3 simple lessons in public speaking – (heavy) breathing made easy

What would you rather do?

  • get a bikini or chest wax (gender dependent)
  • speak in public
  • take a long haul flight with massive turbulence

For many the thought of speaking in public is only marginally less than dying.  Yes dying.  Or perhaps getting the hair ripped off your body or thinking that you’re going to plunge to your death in an airborne metal tube.

Public speaking is a fine art for those who make a living getting up in front of crowds to deliver training & development workshops .  An art that can be betrayed by quick, raspy breathing.  Betrayed by a throat that refuses to work properly and clamps in on itself like a turtle pulling in its head.

We’ve all seen someone desperately trying to cover up their nerves only to be betrayed by breathy breathing.

Here then are three lessons for heavy breathing made easy, aka public speaking with proficiency:

  • Take a drink: and I don’t mean Scotch.  Rather always have water at hand.  The simple task of lifting a glass to your lips will slow you down.  The act of taking a drink and swallowing will relax your throat muscles and allow you to breath easier.
  • Start with what’s easy: when listening to 13 year old Jordan Romero’s tale of climbing Mount Everest I was struck by the fact that it takes 70% of one’s energy just to breathe at that altitude.  On more normal levels, breathing takes about 5% of our energy.  When it comes to public speaking don’t waste 70% of your energy doing something that you can do in 5.  Start with what’s easy.  What you know best.  Which leads me to ..
  • Know your stuff: practice can’t make perfect because you can never predict how someone new to your content will react, no matter if you’ve presented it 5 times or 500 but if you’re confident in your material your brain will less likely slip into lizard mode where it’s only concern is fight or flight.  When in lizard mode up to 25% of blood drains from your brain and heads to your hands. Why?  Because your prehistoric cave person is getting to fight.  Not exactly a recipe for higher level thinking and speaking.  Say no to the lizard by being confident in your content.  You’ll breath easier.

Practice the three simple steps above and you’ll avoid glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) and you’ll breath easier.


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5 Responses to “3 simple lessons in public speaking – (heavy) breathing made easy”

  1. Doug Says:
    July 2nd, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I would add two more – know your space and your technology.

    I always try to arrive at a speaking engagement early (yes I do arrive at places early). Ideally I like to see the space the day before. Basic things like how the chairs set up, where are the bathrooms, and lighting (i.e. if you are using a projector, can you dim the room enough), put me at ease. (also, you can score the white chocolate macadamian cookies before everyone else does :>))

    As for technology my motto is never trust anyone (especially when they say everything is fine) – if you can carry all your own stuff, and always have backups of backups. Does you computer connect to their projector? Are you Mac or PC ?- if you are Mac beware of the many quirks of projectors geared to PCs (I carry three different types of adapters). Do they have speakers and do they have enough ummph to be heard in the back of the room (NEVER rely on your internal computer speakers)? Carry your presentation on a thumb drive in case you have to put it on the house computer. And, lastly, if possible, connect with the tech person beforehand so you can create a rapport and get an idea if s/he knows what their doing.

  2. Linda Gabriel Says:
    July 2nd, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Great suggestions Lee-Anne. Isn’t it interesting that fear of public speaking is so widespread? I’m not sure where that originates. Middle School? Or maybe “cave man days” when being rejected from the tribe could be a survival issue.

    When overcoming any fear, breath is key. There’s a reason we hypnotherapists usually begin every session with the suggestion, “Close your eyes and take several slow, deep, relaxing breaths.” A few deep belly breaths enhance circulation and also shift brainwaves into a more efficient frequency.

    Although people are terrified to let the audience know they are nervous, it can be a big ice breaker to just admit it and even joke about the fact you are scared. It can get the audience on your side. I once saw a speaker use this to his advantage so well I began to suspect whether he really was nervous at all. Nevertheless he had the audience eating out of his hand and when he did make booboos, everyone laughed, including him.

  3. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    July 3rd, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Completely agree. We write into our contracts with clients that participants need to have sight lines to the front of the room where we’re speaking. Sounds obvious (duh!) but we’ve been in a few pickles that caused the contract clause. For example a massive fireplace (think something the size that would heat a castle) was smack in the middle of the room for a two day training. This meant I couldn’t stand in any one place and see everyone. I spent the whole time dancing back and forth. Good exercise for me but frustrating for the participants.

  4. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    July 3rd, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Hi Linda
    Yes, I think it’s something primal. Funny how something as simple as breath makes such a huge difference. Interesting to hear it from your, a hypnotherapist, view. I also agree with your suggestion of letting the audience know – as funnily enough it makes you look more (not less) confident and more strong, when you can ‘admit’ to your nerves.

    I’m fascinated by how the brain works, especially as it relates to training & learning/development. The TED video by neuro-scientist Jill Bolte Taylor is one of my favourites. Truly captivating.

  5. Rock.Paper.Scissors.Blog » Blog Archive » The fine art of balance Says:
    November 17th, 2010 at 11:21 am

    […] in the handouts which I’ll give you later on’ I’m immediately frustrated and my lizard brain kicks in.   Why?  Because if I have to only rely on listening, that info ain’t going in my […]

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