Real Leaders

The Secret to a Great Speech? Breathe

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking

Lauren Hilyard, Founder and CEO of Hilyard Art Advisory asks: “Do you have any tips on how to breathe before, and during, a speech? I always feel a little out of breath.”

Dear Lauren,

What a practical question, that many can relate to! Thanks for asking. Shortness of breath is a symptom of fear, of course, so we defeat the fear by talking ourselves out of it. Fear is mostly illogical. It’s anxiety about something we think could happen in the future — despite no evidence of it being present.

It’s always better to address fear well before arriving at your speech venue or mounting the stage. If you get to your speaking spot, take the podium and still have a shortness of breath, accept it and ride the tide of the rhythm, don’t buck it or try and arrest it.

I have a practice of stopping at the doorway to each room toward the stage, to take a momentary breath and gather myself before starting my speech and being introduced by the host. Then, I observe my surroundings and listen within for a new idea to come to mind, maybe something new I’d like to share with my audience when I begin my speech.

Every speech is a performance, and a great performer realizes that the show must go on. As a result, you need to take on this responsibility in an impersonal way. This is a good strategy for making yourself impervious to criticism — which is typically what fear of speaking is all about — Glossophobia.

You have a job to do, and you need to separate yourself from the personality (you) who might be harboring fear or reservations. You have a job to do — so do it.

I recall the words of one American first lady as she descended the grand staircase at the White House for the first time: “As I walked down those stairs to a waiting crowd I realized it was I, but not I — it was the first lady of the United States. That made all the difference.”

You may not be a president or first lady, but you can adopt this impersonal view of yourself for the sake of performing a job or role, without feeling personal vulnerability or fear. I hope that helps!

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