You’ve been there; you know the feeling.

You are in your meeting, at your event. You’re about to speak. Not just speak, but stand up and speak, in public. Public speaking.

Tension rising, temperature rising, pace of breathing rising. Now breathing short and shallow. Heading towards a sense of panic…

Why does this happen? What can you do about it? How can you use breathing to control the room rather than the room controlling you?

In this series of Breath Leadership articles we will look at:

First of all, let’s look at why this happens. Why you can end up feeling you have just climbed a mountain when all you have done is walk to the front of the room.

You are a member of a social species, a species that has evolved and survived by sticking together, supporting each other, surviving together.

A couple of hundred thousand years ago, when you were safely in your cave dwelling with your family, you were comfortable. To step outside on your own risked putting you within range of a passing sabre tooth tiger, who had evolved by seeing you followed by the immediately thought of “Hmm, lunch…”

Hmm, lunch…

Then, you risked death.

Two hundred thousand years later, as you leave the comfort and security of your chair (your cave!) you are not at risk of death. OK, perhaps a tumbleweed moment of stage death as the applause dies before you reach the spot to speak… But your brain doesn’t differentiate.

The default index card that your brain likely selects as you walk to the front is marked ‘DANGER! Leaving the security of my cave. Extreme risk of being a healthy, nourishing lunch for any passing sabre tooth tiger…’

No surprise then that the fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in, adrenaline floods the bloodstream, hands drip with sweat.

No surprise, but what can you do about it?


How are you breathing now as you read this?

Chances are you are sitting reasonably comfortably, shallow breathing into the top of your lungs, the top of your chest. I’ve probably made you think about it now. You are conscious of your breathing, whereas a minute or two ago it was absolutely automatic. Sorry about that! But we’re going to make use of that awareness for a moment.

You’re breathing now in relaxed mode, in comfortable mode, in the mode of most of your audience.

Look at what happens when you physically exert yourself, in sports, in the gym, or for some of us simply making it up the stairs… Yes, you breathe more quickly, but you automatically breathe more deeply, deeper into your lungs, deeper into your chest space.

So when you walk to the front of the room, stop. Before you say a word, take one good deep breath.

You are helping your confidence, also your audience’s confidence in you.

In the next article we will look at how this happens, also breathing exercises to continue building your confidence as a speaker.

Want to explore more? Let’s talk, whether that’s on LinkedIn, email or a good old-fashioned conversation.

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