By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 05-02-2021
Did you know regularly doing breathing exercises will help you become a better public speaker in two important ways?
Good breathing will lower your stress levels, help you let go of fear AND enhance your speaking voice. You gain both confidence and competence. That's significantly less anxiety plus a stronger voice. Yes, it's definitely a win-win.☺
Anxiety makes us 'up-tight' in more ways than one.
If you're familiar with the expression you'll know it generally applies to 'being snappy' or 'short tempered'.
Being up-tight is not only the temporary absence of our usually relaxed easy-going selves. It is also what literally happens physically.
Under stress we tighten our muscles and HOLD the tension we're feeling.
It locks itself into our bodies. The cumulative effect of long term unreleased tension can be varying forms of debilitating and often serious illnesses.
One of the first places tension shows is in our breathing patterns.
Anxiety makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply.
The result is the body perceives itself as being under threat and the automatic primitive survival mechanism fight or flight response takes over.
The direct consequence of anxiety on the quality of your voice is losing control of pitch and tone.
Shallow breathing means you restrict the fullness of sound and range your voice might have. It will sound squeezed or strained because you are talking off the top of your lungs with a tight throat, jaw, mouth and face.
Forcing your voice to over-ride the restrictions is not an answer. It causes damage ranging from reasonably mild inconveniences like a sore throat to serious problems requiring surgical intervention.
Consistently being fearful and therefore breathing shallowly can become a vicious cycle.
The less air we take in, the worse we feel and the less effectively we speak. The less effectively we speak, the worse we feel, and the less air we take in.
The only way to break the cycle is to learn and use good breathing habits.
To get the best from these exercises give yourself unhurried time and wear loose comfortable clothing.
1. Lie on the floor or sit in a chair.
(Either way, make sure your legs are uncrossed.)
2. Use the out breath to hum quietly.
Increase the intensity and volume as you go through each rounds.
3. Use the out breath to sound each of the vowel sounds in turn.
Let each go without force, flowing smoothly from your relaxed throat.
'A' is going to become ahhhhhhh... as in 'are'
'E' is Eeeeeeeeeeeee ... as in 'easy'
'I' is Iiiiiiii ...as in 'eye'
'O' is Ooooooo ...as in 'Oh'
'U' is Uuuuuuuu ...as in 'you'
Feel the shape of the sound in your mouth and enjoy its resonance.
4. Use imagery by adding color.
Imagine your in breath as a light, energy intensive color washing through all the cells in your body from the top of your head to your toes.
Imagine your out breath as clearing away all the debris and dross.
5. Imagine the in breath coming from deep within the earth.
Send it traveling through all your limbs and organs to the top of your head carrying its life giving and grounding forces with it.
6. Use imagery by adding pictures of yourself achieving all that you want to in your speech.
See yourself competent, smiling and confident. See the audience enjoying your talk.
You can use this exercise for breath counting as well. It has the same positive effects as the first exercise with the addition of gentle full body stretching.
For variation, use any of the imagery or sounding suggestions from Exercise one.
I've used this exercise with drama classes during rehearsal and prior to performances. It's made an enormous difference to the overall quality of work as it centers, concentrates and calms.
I also use it for myself whenever I catch myself getting tense. It takes very little time and can be shortened to a mere two rounds if needs be.
The benefits of both these breathing exercises are immediate: psychologically and physically.
Physiologically you are using all of your lungs rather than the top third and have more oxygen in your system. You'll feel better, more able to cope, to think clearly.
An additional benefit is you are strengthening your physical capacity to speak for a longer time, to deal with more complex patterns of language effectively and you won't need to break for breath as frequently.
If you've arrived here at looking for ways to help a child manage public speaking anxiety teach them these breathing exercises. They will understand, particularly if you show and do them with them. I know because I've used them with children. They are effective, even with very young ones.
And then please take a look at my page on 'how to build confidence in a child'.
You'll find suggestions and activities to enhance and foster self esteem suitable for children from kindergarten to approximately 8-9 years old.
(They're able to be easily adapted for children outside those age ranges too.) Although not a quick-fix, they will, with practice, over time really benefit your child.
For a gentle, effective treatment to shift and break the cycle of fear you experience around giving a speech, try self-hypnosis.
For more information on using hypnotherapy to manage public speaking anxiety
If you would like more than these breathing exercises to help either yourself, a child or a friend, please look at my page on acute anxiety help or this one on dealing with public speaking nerves. You'll find many more positive suggestions there.