Breathing is something that happens automatically for us each and every minute of every single day. However, when you embrace your breath consciously, it can make you an indomitable speaker and lend you unforgettable presence.
So, let's talk about diaphragms. Of course I mean the thoracic diaphragm, the main muscle of human respiration. Yours sits beneath your lungs and above your abdominal cavity.
Your diaphragm is the great unsung hero of communication. Day in, day out, it's always working for you, driving your breathing. It's the aspiratory autopilot you never knew you had.
In fact, diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) is your speaking power tool.
There's just one problem with the diaphragm: when you're speaking it does the exact opposite of what the moment needs.
The Danger of Shallow Breathing
When you're anxious--and we're all anxious before some speeches -- your body knows it needs more oxygen. But unless you intervene, your respiration shifts toward faster and shallower breaths, which will make you more anxious, which means even faster breaths...
...and you know what happens next...
Shallow breathers are the ones who wake up on the floor. If you'd rather stay vertical, then take control and speak from your gut.
Shallow breathing restricts the fullness of sound and range your voice could potentially have. Your voice could sound squeezed or strained because you are talking from the top of your lungs. Forcing your voice to override this restriction is not an answer, as it can cause damage ranging from reasonably mild inconveniences, like a sore throat, to serious problems requiring surgical intervention.
However, when your brain gets enough oxygen, it is able to combat those jitters you feel before speaking. The stress response known as fight-or-flight constricts the blood flow to your brain and causes you to freeze-up like a deer in the headlights. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic reaction, letting you step out from the proverbial headlights and continue frolicking--or, speaking.
The Benefits of Breath Support
You look like a person. You act like a person. Why breathe like a dog? Shallow breaths may work for Chihuahuas, but you have five to six feet of human to oxygenate.
Efficacious breathing supplies your body with enough oxygen to pump blood head to toe (not tail!): your limbs, your lungs, your legs... and the most important organ in your body, the control center--your brain. This is oxygenation.
Like hitting the gym, going to yoga, or jazzercising, the benefits of breathing exercises are both physical and psychological. Physiologically, you should be using your lungs to their full capacity, rather than just the top third, giving your system more oxygen. That causes you to feel better, cope better, and think more clearly.
Especially important when you take the stage, the more oxygen that you breathe in, the more you are able to lower your heart rate. This, in turn, grounds and centers you when you speak.
An additional benefit is that you are strengthening your physical capacity to increase your speaking insurance, sharpening your ability to efficaciously control complex language patterns, and creating a full reservoir of air for a powerful and resonant voice. The kind of voice that commands a room comes from diaphragmatic breathing and is often referred to as "the voice of leadership."
How to Exercise your Authority
Now, let's take it a step further as I walk you through an exercise to demonstrate how your breath influences your vocal executive presence, or your ability to command a room:
Stand up straight.
Place your hand on your belly and find the place where it rises and falls.
Imagine a balloon inside your belly inflating and deflating with your breath.
Now, fill the balloon up with air and let out an audible breath.
Try breathing into your diaphragm again and let the breath out with sound.
One more time, and sustain the sound as long as you have breath.
Stand up slowly and place your hand on your diaphragm again.
Fill up your balloon and say the following sentences...
"Hey. Hey you. Hey you over there. Hey you over there get off of my cloud."
Then, fill up your balloon again and try these sentences. . .
"I feel too strong to war with mortals. Bring me giants."
When you say it, pretend to throw an imaginary ball at a wall. Each time you throw the ball at the wall, your breath support increases and your voice becomes more powerful.
How did that feel? Did you notice a change?
There are many physiological factors that activate our animalistic fear reactions when we step up onto the stage in front of an audience. However, this one simple tool can calm it all down -- and you along with it.
So take a deep breath, believe in yourself, and step into your next remarkable, fearless performance.