Who is Hank Walshak? Hank Walshak, founder, owner, and CEO of Walshak Communications, Inc., is a communications consultant, executive presentation coach, and author. He focuses on helping knowledge entrepreneurs in small and mid-sized businesses and their owners create expertise-related content to differentiate themselves as experts. Read More

Got Presentation Anxiety? Breathe It Away

In my speaking coaching with executives, I find that they are often surprised when I show them how diaphragm breathing can help to allay presentation anxiety and preserve their vocal quality.

Actually, babies know how to breathe this way naturally. If you look at a baby sleeping on its back, you’ll see its little belly going up and down – a good example of diaphragm breathing.

Diaphragm breathing helps to manage anxiety because it slows our breathing apparatus and our physical and mental systems. When we get nervous, stress rises in the body, and breathing moves up into the higher chest. We tend to hyperventilate and may breathe up to 18 or 24 times a minute. The voice lightens and we can easily run out of breath when speaking.

In contrast, diaphragm breathing relaxes us, and we breathe normally, about eight to ten times a minute. This slows our systems down, helps to keep the voice in its normal tone and range, and gives us the breath we need to project properly when presenting.

Here are two ways to learn and to practice diaphragm, breathing:

Two-Hand Method

Sit upright and at ease in a chair and place one hand on the lower abdomen. Keep the small finger of this hand about one inch above the navel. Place your upper hand on the upper chest.

Visualize yourself breathing down into a pipe through your nose and into a baloon in your lower abdomen. Breathe normally and allow the baloon to inflate as you gently let your breath to enter your lower abdomen. Count as you breathe — “one” as you inhale and “two” as you exhale. Count up to ten in this way. Then, repeat the process as often as needed.

Two Book Method

Lie down on the floor on your back. Place a small, paperback book on your lower abdomen and another paperback book on your upper chest. Breathe naturally and count your breaths as you let air in to move the book you’ve placed on your lower abdomen.

As you breathe from your diaphragm, the book on your lower abdomen will rise and fall. The book on your chest will remain still.

Practice these two breathing exercises until your diaphragm breathing becomes as natural as breathing itself. As you do, you’ll find that you can breathe from the diaphragm while presenting. And you’ll breathe your way to anxiety-free presentations.