When it comes to improving our communication skills, it isn't just about the language we are speaking. Quite often, great speaking skills mean having a grasp on communication principles such as The Diamond Method's Breathing Principle. We can't neglect the power of proper breathing, so read on to learn a few things about how simple breathing techniques can enhance your spoken English.
Remember To Breathe When You Communicate
“There are moments when I feel like I’m gasping for air whenever I speak. Most of the time I notice that whenever I’m almost done with my speaking, I am almost choking, or it’s like I’m being strangled resulting in a hoarse, throaty, and tense voice. It is really frustrating because I know my voice comes across as unprofessional.”
This is a frustration of one of my Diamond-eers (one of my learners.) She had rehearsed her presentation meticulously to ensure a smooth delivery. However, when the time came for her to speak, her voice suddenly became unsupported and breathless.
If you reread the first paragraph of this blog post, you'll also notice how she wrote her frustration with just a few periods, too! A period is a pause in writing and a period is a solid pause when you speak. And pausing goes hand-in-hand with breathing.
Have you ever thought about that?
Let me say it again. When you pause, you gain the opportunity to breathe.
And when you breathe, you do so many things:
1. You give yourself a chance to get oxygen to your brain, which in turn, helps you think on your feet.
2. You create a calmness when you breathe, and that can be felt by your listeners.
3. Your full belly breath supports the quality of sound you produce with your voice.
It's amazing how this simple reminder to breathe can have such a huge impact on your communication in English.
Often, because breathing is an involuntary activity, we don’t pay much attention to it. And because it may be easier for you to think about your pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, you miss out on proper breathing as a fundamental element of effective communication.
In fact, this morning when I was doing my pilates, we started with 10 minutes of breathing exercises. First we stood, closed our eyes, and just noticed our breath. Was it shallow or was it deep?
Then, we put our hands on our bellies and breathed into our hands with the objective of pushing our hands out as our breath filled our bellies.
Then, and this was cool, the teacher asked us to hunch our shoulders, collapse the upper torso, and drop the head. We made fists and held them on our chest as we bowed our heads in this hunched-over stance. And then, do you know what we did? We breathed into our chests. We filled our lungs and expanded the whole chest area from front to back so that we could notice our breath high.
Then, we squatted. And I think this is one of the best ways to get a really full complete breath that gets the chest, back, and belly. We squatted and we breathed into our backs feeling the expansion of our ribs and the depth of our breath.
This morning's exercise was a coincidence since I had started this post on breathing earlier this week. I love it when life works like this!
I share this with you because you can work on your breathing technique independent of your voice and communication and the greater your awareness of how your breath works, the better the chance you'll bring that into your speech.
Without proper breathing in speech, you may rush your words, speak too fast, use uptalk (ending sentences with a rising intonation), or fall into a vocal fry (ending sentences with a low-pitched, creaky sound). Speaking in any of these ways can make you appear less professional and confident. They can cause your audience to lose interest in what you're saying. You'll be less likely to make a lasting impact or convince your manager to approve your proposals. And you can't afford that, now can you?
Here's another thing you can do to understand belly breathing.
If you watch a baby or an animal as they rest, you'll notice how big their belly gets when they breathe. That's because they don't have much stress compared to us human adults. They automatically rely on diaphragmatic breathing--that deep breath into the stomach area.
Many of us resort to chest or shoulder breathing as a default. However, if you want to maintain an effective voice, belly breathing, is the way to go. (Here's a link to a YouTube video I've shared with my Diamond-eers. Check it out to learn more about diaphragmatic breathing.)
In fact, when you engage your shoulder breath and chest breathing, you predominantly utilize your upper body. It's natural for most of us to opt for this kind of breathing since our lungs are located there. However, relying on chest or shoulder breathing only can lead to quicker exhaustion and even breathlessness.
So, how do we go about practicing belly breathing? Try this:
- Find a comfortable seat or you can lie down as demonstrated in that link I showed you above
- Place your right hand on your diaphragm (right below your ribs)
- Position your other hand on your chest
- Inhale slowly, counting to three, and feel your stomach rise (envision that baby or puppy breathing)
- Exhale slowly, also counting to three, and notice your belly flattening.
- Repeat this sequence five times.
In case you find yourself unintentionally filling your chest with air during this process, simply go back to step 1 ensuring that your belly is doing the work, not your chest. By following these steps, you can effectively transition from chest or shoulder breathing to the more beneficial belly breathing technique.
Combining Breathing With Thought Chunking
Let's begin with a little experiment. Record yourself reading the following sentence in one breath—inhale, and then read it straight through until you reach the period:
Today, I would like to talk to you about how breathing could improve our speaking delivery and how important it is for impactful communication."
Did you manage to finish it in one breath? Chances are, like most people, you found it quite challenging. You might even have felt like you were gasping for air by the end of reading it just like one of my learners explained at the top of today's blog post. If you did read it all in one breath, you might be practicing excellent belly breathing, but here's the real question: Was your message effectively conveyed?
Listen to your recording. How did it go? Did you find yourself racing just to reach the last word of the sentence? Or did you find your voice struggling to grasp all the words clearly? Did you end up out of breath?
Imagine delivering a message this way in a meeting. Do you think the audience or your colleagues could understand your point? Well, totally not! Your colleagues and audience would likely struggle to follow your point, and your professionalism might take a hit.
Here is what you need to do.
Let's break that sentence down into thought chunks.
Are you familiar with thought chunking? If not, it is part of The Diamond Method™️ and I teach it in The Thought Chunking Framework module in my online cohorts and programs. To give you a glimpse of how we thought chunk, let's consider adding some pauses between some of the ideas in the above sentence and then breathe in between each thought chunk to gather greater control when we speak.
I would like to talk to you about how breathing /
could improve our speaking delivery /
and how important it is for impactful communication./
Record yourself reading this sentence again, and if you remember to fill your stomach with air before moving on to the next thought chunk, you'll be on the right track. Let us know in the comments if you hear a difference now that you're breathing. You should sound calmer, more professional and more on point!
And here's a final thought for you: Whether you're having a casual chat, leading a meeting, or stepping onto a stage for public speaking, make friends with your breath. Use those natural pauses during conversations, embrace the punctuation in your reading, and take a deliberate breath when transitioning between presentation slides or even as you move around the stage. These moments of pause can work wonders in making your message resonate crystal clear.