Public speaking is terrifying for most people. Just the thought of it can make our hands sweat, our heart beat fast and throwing up doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Getting up and presenting to an audience is more than just relaying information; it’s doing our best to get our ideas across. Being able to communicate effectively is important to our business success as well as personal success, whether it’s a presentation we have to do at work, a networking event or a wedding toast. One of the first things that we take for granted when stepping onto a stage is our breathing. So far I haven’t seen anyone pass out on stage because they forgot to breathe; what I have seen is speakers holding their breath and swallowing their words. The throat is tight, the mouth is dry and the sound is not coming across clear and crisp.
That’s when you should remember to be a B.R.A.T. Breathe-Relax-And-Talk.
I have three steps for you to take to calm your nerves, project your voice and breathe through your speech.
Step 1: When we are nervous we tend to take short breaths, which keeps our heart rate up. To reduce anxiety before going onstage, learn to breathe deeply.
Please place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach. I want you to take a deep breath that expands your stomach, not your chest. Inhale through your nose, breathe in for four counts. Hold your breath for four counts and release the air through your mouth for four counts.
This type of deep breathing is great when we are feeling anxious, nervous or ready to punch someone in the face. It will help lower our blood pressure and keep us calm and focused. Before taking the stage, stand up tall, pull shoulders back and take a deep breath. This gives the mind and body a chance to feel confident.
Step 2: Learning how to project our voice without yelling at the audience. It’s important to be heard throughout the room when a microphone is not available. Please stand up. Place one hand on your chest and your other hand in front of your mouth. Take a deep breath and say “Hello. How Are You?” Place your hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath in that expands your stomach. Now place your hand near your mouth and say “Hello. How Are You?”.
The force of air the second time should’ve been stronger than the first. Expanding your stomach with air is how you can use your diaphragm to project your voice. This will make your voice stronger and clearer. This will also give your voice more resonance. Your voice will sound fuller when you breathe from your diaphragm as opposed to breathing from your chest.
When giving a presentation, it’s a good idea to warm up vocal chords and face muscles. Move the jaw around and stretch the mouth. Do a large yawn. Gently move your neck from side to side. Lift your shoulders and release any tension that may be there. Slowly say the vowels A,E,I,O,U and exaggerate each letter. Do some tongue twisters: Red Leather, Yellow Leather, She Sells Seashells by the Seashore, Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers, Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a Bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy Had No Hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy Wasn’t Fuzzy Was He? Here’s a link for more tongue twisters.
Keep your vocal chords from getting dry by staying hydrated, drink water.
Step 3: When you are practicing your speech, practice breathing through your speech. My suggestion for understanding what that means is to put marks on your speech where you should be pausing to take a breath. This will slow down your speech making you aware of pronouncing all of your words. We have all heard people speak and found many of the words inaudible. We know through experience what the person is trying to say, but we are left with the feeling that the speaker isn’t very polished. Breathing through your speech helps you to enunciate, which makes your voice ring clear.
Remember to be a B.R.A.T. Breathe, Relax and Talk. Practice breathing techniques, relax your neck and shoulders and talk at an even pace. All of this will help you become a more effective communicator.
Celeste DeCamps has a B.A. in Communications from the University of Miami. She worked in radio and television, was a professional belly dancer, drummer, percussionist, nightclub owner, and a sales rep for Southern Wine and Spirits for 12 years. Throughout her different career moves, speaking to and teaching women how to be more confident is Celeste's most fulfilling job.