Breathing Exercises For Big Presentations
Chances are, at some point in your life, maybe before you made a speech or performed in front of a crowd, someone has told you to “Take a deep breath.” There’s a good reason behind this sentiment.
Suppose you’re anxious about an upcoming presentation or meeting. In that case, simple breathing exercises can go a long way in calming your nerves and body so that you’re relaxed and ready to roll. Engaging in controlled breathing can help your mind and body function at their full potential, which will help you stay in control of your presentation or speech.
Below, Poised explains why people get nervous before presentations and outlines some practical breathing and relaxation techniques to help you out.
Why Do We Get Nervous for Big Presentations?
Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is one of the most prevalent phobias. It is even more common than the fear of death, spiders, and heights.
If you often feel crippling fear or nervousness before a work meeting or giving a presentation, understand that you are not alone. There are probably people on your team or in the room who suffer from glossophobia.
Even if you don't live with a phobia, mild or moderate anxiety can negatively impact your performance. As such, you shouldn't ignore your nervousness because it probably will persist until you take action to resolve it.
In most cases, the culprit of the fear or anxiety of public speaking is a concern that other people will negatively evaluate or judge you. This explains why many speakers will freeze when they step onto the stage or lose their train of thought in the middle of a presentation. When that happens, it can increase stress even more. At a certain point, this stress deactivates the brain’s frontal lobe, a part of the brain that is critical for recalling memories.
The fear of speaking in public is thought to be influenced by psychology and biology. But that doesn't mean that you cannot overcome it.
How Does Rapid Breathing Negatively Affect Us?
Rapid breathing, also called "hyperventilation" or "over-breathing" is common for people experiencing heightened stress or anxiety. Unless you get it under control, it can leave you feeling breathless.
Humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. When you breathe excessively, it produces low carbon dioxide levels in your blood, leading to an array of hyperventilation symptoms. People often hyperventilate due to bleeding, infection, or another medical issue. It can also happen in emotional situations and during panic attacks.
While breathing and relaxation techniques can halt or decrease fear, over-breathing can also turn into a medical emergency that requires treatment. If your hyperventilation is frequent or severe enough, the best approach is to consult your healthcare provider for their medical advice.
It can be challenging to recognize when you are breathing too fast. But several symptoms can bring it to your attention, such as:
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or weakness
- Foggy thinking
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate or chest pain (common with chest breathing)
- Bloating or belching
- Feeling of breathlessness, shallow breathing
- Tingling or numbness in your arms
- Muscle spasms
Needless to say, rapid breathing can significantly impact your ability to speak, engage your audience, and collaborate with colleagues. Fortunately, you have plenty of options when it comes to relaxing your mind and body.
Different Breathing Techniques
Let’s discuss a few standard breathing techniques that can calm you and prepare you to communicate effectively during your presentations and meetings.
There is a large muscle at the base of your lungs called the diaphragm. Engaging in diaphragmatic breathing can improve how you naturally use your diaphragm during breathing.
It can strengthen your diaphragm and slow your breathing rate, preventing your body from working so hard and allowing you to breathe with less effort. Diaphragmatic breathing also reduces your body’s oxygen demand and provides you with more energy for breathing.
This deep breathing practice, also called belly breathing, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping it chill out.
You can perform the diaphragmatic breathing technique by lying on a flat surface with a pillow to support your bent knees and a pillow to support your head. As you breathe, put one hand below your rib cage and the other on your chest, and take slow breaths through your nose. You should feel your stomach press against your hand.
Then, flex your stomach muscles and allow them to fall inward while you slowly breathe out through pursed lips. Keep the hand on your upper chest still throughout the process.
You can also perform the diaphragmatic breathing technique by sitting in a chair. Make sure you're sitting comfortably, bend your knees, and relax your head, neck, and shoulders. Then, follow the steps above.
Beginners often find lying down in a comfortable position to be the best approach for diaphragmatic breathing. However, your diaphragm will strengthen over time, making the exercise easier.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing is perhaps the simplest exercise for managing rapid breathing or shortness of breath. It's a quick and basic solution for slowing your breathing rate.
Here are the steps:
- Inhale slowly through your nostrils for two seconds.
- Keep your mouth closed.
- Take a normal breath (or one that is slightly deeper).
- Purse your lips like you were going to kiss someone or whistle.
- Exhale slowly for four seconds.
This breathing technique can help to calm anxiety and nervousness before speaking to a crowd or group. It improves ventilation and releases air that is trapped in your lungs.
It can also:
- Alleviate shortness of breath.
- Promote relaxation through the body.
- Reduce how hard your body must work for breathing.
- Strengthen your airways to remain open for longer.
- Slow your breathing rate.
- Release old air in your lungs, welcome new air into your lungs, and improve your breathing patterns in the process.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing can either be done separately or as part of a yoga or meditation routine. Its primary purpose is to quiet and still the mind; it also has been proven to lower blood pressure. While this breathwork comes in various forms, there are two primary variations to consider: anulom vilom and nadi shodhana.
Anulom vilom is a breathing regulation where you consciously inhale through a single nostril and exhale through the other. Nadi shodhana also involves the same process, except you hold your breath on the inhale for a few counts.
Because there is no standard technique for alternate nostril breathing, it's hard to distinguish which method is more valuable to practitioners. It's worth trying both variations to discover which helps you combat glossophobia and public speaking fears the best.
Other Relaxation Techniques and Advice
In addition to breathing exercises, there are many other relaxation techniques worth considering.
Here are a few:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
People often use progressive muscle relaxation to relieve tension and focus on the present. It combines deep breathing techniques with flexing and releasing your muscles.
As you perform your deep breathing exercise, start releasing the tension in your muscles, and flex your forehead for a few seconds as you breathe out slowly. Then, maintain the tension in your forehead and hold your breath for a few more seconds.
Release the tension, and slowly exhale through your nostrils or mouth. Then, stop for about 10 seconds to concentrate on the relaxation in your forehead, keep deep breathing, and allow the tension to release more.
Follow these steps for each subsequent muscle, from the top of your head to your toes. If you prefer, you can perform progressive muscle relaxation in reverse order (from toe to head).
Mindfulness meditation is another technique that can significantly reduce stress and help you think clearer. It involves sitting comfortably and focusing on your breathing. What sets this practice apart from some others is that it involves observing your thoughts (instead of stopping them).
To get the most out of mindfulness meditation, it's essential to keep a slow breathing rate and remain non-judgemental of passing thoughts.
Preparation Promotes Stress Relief
Finally, the more thoroughly you prepare for your upcoming presentation or meeting, the less stress you will likely feel. Be sure to think through your content, outline your main points, and rehearse your speech several times. If possible, get a friend to listen to your presentation and provide advice for improving your communication tactics.
Another way to prepare for meetings and enhance your communication skills is to use a coaching software like Poised. With Poised, you can receive real-time tips for improving your speech rate, minimizing rambling and filler words, and much more. Over time, these skills will become second nature!
Stress Response and Stress Management
It's common for our bodies and minds to respond in high-stress situations. But to keep your fear or anxiety from hindering your public speaking performance, it's critical to address it and find effective coping techniques.
Consider the information and advice above as you discover the breathing and relaxation techniques that work best for you. Remember to believe in yourself before you step on that stage!