So, what effect does taking a good breath have on you? Perhaps more importantly, what effect does it have on your audience?
For you as the speaker, this is what happens when you start with a good breath:
When you breathe deeply, you are making fuller use of your diaphragm, which is a dome-shaped muscle separating your chest from your abdomen. Not surprisingly, this is known as abdominal (or diaphragmatic) breathing. In itself this is more relaxing than emergency-mode breathing into the upper chest that is often part of the fight-or-flight response to stressful situations.
When you breathe deeply, with your diaphragm helping you to relax a fraction, your voice relaxes. Your voice drops a fraction as well, a few percentage points deeper, a few percentage points more authoritative.
When you breathe deeply, the pace of your delivery also drops a fraction. Taking the edge off the speed of your speaking has a double-whammy effect; as well as helping your audience better listen to you, better comprehend what you are saying, you also give yourself more time. Time to find the right words, time to deliver a more comprehensive message rather than the garbled torrent of words from a rushed opening.
Note the emphasis on fractions and degrees here. This is about the principle of marginal gains, not dramatic changes or Damascene revelations. By tweaking the performance of each element of your speaking, with practice and rehearsal you build your skills, build yourself into a more effective speaker.
So now return to your audience, still in their seats, eagerly awaiting your pearls of wisdom. See what effect your deep breath has had on them. Feedback on you as the speaker could include:
• They felt more confident in you from the outset, more relaxed, more willing to listen to you rather than feeling anxious on your behalf
• You were easier to understand, easier on the ear, more comfortable to listen to
• They were more able to listen, more able to take on board, more able to comprehend your opening statements, rather than only really getting to grips with what you were saying as you got into your stride a few lines in
In essence, you have just established a handshake with your audience. A good, firm, warm, confident handshake. Just as when you meet someone for the first time with a warm, firm greeting. A warm, firm handshake that sets the scene for the rest of your presentation, whilst you’re only a few seconds in.
Yet all you did was take a good, deep breath.
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