manipulate your volume in the process, you engage the diaphragm, too.

Public Address Announcer Tongue Twisters

Tongue Twisters – I pile all activities that stretch and exercise all the components of your engine into Tongue Twisters.  Voice articulations are the most rudimentary form.  They are basic and simple but, highly effective warmers.   A super simple example would be: ba da ba da ba da ba da ba da bah.  We’ve actually assembled a wonderful collection of terrific twisters right here on this site.  Simply, click Tongue Twisters.

Public Address Announcer Athletic Drills

Try different rhythms to work your speaking dexterity.  LA LA LA LA or LALA LALA LALA or LALALA LALALA LALALA.  Change where the syllables are accented.  All this behavior sharpens a person.  Now you know why Coach always moved those cones around on the field and said, “…run left, right, left, right, backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards, jump…”  He was working your agility.  As a speaker, this is how I get that same agility with my mouth.  Here’s the thing.  You never know what you are going to have to say.  It’s so easy to find yourself having to speak some rhetoric that moves your mouth quickly and “every-which-away“.  Luck favors the prepared.  Yah.

Turning it all up a notch is the short tongue twisters like “Unique New York.  New York Unique”.  Say that 5 times quick.  You’ll see.  Tricky at first but, gets easier with practice.  Then, there are the Big Mommas:

  • Sally sells sea shells on the sea shore. The shells that Sally sells are sea shells I’m sure. So if Sally sells sea shells on the sea shore, then I’m sure Sally sells sea shore shells!  (Replace Sally with She and watch the difficulty double)
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.  A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.  If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.  Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • Theophilus Thadeus Thistledown, the succesful thistle-sifter,
    while sifting a sieve-full of unsifted thistles,
    thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.
    Now, if Theophilus Thadeus Thistledown, the succesful thistle-sifter,
    thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb,
    see that thou, while sifting a sieve-full of unsifted thistles,
    thrust not three thousand thistles through the thick of thy thumb. (My favorite.  Remember, “TH” is my pain.)

All these articulations get the coordination going between all the components for speaking.  They position your jaw, shape your lips, work your tongue, limber up that diaphragm, vibrate the box and, most importantly, reduce anxiety.  Going back to engine analogy, the pistons, plugs, injectors, etc., etc. seem to work so much better when you turn it on and let it run for a few moments.  The car does not exactly get going very well when you just flip it on, throw it immediately in gear and go.  In addition, this behavior damages the engine over the long haul.  Not warming up and just going at it can have the same long-term ill-effects on your voice.  I would not lie to you on this.  Warming up works.  Warming up makes a difference.  Warming up stages your voice for optimum use.  Warming up actually protects your voice.  Warming up,done consistently, reduces nervousness because it builds confidence that you are ready speak to a crowd.

Public Address Announcer Brain Workout

Ok.  Once I feel I’ve heated things up and am ready to roll, I speak the rosters, copy and routine announcements.  That’s right.  I will, actually, sit there (pre-game with the mic off of course) and speak, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to ….”  This part of my little warm-up routine gets the noggin in order.  There’s nothing wrong with puttin’ the brain on a treadmill for a spell.  If my head is not in the game (pardon the pun), I might as well pack up and go home on this issue as well.  I’m going to make mistakes.  I am.  Even the professional champions in the world make mistakes.  But, they are champions because they limit and mitigate them.  That’s what I am trying to do with my PA Announcer’s routine.  BTW, Champions are, generally, pretty heavy on practice and routine.

Listen, a crowd of people are forgiving of a mistake or two.  It happens.  Some will grump no matter what.  Most are forgiving.  Few, however, are forbearing when the speaker stumbles and slurs and mispronounces over and over (especially, the home fans of a ballgame.  man oh man can they get cranky quick, particularly when the home team is losing).  Therefore, conditioning matters.  Warming up matters.  It’s what professional people in any business call “Putting It All Together“.  A professional anything studies, practices, plans, preps, warms-up, executes, cools down and cleans up.  THIS is why warming up should be a big deal to all folks singing, speaking, broadcasting or announcing.  Ok.  So, every announcer is not a pro.  True.  Each person can choose to do what they like.  However, I’m an advocate of doing it right or don’t do it at all.  Even for my Pro Bono affairs, I go through my same drill from end to end.

Public Address Announcer Plowing

Here we go.  I’m closing in on the 0:00 on the clock.  If I’m all stretched and limbered up, if I’ve warmed up my voice and articulators,  if I’ve reviewed the names and copy and if I’ve completed my whole checklist for setup then, I can plow away at the farm of my event with confidence,…ready to tackle any challenge (or tree root…LOL) that comes along.  In other words, I’ve warmed myself up for the crowd!!!  Woo!  Woo!  Woo!

Do tell…what are your pre-game routines?  How do you warm-up?  I’m curious to know as you just might be doing something that I SHOULD be doing.

About Matthew C Wallace

Matthew C. Wallace is the owner of publicaddressannouncer.org. He is a public address announcer, writer, webmaster, historian, author as well as a former executive and musician. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.

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