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[Speaking-Out-Loud March 2017] My mother has a message for you! Breathe.
March 09, 2017

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Just breathe

My mother was famous throughout the family for her one stop cure-all. It didn't matter what the situation was, her first response was always a command.

As a child when I discovered my beloved cat dead on the road, and ran to her screaming, she took me by the shoulders and said "Breathe!"

My brother and I used to quarrel. When the door slamming, stomping, and shouting had given way to sobbing her first word to either of us was "Breathe!"

I remember turning to stone through fear while standing in the wings of a stage and being unable to move on my cue. Her answer? "Breathe!"

Breathing. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches:

“Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.”

My Mother and he were in agreement. Good breathing is essential for well being.

Take a good deep breath

Here's the paradox. When we are tense, under pressure, and anxious one of the first things we unconsciously do is hold our breath, breathe irregularly and off the top of our lungs. That is we breathe very shallowly - not using the full capacity of our lungs.

Breathing like that, either held, irregularly or shallowly, heightens and increases tension and anxiety. I'm sure you'll know that for yourselves. You'll also know that if breathing is affected by anxiety then so too are voices.

Under stress they become strained in tone and higher pitched. Words may flow less fluently, be mumbled and less distinct. Speech is too fast, too slow, and littered with "ums", "ahs" and "likes".

If left unchallenged poor breathing and poor speaking unite in a vicious circle - each enabling and strengthening the other.

Dismantling tension

The very first place to start dismantling whatever tension you experience though speaking in public is through breathing well.

Here's a simple exercise. Use it when you realize you are beginning to do the things you normally do when you're under stress. Eg. bite your nails, check everything for the umpteenth time, gabble, or snap at people without provocation. You can do it anywhere!

  1. Stand with your feet a comfortable shoulder width apart.
  2. Support the weight of your body through your hips and legs rather than locking your knees.
  3. Consciously release and relax your shoulders.
  4. If you're holding your stomach in, let it go.
  5. Place your hands on your stomach.
  6. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four. Count slowly. As you inhale feel your diaphragm rising.
  7. Breathe out through your mouth to the count of four and now feel your diaphragm expanding.
  8. Do three rounds of inhaling and exhaling while making sure you keep your shoulders, stomach and legs relaxed.

You'll find when you're through you will be more relaxed, alert and able to think and speak more clearly.

You can find variations on this exercise, as well as links to more, here.

If you routinely find yourself dealing with the side effects of public speaking nerves, please try this exercise. Your voice will be better, stronger, more resonant and flexible. You'll control your speech rate more easily and more effectively, AND you'll feel more confident.

As my mother would say, breathe!

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From the there is always something to learn department has pulled together literally dozens of interesting articles on public speaking. They include one on something that's been on my to do list for quite awhile - getting involved in stand up comedy! Perhaps this will be the year.

Presentation tips, suggestions for getting over fear, interviews ...They're all here. Have a look. You'll find it well worth your time.

Comment, share & connect

If you've got comments, feedback or questions you're most welcome to contact me through my about me page.

If you liked this issue of Speaking-Out-Loud, please feel free to send it on to any friends or family. The site url to forward so they can subscribe is Speaking-Out-Loud.

And I'd love to see you on's face book page too.

Until next time,
Happy speaking,


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