And breathe… breathing is a fundamental part of life, it keeps us upright and moving. And more than that – proper breathing when giving a speech or presentation can give you that extra edge!
It’s all too common watching someone crumble as they have to give a presentation; they rush their words and run out of air and then a gasp, swallowing their words and getting more stressed until, in the worst case scenarios, they break down completely. Proper breathing can stop all that!
Here are five tips to help you master your breathing during a presentation:
- Belly Breathing.
Human beings are designed to use the whole of their lung capacity when breathing. In order to do this you need to breathe from the belly not the chest. With each breathe in push out with your stomach, and then when you relax your stomach the air should come out naturally. This kind of breathing uses more of your lungs which means you take in more oxygen, which is going to help to relax you and release any tension you might be holding on to. As you are speaking try to remember to breathe all the way down to your stomach.
- Breathing rhythm.
We all have a life time’s worth of experience of breathing and we know that deep regular breaths are going to be better for us than short rapid ones – or even long periods without breathing. When writing a speech it is always useful to consider where your breaths will be and to make sure that you put enough commas and breaks in for to you take a breath.
When practising a speech, on one read through just focus on the rhythm of your breathing; are there any parts where you go to long without a breath? Is there anywhere with too many pauses so that your breathing becomes too rapid? A regular and steady rhythm to your breathing can also help maintain the idea in your audience’s mind that you are relaxed and in control. This will make you seem like a more credible and knowledgeable speaker, giving your message more impact and importance.
- Before you speak.
Before you open your mouth to deliver the greatest opening line in the history of public speaking take a couple of deep breathes, then and only then, begin speaking. These first breaths are the equivalent of priming the engine. These are the ones that make sure that you have enough oxygen to get you through the opening; these are the ones that will set the pace and the rhythm for your breathing for the duration of your speech. Just focus on these three first breaths making sure they are deep regular and even. The wonderful plus of these first couple of breathes in silence is that it will attract the attention of the audience and give you a little bit more focus than someone who rushes up and begins speaking straight away.
- Always start on an exhale.
Exhaling is the relaxed part of the breathing cycle – the inhaling takes effort and the use of lots of muscles. We inhale when we are about to do something that is a strain, about to lift a heavy weight or do something unpleasant. We exhale when we relax – after a massage, at the end of a busy day or when we get five minutes to stop, we breathe a big sigh of relief. Starting your speech on an exhale lets everyone know that you are relaxed and comfortable. Starting with an inhale makes people feel on edge and tense.
Smiling helps with breathing. A key part of proper breathing is your face as this is where the air first enters your body and the last place it comes through on the way out. When we are relaxed we breathe more regularly and more deeply. Smiling releases endorphins which help us to relax. In turn this loosens up the face, which improves our ability to take in breaths.
To help you control your breathing there are two exercises you can try:
With the advent of video sharing there is footage of hundreds of powerful people giving speeches available on line to watch for free, watching where other people place their breaths and watching the rhythms that they use will give you a much better idea of where your pauses and breaths should be.
- Belly Breathing help.
If you’re unsure if you are going it right try this simple exercise: lie down on the floor on your back, take a reasonably heavy object (a bag of sugar for example) and place the object on your belly. With an in breath try to lift the object by forcing your stomach out. Now relax, the weight of the object should force the air out like squeezing a balloon. Repeat this as many times as you like until you feel you have the hang of it. At first it will feel a bit weird but if your practise it eventually it will become second nature.
We are not always given the opportunity to prepare a speech or even given a microphone with which to speak and it might be a large room full of people that you need to speak too. Proper breathing will help with your ability to project your voice; it enables you to produce more powerful sounds using the whole of the chest cavity instead of just the throat. It also means that you will have enough oxygen to get through a whole speech without gasping for breath half way through.
In conclusion, by breathing properly and rhythmically you can transform your ability as a speaker, making you more relaxed and more focused. Not only is it simple to master – you already have a lifetime’s worth of experience in doing it! So remember, breathe deep and breathe often!
About the Author
Tom Balmont is from Toastmasters International. He is a professional performer, speaker and trainer. He loves to write and to play the violin (badly).
Tom lives in Reading, Berkshire.
About Toastmasters International
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization’s membership exceeds 292,000 in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are over 250 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.