Have you been described as a fast-talker? As you speak, do you feel your face flush, your shoulders rise, your anxiety build?
Sometimes what we call ‘fast-talking’ is simply the result of a person not stopping and breathing frequently enough. Think of speech in grammatical terms. Breathing is the necessary punctuation. In speech, well-placed pauses for breaths are the exclamation marks, commas, periods, and question marks that help organize thought, communicate specific meaning, and indicate tone or emphasis. A written story without punctuation might confuse and irritate a reader. That’s exactly what un-punctuated, breathless speaking can do to a listener!
Here are some tips to insert breathing (as punctuation) in your speech:
- Consciously pause to take a breath before answering a question (this will give you a moment to consider your response and indicate thoughtfulness).
- Stop to breathe between ideas.
- Before a speech/presentation, stand tall and practice inhaling and exhaling deeply to get into a good rhythm prior to launching into your introduction. Singers understand that breathing is essential to strong vocal projection and performance. They practice breathing techniques to optimize tone, volume and power. They also emphasize good posture. Practicing confident posture and breathing should be a natural part of public speaking rehearsal and warm up. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk to learn more about how body language affects our confidence and performance, as well as others’ perception of us: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en.
- Do a quick breathing check at your next meeting. Right after you say something, verify whether your shoulders are raised or tight. If they are, that could be an indication that you are not breathing enough, or too shallowly. Drop your shoulders, sit up, and try to push your breaths down into your belly (versus chest breathing).
- Watch your audience. Are they staring at you with furrowed brows, appearing confused or anxious? If so, pause, breathe and continue with a slower pace. In more intimate meetings, you could ask them a question and leave space for their response.
It may take time and practice to consistently breathe more deeply and calmly when you speak, but it’s an investment that will pay off. There is a connection between clear thinking and breathing (your brain needs oxygen!), so learning to breathe properly while you speak should positively affect more than just the way you sound, it should help promote sound on-the-spot thinking. That alone is worth the effort.