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QuickBites: How to Breathe Life into Your Presentations

Have you ever been in a car, singing along with your favorite singer, only to run out of breath as she continues to hold a note for a seemingly impossibly long time? How do they do that? They learn to breathe!


You see, we don’t have to think about breathing, so we usually don’t. Awake or asleep, relaxed or exercising, we breathe.


Like many things that are essential to your body, it just happens. But breathing is different from many other actions your body requires to function. Breathing is one of the few bodily functions that can be controlled both unconsciously and consciously. And some amazing things can happen when you control your breathing at the conscious level.


You already know this if you have been coached in singing, playing a wind instrument, sports, meditation, yoga, childbirth, or numerous other activities where particular breathing patterns help.


But how can breathing consciously help you when speaking in public? Well, sit back and breathe as I cover several of the benefits.


When you get stressed or excited – and depending on your viewpoint, your brain considers public speaking to be stressful or exciting – many things happen. First, your brain signals your adrenal glands to release adrenaline into your bloodstream. And then a whole host of things happen to your body. Your heart beats faster, as does your breathing. Your blood pressure increases. You begin to sweat. Your senses heighten. Your ability to feel pain decreases, and your strength increases. You feel a sense of nervousness. This series of reactions is commonly known as an adrenaline rush. And, it can last up to an hour or more!


I’m sure you’ve experienced this, and you might be thinking, “Yes, and I hate it! So how do I make it stop?”


You don’t want to make it stop. Really! What you want to do is harness that energy. And that brings us back to breathing consciously.


When working with my clients, I cover two methods of breathing – diaphragmatic and sighing. Diaphragmatic breathing – also known as deep breathing or belly breathing – helps reduce stress and counteracts, to a degree, the things that happen during your adrenaline rush. But that’s not all it does.


When you fill your lungs with air to the point your belly expands, you have more air available to you when speaking. So, now, you’re able to speak as powerfully at the end of a sentence as you would at the beginning, which is crucial when conveying your message and engaging your audiences. Also, the added oxygen you supply to your brain helps you think more clearly.


But this isn’t something you do just before you speak. Like most aspects of public speaking, you need to practice it. Here’s what I suggest. Find the time when you can faithfully practice this each day. I do it in my car when I stop at red lights. Some people do it just before breakfast and again before they go to bed. Find what works for you.


Here’s how to do it. First, breathe in through your nose until your belly expands as far as it can. Do not hold it. Then slowly let it out through your mouth. And repeat. That’s it, but you need to practice it faithfully.


As for the sighing technique, your body sighs for several reasons, including responding to stress, frustration, and confusion. By quickly filling your lungs with a large volume of air and letting it out, you’re doing a body and brain reset, if you will. So, if you’re not feeling quite right, sign just before you begin to speak, when you pause for a sip of water, or whenever you think it best to do so. Just remember, if you’re mic’d, you need to do it very quietly.


Make these breathing techniques part of your speaking routine, and you’ll feel and hear a difference. And, as an added benefit, you’ll be singing along note for note with your favorite singer!