Many new students in my public speaking training courses pose the question, “Why do I have shortness of breath while speaking?” or “Why do I feel I can’t get power behind my voice?” Fact is for many beginning public speaking students lack of effective breathing has a serious impact on their speaking capacities. This common experience of the beginning speaker arises from one of many places: Fight or Flight, Glossophobia or even social anxiety. Before we continue let’s explore the physiological commonalities of these experiences:
Accelerated breathing, Shortness of breath, Increased heartbeat, Dry mouth, Sweaty palms, Paling or flushing, Tunnel vision, Tensing of the muscles, Shaking
Of the many symptoms you should note that these states of mind have an impact on your voice and your capacity to deliver with power, vigor and enthusiasm. The good news is you can learn new positive habits and overcome these tired old ones to deliver with the full power of your vocal capacity.
Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing
In this type of breathing we breath deeply from the abdomen rather than from the chest. When we inhale the stomach goes out — instead of in. Practicing breathing in this way will not only calm you down (if you feel nervous) but it will yield power to your voice. Coupled with the techniques below you will notice the improvement.
Breathing Easy is as Easy as 1-2-3
Often new students in speaking don’t breathe with the required depth to give them vocal power. I encourage all my students to use a counting method of 3 seconds inhale and 3 seconds exhale while practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing. I encourage my students to involve all of their senses and intelligences in their exercises so as to find a combination that works best for them. I find that coupling the 1,2,3 exercise with saying a positive word like, “peace” or “focus” helps many students. Many students also find positive visualizations a potent tool for focusing during these exercises. It is important to note, I recommend this 1,2,3 breathing technique prior to a speech or during a stressful moment during a speech – not as a consistent breathing pattern. In most speaking situations you should simply breath deep diaphragmatic breaths.
Being aware of your own emotional state is a powerful signal of emotional intelligence. Prior to or during a speaking situation you should practice the awareness of your emotional and physiological state. Do you feel short of breath? Are you feeling anxious? If so, you should immediately attempt to practice diaphragmatic breathing, positive visual imagery or even a positive word you repeat in your mind like – “peace”.
Practice doesn’t make perfect because perfection doesn’t exist. What practice does do is it brings us closer to new positive habits that yield the results we want. Now that we have introduced the basics of deep diaphragmatic breathing let’s show an example that brings these techniques together.
Public Speaking Breathing Exercise
I recommend you do this prior to getting up to speak or even during a difficult moment in a speech.
- Stand up straight, shoulder up, head/eyes toward the audience,
- Keep your hands open down by your side.
- Smile. It is proven to change your state of mind and besides — you look and feel better when you do so!
- Breath in a deep diaphragmatic breath in feel your stomach expand. Count 3 seconds – 1,2,3. If you find it helpful, you can also say a word that helps you stay on task such as: “peace” or “focus.”
- Exhales for a full 3 seconds, count it out 1,2,3. As in the inhale, you can also say a word that helps you stay on task such as: “peace” or “focus.” Note that I recommend you do before a speech or during a trying time while speaking. I don’t recommend using the 1,2,3 breathing technique through the entirety of your speech. For that, you should return to deep diaphragmatic breathing pace that feels comfortable for you.
Practice this with awareness and you will note the positive difference in power you yield with your vocal delivery. You can do this before a speech, during a presentation or while practicing. Anytime you practice a new positive habit you are on the way to better vocal delivery.
Not only will these exercises help you be a more powerful speaker but they will also reduce your anxiety because deep breathing calms and focuses the mind. Using the full weight and power behind your voice and you will will impress, influence and entertain audiences everywhere.
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