Breathing is central to great public speaking, for lots of pretty obvious reasons. After all, without oxygen:
- Your brain will stop working
- Your body will weaken
- You’ll probably panic, and ultimately,
- You’ll faint. (So much for delivering your message!)
But how do you get the air that you need to be your most powerful as a public speaker? Try these three quick maneuvers to see!
1. To Get Air for Public Speaking, Don’t Breathe In!
Before you read any further, try this little experiment.
- Stand or sit comfortably.
- Loosen any clothes (like a tight belt) that are constricting the middle of your body.
- Rest one open hand lightly on your chest / breastbone, and the other open hand on top of your waist, and
- Take a deep breath.
Did you feel your chest rise?
If you did, you might be surprised — particularly if you were ever instructed to “stick out your chest and take a deep breath” — to learn that this is not a good thing!
That’s because a raised chest constricts the parts of your body that need to be free for you to breathe and speak easily — your rib cage, throat, jaw, and mouth.
Not only does this type of “deep breath” not give you more air, it also restricts your ability to use the air you’ve got to best advantage.
2. A Good Yawn Can Improve Your Public Speaking
Now, please try the opposite.
Again, with one hand resting lightly on your chest / breastbone, and the other at your waist,
- Open your mouth wide and yawn as deeply as you can until your body feels full of air. (Yawns are contagious, so if you don’t know how to yawn on command, ask someone around you to do it, and let yourself follow their lead.)
- With your mouth still open, let out all the air you took in.
Do your chest, mouth, throat, and jaw feel relaxed?
This is how you want to be when you speak to an audience.
Now, are you ready for the kicker?
3. For Great Public Speaking, Breathe OUT to Breathe IN
Since yawning on the podium is probably not a good idea, here’s how to do the same “yawn maneuver” without actually yawning.
Once again, check to make sure that you’re standing or sitting comfortably and that the middle of your body is not constrained by clothing.
Once again, rest one hand lightly on your chest and the other on your waist. Now,
- With your mouth comfortably open, push all the air that you can out of your body by contracting your stomach muscles (pulling in) and pushing in with the hand at your waist; and then
- Immediately relax the stomach (with your mouth still open) — and the air will come flooding back into your body.
That’s how you breathe out to breathe in.
Practice Breathing Out Before You Need To
You’ve seen that you get more air into your body by breathing out and letting the air rush back into your body than you would by consciously trying to breathe in!
If you’re an athlete (and particularly if you swim), this won’t surprise you, but for many public speakers, it’s revelatory.
What it means, really, is that you need to practice letting air out of your body, not sucking it in. Most of us also need to practice opening our mouths, so you can do that at the same time!
And, as with most things in public speaking, your best bet is to practice for a few seconds every day, starting now, before you need the technique. That’s because, when you actually need it, breathing out will be the last thing on your mind, unless you’ve practiced!
So to recap:
- To build up muscle strength for breathing out (yes, it takes muscles), try panting vigorously a few times a day. (Be sure your mouth is open when you do this; check out the nearest dog, or the yoga practice called fire breathing.)
- To remind yourself of how it feels to be full of air, yawn deeply.
- And to fill up with air without yawning, push all the air you can out of your body, and then stick out your stomach and open your mouth.
You and your public speaking audience will be glad you did!