Many people who come to me for help with their public speaking and presentation skills suffer from pre-speech nerves. One of the things they want is a simple effective cure. The good news is that there are a number of tried and tested techniques proven to alleviate this problem. I’m a believer in going for the simplest solution first and so today I’m going to concentrate on a little breath work.

How we breath has powerful physiological and psychological effects. Breathing is something we all take for granted but recent research has shown that up to 1/3 of adults suffers from a condition called paradoxical breathing. When we breath properly, our brain gets all the oxygen it needs to function properly and we feel confident. When we breath to shallowly, we starve our brain of oxygen which makes us feel anxious and confused.

Have you ever done any form of exercise, meditation or relaxation technique which has required you to pay attention to your breathing?
If you have you will have already experienced something called the “relaxation response”, where deep, slow, conscious breathing leads quickly to feelings of relaxation and calmness.

You can utilise this technique to calm yourself prior to or even during a stressful speech or presentation. To do this all you need to do is take three deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathe in to a count of 6, hold for a count of 4 and then exhale to a count of 8. As you breath in, you should notice that your abdomen expands and when you breath out you should contract your abdomen, bringing your navel towards your spine.
As you do this you will become aware of a deep feeling of relaxation and calmness spreading throughout your body.

Prior to a presentation you can add a little variation to this by imagining that, every time you breath in, you are breathing in a quality that will help you e.g. confidence, or focus or relaxation. When you exhale, imagine that you are breathing out a quality that you don’t want e.g. fear or nerves or uncertainty.

Breathing properly has some additional benefits too. Your breath is the fuel behind your voice and deep “belly” breathing allows you to speak clearly and to project your voice without straining. Breathing properly will also help you to slow down your delivery and so give it more clarity and impact.

1 Comment

  1. Joe Jordan on 24/10/2007 at 14:09

    I learned the value of proper breathing while standing on a small cable 15 feet above the middle of a raquetball court. I was engaged in an indoor ropes course and while trying to cross the court, my adrenaline level skyrocketed. My legs started shaking uncontrollably. My “coach” who was safely standing on the floor calmly told me I had more adrenaline than I needed and that if I started breathing deeply the shaking would dissipate. Right!

    I took her advice and within seconds my legs calmed to a point where I could again walk and I safely crossed the court.

    I draw on that experience whenever I find myself getting wound up before a speech. A few deep breaths and my adrenaline moves from my chest to the rest of my body as I get up to speak to an audience with ease.

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