You could say that breathing is pretty important. After all, if we don’t breathe, the consequences are dire.
If we live until we’re 80 and breathe at an average rate, we’ll breathe around 700 million times in our lifetime. When we’re at rest, we breathe around 16 times a minute, but that can increase dramatically when we’re under stress, such as when we’re engaging in public speaking.
When we’re anxious or uncomfortable, we tend to start breathing more often but with shallower breaths, but this can lead to us hyperventilating and starting to panic, which will snowball the effect.
That’s why, if you want to be the best public speaker you can be, you need to develop a repertoire of breathing exercises that you can do before, during, and after your speaking engagements to help yourself to stay calm and to deliver the best talk you possibly can.
Fortunately for you, we’ve got you covered. Let’s take a look at some of the best breathing exercises for public speakers.
Ten Breathing Exercises for Public Speakers
1. The NHS Method
Recommended by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), the NHS method of breathing is designed to combat any form of anxiety, and involves following these five simple steps:
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in gently and regularly while counting slowly from one to five.
- Without pausing or holding your breath, exhale while counting slowly from one to five.
- Repeat as necessary or for around five minutes.
2. The Quieting Response
The quieting response is one of the quickest breathing exercises there is, and you can even use it on stage in the middle of a presentation if times are tough and you need a lift. It only takes about five seconds.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Smile (inwardly if you need to) with your eyes and mouth, and release the tension in your neck and shoulders.
- Imagine holes at the bottom of your feet.
- Take a deep breath, imagining hot air flowing through those holes and up through your abdomen to your lungs.
- Now exhale, imagining the process in reverse so that the hot air gets pushed out through those holes in your feet.
3. 4–7–8 Breathing
This technique started out as a method for helping people to fall asleep, and you might want to try it the night before your big presentation if you’re feeling stressed. It’s also pretty easy to use:
- Sit down with your back straight, or lie down in your bed.
- Push the tip of your tongue against the back of your teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise.
- Breathe out through your mouth while making a whooshing sound.
- Now close your mouth and breathe in through your nose while counting to four in your head.
- Hold your breath while counting to seven.
- Breathe out through your mouth while making a whooshing sound again, counting to eight in your head.
- Repeat as necessary.
4. Mindful Breathing
This breathing exercise is all about mindfulness, which is a rising trend at the moment. The idea is to be more self-aware and to do what you can to understand more about the way that your body and your mind work.
To practice mindful breathing, here’s what you need to do:
- Choose something to focus on that makes you feel calm (i.e. your breathing, a prayer, a positive word, or a mantra).
- If you choose a sound, repeat it to yourself as you breathe in and out.
- Relax as much as possible while focusing on the thing that makes you feel calm.
- Every time you notice that your mind has wandered, bring yourself gently back to your focus point.
- Continue breathing deeply and focusing on the thing that makes you feel calm until you’re ready to take on the world again.
5. Abdominal Breathing
The clue is in the name here, with this breathing exercise focusing largely on your abdominal area. It’s a great way to tackle the immediate adrenaline rush that accompanies stressful situations and panic attacks. Here’s what you need to do:
- Keeping your shoulders relaxed, breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. When done correctly, your abdomen will expand while your chest will stay mostly still or rise only slightly.
- Breathe out through your mouth, keeping your jaw relaxed while pursing your lips.
- Repeat as needed, ideally for several minutes.
6. Slow Breathing
The idea here is pretty simple, and the goal is to directly counteract the rapid breathing that’s characteristic of a panic attack. Studies have shown that slow breathing can help tackle depression, anxiety, and insomnia, with one expert suggesting that six exhalations per minute is the optimum response. To achieve this number, all you need to do is to time yourself and to breathe in for five seconds before breathing out for five seconds and repeating.
7. Nadi Sodhana
This is the fancy name for alternate-nostril breathing, in which you take it in turns to block off one nostril at a time as you breathe through the other. To practice it, simply follow the steps below for around ten repetitions, and be sure to take a break if you start to feel lightheaded:
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with your thumb and breathe out through your right nostril.
- Breathe in through your right nostril.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out through your left nostril.
8. Belly Breathing
A study from the American Institute of Stress found that 20–30 minutes of belly breathing each day can help to reduce anxiety and stress, so if you know you’re going to be away for a few days on a speaking engagement, it may be worth making it a part of your routine before you leave.
Try it out by following these steps while you’re sitting in a comfortable chair or lying on your bed:
- Put one hand at the top of your chest and the other one just below your ribcage.
- Allow your stomach to relax without forcing it by clenching your muscles.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Repeat as necessary until you feel relaxed.
9. Guided Meditation
The great thing about guided meditation is that you don’t need to worry about following any specific breathing pattern, because the person guiding you through the meditation will tell you exactly what you need to do and when to do it. There are literally thousands of smartphone applications and YouTube channels that are dedicated to creating and sharing guided meditations, so feel free to take a look around and to find one that works well for you.
10. Candle Blowing
This is perhaps one of the easiest exercises of all for you to do, and it also allows you to use an imaginary candle. Simply blow, or imagine blowing, on a candle, but instead of trying to blow it out, try to blow it just softly enough for it to flicker. When you inhale, do the same thing, trying to make the flame dance around.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and so feel free to do some more research on your own to figure out which breathing exercises are best for you.
It’s also a good idea to practice these breathing exercises at home so that they’re second nature by the time that you take to the stage. Practice makes perfect, and the more familiar you are with these techniques, the more useful you’re likely to find them.
Now that you’ve heard from us, we want to hear from you. Have you already used breathing exercises ahead of public speaking engagements? If so, how useful did you find them? And are there any that we’ve missed that you think we should have mentioned? Be sure to let us know with a comment.
This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.