Want to improve your calmness and focus for public speaking? Here's how to breathe to stay calm, focused, and confident.
Do you get nervous when you speak in public? How about when meeting important people, or when a lot is riding on how you come across to others?
Situations like these are a challenge to people the world over. Yet nothing is more exciting than speaking passionately on something you believe in deeply. High-profile talks and even remarks have changed history, inspired millions, created instant superstars, altered individual lives forever, and rallied entire nations to action.
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Even on an everyday level, getting your ideas across confidently and with maximum focus will help you achieve your goals and those of your company or organization. So how can you make sure you're centered, in-the-moment, and up to the task?
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Why Public Speaking Is Easier Than You Think
So speaking in a way that accomplishes these important goals must be difficult, right?
Actually, it's relatively easy. And with practice and experience, sharing your thoughts with audiences large and small can be immensely satisfying. Stage fright can be a significant hurdle, of course; but even gaining confidence as a speaker is less painful than you might imagine.
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In fact, there's a simple skill that can boost your confidence while contributing hugely to your speaking success. It's so mundane and obvious that you may be ignoring it completely. So here's the amazing secret to more confident and dynamic public speaking: breathe.
Learning How to Breathe for Public Speaking
"Well, I'm already doing that!" I can hear you thinking; "And I'm still nervous!"
It's true that what's called "breathing for life" doesn't help you much in public performances. Vegetative breathing like that is a more or less autonomic response that doesn't require effort. Breathing for speech, however, is different. For one thing, when speaking to an audience, you need more oxygen to project sound outward. You also need to lengthen your exhalation, since speech depends upon controlled outward breath.
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Equally important, you have to unlearn the habit of breathing shallowly. Vocalized sound requires you to learn to breathe diaphragmatically or "belly breathe." The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that flattens out when the lungs above it expand. That flattening pushes out your abdominal muscles—which is why your belly moves outward when you inhale.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a bellows-like action that allows your lungs to expand fully while helping to produce a full reservoir of air. That's the level of oxygen you need to produce strong and resonant speech—the kind that has the sound of authority.
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How to Breathe Diaphragmatically
Here's how to breathe diaphragmatically or belly-breathe: Stand at ease, with your dominant hand on your belly, i.e., the place that goes in and out most noticeably when you breathe. That's your diaphragmatic area. Take relaxed, medium-deep breaths. Feel the bellows action down there? You should, easily. Watch the video below to see diaphragmatic breathing in action.
There are some other very positive effects from using this humble but amazing tool of voice production. When you combine it with practical speech techniques, for instance, you'll begin to understand the vital skill of using your voice to convince others.
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To give you a handy summary, here are six benefits of using your diaphragm to breathe well. Together, they go far beyond the simple production of sound. These benefits help create credibility, authority, and believability in you as a speaker—all attributes you need for public speaking success.
Six Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Slows your heart rate and calms you physically.
- Provides oxygen to your brain.
- Aids your stance and appearance, avoiding a "caved in" look.
- Creates the sound of authority.
- Supports sound to the end of the sentence, where the important words come.
- You appear confident and in control (rather than gasping for breath).
So, in the order of the list above, diaphragmatic breathing will: (1) Reduce your nervousness, (2) keep you sharp and mentally present, and (3) help you appear prepared and professional. It will also (4) make your arguments credible and persuasive while you (5) "punch" the important words and phrases that drive your story. Finally, it (6) gives the impression that you're a practiced speaker who's completely in control.
But don't take my word for it. Listen to one of the greatest poets in our language. "And the heart must pause to breathe," wrote Lord Byron.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Proper breathing is amazing in its ability to strengthen your presence.
- Breathing for speech requires you to "belly breathe."
- Diaphragmatic breathing oxygenates your brain and keeps you in control.
- A voice that's well supported by breath has the sound of authority.
- Important words often come at the end of the sentence and need breath!