When it comes to speaking well, most of your challenges are unconscious. Because speaking is so habit-driven, you’re usually blind to the things that get in your way.
One of the most common obstacles to speaking well is the unconscious tendency to grab quick small in-breaths as you speak. Even experienced students who know how to breathe correctly get caught in this trap when they start reading or speaking. Instantly, their breath takes a back seat to the spoken word.
Grabbing quick breaths means your in-breath tends to be small, tense and shallow. Guess what? That makes your voice small, tense and shallow. It also makes you prone to fast speech. And all that makes you less clear, less credible and more nervous.
What’s the solution? Practice pausing for real breaths. Slow down your in-breath. I suggest beginning students practice reading, taking one full second to inhale between phrases and two seconds to inhale between sentences.
Now I can hear you gnashing your teeth and protesting already. “That can never work in real life. It would be too obvious. People would think I sound strange,” or, “Breathing has to make sense. It has to sound right. And it has to feel natural.” Believe me, I’ve heard every argument in the book.
Listen, if you try to practice by breathing in a way that “makes sense, sounds right and feels natural,” I promise, your old habits are in charge, and you’re not reinforcing your new skills. If breathing correctly doesn’t feel weird, at first, you haven’t changed anything. New skills should feel awkward, at first.
So do your regular practice routine, addressing relaxation, breathing and resonance. Then find a piece of text and mark a one-second pause at every comma, a two-second pause at every period and no more than ten words per breath, or less. Remember, your only job in this exercise, is to consistently pause for a real breath, not give a good performance or even have it make sense.
The more you reinforce and get comfortable with that skill in practice, the more likely you’ll be able to relax and breathe well in performance, in real life situations. Elsa Gindler said, “People tend to think, ‘If I can do the relaxation exercises I’m relaxed. If I can do the breathing exercises, I can breathe.’ This is not true.” Being able to pause for deep relaxed in-breaths in your practice is still a long way from doing it in front of people. So start developing this crucial skill.
When you truly take your time to inhale, your breaths will be fuller, deeper and more relaxed. That, in turn, will make your voice fuller and deeper, and you’ll speak with a more deliberate pace. All of that will make your speaking clearer, more credible and more confident, and that’s how we all wish to be speaking.
For more information and exercises to improve your breathing skills, click the link in the description box, and enroll in the free video mini course, The Sound of Success.