One of the best things that you can do for yourself, in any public speaking situation, is to breathe well. It will help both your delivery and your nerves.
But what does ‘well’ mean? In short, breathing deeply, in a relaxed manner. Easily said, but the reality is that when under pressure many of us find ourselves taking short, shallow breaths, up high in our chest.
When in a public speaking situation, combined with a hit of adrenalin, and not taking enough pauses, you can wind up feeling more and more breathless, like you can’t catch yourself up.
The good thing is that this is a pattern that you can change really quickly and easily. I recommend the following, because it’s simple, and I’ve seen it work for both myself and my clients.
Do this now. Don’t wait until you’re up there and speaking to work on your breathing…
- Breathe out – as fully as you can, until it feels like there’s no more breath in your lungs.
- Then just let the breath come back in – through your nose or your mouth, either way.
- That’s it. Now take a break from your focus on breathing for a moment. Go with whatever suits. I often want to yawn, move my head from side to side, or stretch my arms above my head.
- When you’re ready, do it again. Breathe out as fully as you can, until it feels like there’s no more breath left. Then let the air flow back in. Now relax your focus again…for example, walk around, or if sitting, release your shoulders back and down.
- Once you feel comfortable with these sensations – once it feels easy and good – work towards counting in your mind as you breathe out and in, keeping the exhale nice and long and steady.
(Sitting here in my chair I just breathed out for 8 and in for 6. Then out for 10 and in for 8. You’re not trying to break any records, just exhale fully, and then get a nice, full, easy breath in.)
If at any point this feels too weird, or you’re overthinking it, just stop. Shake your arms out, walk around, take the focus off your breathing. No problem.
What you are doing here is getting comfortable with slowing and deepening your breathing. You will naturally be taking deeper breaths.
By comparison, if I was to just to tell a new client to ‘take a deep breath’, the most common response would be a big, quick effort – resulting in shoulders pulling up to their ears, and the tension that comes with trying hard. The same can happen if we jump into anatomical explanations too quickly. You can always read up on the diaphragm if you are interested but more important is to find something practical and easy that works.
Focusing on the exhale in this way (to slow and steady your breathing) is a really useful thing to practice in everyday situations, for example: when you’re running late and feel rushed; when you sense that tightness in your chest that can come with both anxiety and excitement; when you feel like you can’t get your words out; when you feel shaky and unfocused; and yes, importantly, as preparation before you go out in front of people to give a talk.
Also keep in mind that it’s never too late to stop, pause, and reset. Even during a talk. If you start feeling breathless…pause, smile at the audience and breathe out lightly. Then take an easy breath in.
As with so many of the seemingly basic but important things in life, this is one to come back to again and again. It’s a simple focus. It’s there whenever you need it. And it really works.
Have a great week.