Give yourself some air

2015

I long ago lost count of the number of clients who have told me that they get so uptight when they have to deliver a presentation or speak in public that they feel as if they are going to pass out. So why is that feeling so common?

One reason is a lack of practice. If you haven’t practised out loud the words you plan to speak out loud before the day of reckoning, your mind will be totally unprepared for the effort your heart and voice muscles are expected to put in. And so it will have no alternative but to try save your body from destruction by instigating a ‘fright and flight’ response. Hence your feelings of panic!

Another is breathing, or the lack of it. If we behave too passively before facing an audience, we begin to feel uptight because we are making ourselves uptight. By not actively expressing empty breath, that dead air has no alternative but lodge in and tighten up the chest.

If you allow that to continue long enough, the brain starts to become starved of oxygen. Once that happens, not only will you get a feeling that you are going to pass out, you actually will pass out!

To avoid reaching that parlous state and get back to normal, you need to squeeze as much breath as possible out of your chest so that fresh air can rush in. Once that’s done, no matter how long the wait, you must breathe in and out actively so that there is plenty of freshly oxygenated air inside you when you begin to perform.

And it is a performance. The effort required deliver an invigorating presentation is similar to the effort required to go on an invigorating run. Nobody preparing to set off and do that remains completely inert until the moment of departure.

Alert to the fact that the body is shortly going to have to propel itself forward at a faster rate than usual, the brain ensures that all relevant muscles are primed and ready to go. At the very end of the run, the inevitable last gasp is not purely one of self-satisfaction. By ejecting every ounce of residual breath from the chest that “Phew!” is creating space for the huge intake of fresh air that the body needs before it can return to its settled state.

The same is true of a presentation. You need a full tank of well-oxygenated breath if you are going to deliver the goods. That means that every presenter must tank-up well before their activity begins.

Once imbued with sound, each pulse of breath then flows over the tongue, up the throat and into whichever resonant space behind the face is the one able to shape the vowel sounds of a specific word. Each pulse also has to undergo flicks, flaps and taps from tongue, teeth and lips to create a word’s relevant consonants. Only when that segmentation has been satisfactorily accomplished can words be expressed through open jaws as part of a phrase that will be meaningful to any listener.

Be re-assured by the experience of the many successful presenters who, by just giving themselves some air while hanging about waiting to speak, have never felt uptight and faint and only ever feel up-for-it and energized. Copy them, and you will find that when the final “Phew!” of satisfaction has left your throat, the air of excitement you take in will make you feel so upbeat that you’d happily go through the whole process again.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.