Do you sometimes have trouble getting the words to come out of your mouth correctly? If so, maybe you need to wake up your mouth and warm up your vocal chords before you teach. Here are some tips guaranteed to improve your diction and help you sound your best—whether you’re doing training or simply giving a talk to your customers or co-workers.

Hum first, talk later
Years ago a voice teacher advised me to speak only in low tones before noon, and to do no coughing or shouting. Like singers, trainers rely on their voices to earn their living, and should take good care of their “instruments.” If you get into the habit of warming up your voice and strengthening it every day, you’ll see noticeable results in the classroom. Special thanks to Barbara Eilert, TechRepublic’s public relations director, for contributing some of the exercises.

General voice maintenance
Your voice is a delicate instrument. Here are some tips to keep it healthy and strong:

  • Your vocal chords wake up a little more slowly than the rest of your body. Don’t shout, yell, sing, or even talk too loudly the first thing out of bed. Start humming in the shower.
  • If you have to teach the first thing in the morning, warm up thoroughly in the car on the way to work.
  • Try to avoid coughing.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drinks lots of water!

Vocal exercises
Here are some easy exercises you can do to stretch the muscles you use to talk. Practice these on a daily basis:

  • With your mouth closed, start with a low hum, gradually building up to a loud hum with a wide open “mah” sound. Do this several times.
  • Repeat these phrases several times in a row: unique New York; round and down; red rubber baby buggy bumpers; eee-yaaa; red leather, yellow leather.
  • Pick up the newspaper, pick a story, and read it aloud, to yourself, in front of a mirror.

The diction pencil
Here’s a good one. Take a clean pencil, hold it between your teeth — not biting on it, but at the very edge of the top and bottom front teeth — and talk. Try to use words with the s, v, f, and “th” sounds. With and without the diction pencil, try these classic tongue twisters:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Sally sells seashells by the seashore.

I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.

The sixth sheep’s sixth sheep’s sick.

Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.

Betty Botter bought a bit of bitter butter.
If you’ve got a good tip for better public speaking, please send me a note and share it with your fellow trainers.