“If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You have another chance.” ~Andrea Boydston

So I guess we have all passed that test … and we now know that the basis of all life is the act of breathing.

We may not be equally aware of the fact that the basis of all speech is the air we breathe; without adequate breath we will have inadequate voice.

The importance of proper breathing techniques cannot be overlooked in the art of speaking, whether it be public or not. Our voice – described as the medium of the message – is dependant on the quality of our breathing.

We all know that singers, especially opera singers, spend time and effort in breathing exercises to ensure that their voice is strong and controllable. And after all, when we have been treated to the magnificent sound of a Joan Sutherland, a Luciano Pavarotti or Cecilia Bartoli, we realise that result was the outcome of meticulous practice with voice control.

If voice control is a necessity for opera singers, why do we not consider the need for speakers? Anyone who needs to speak in public, or who just needs to improve their general speaking ability will eventually realise the need for improved vocal control; and this cannot be achieved without perfect breath control.

Public speaking can be one of the most stressful activity that we undertake, but we may not be aware that the outcome of the fear and stress is often a shift in our posture which affects our breathing. We push our chin a little further into our neck, we round our shoulders a little and our head droops.

The result of this is that we restrict the intake of air to the upper part of our lungs; and our voice, starved of air comes out breathy, thin and sometimes squeaky. We do not have the strength of air to carry us through a full sentence and so we find ourselves taking in gulps of air at inopportune times. The results are as distressing to our audience as they are to us.

So – I am afraid Mother was right; the right stance for any speaker is upright, chin up, shoulders back ; this allows us to utilise all the capacity of the lungs to support our voice. A much better base for the production of speech.

Breath control is not all about being able to hold your breath; it is about being able to control the amount of air that you release from your lungs. The slower the air passes the vocal chords the softer and sweeter the tone; the faster, then the more forceful and louder the sound.

The opera singers learn that early on; and take infinite pains to practice the necessary control. We public speakers need to take our breathing exercises just as seriously if we want to gain maximum control over our breathing.

So here is an early morning exercise that will help you start to achieve that control:

First; stand upright with your feet comfortably apart. Let the head droop slightly and hold your arms down in front of you with the finger tips touching.

Now breathe in as you bring the arms outwards at full stretch, continuing through until they are arched above your head with finger tips together. Raise your head to follow the movement of your arms.

This movement raises the chin, and the movement of the arms exerts pressure on the muscles that control the diaphragm.

Breathe out while you reverse the head and arm movements.

This exercise has a twofold advantage. It helps to encourage proper breathing and it practices the use of arm gestures until they feel natural. Two for the price of one can’t be bad!

Try emphasising the exhale breath by the sound of “Aaahh”; it will help you to understand how you can change the volume of your sound by controlling the speed of the outward breath.

Now try saying “Aaah” on the inward breath …. an amazing thing happens! You cannot make a vocalised sound on an inward breath !!! Think about the effect of that fact on your speaking!

So, I am off to the bathroom to practice my breathing exercises and my tongue twisters for articulation, because the acoustics are fabulous in there … but I might have to warn the husband first; just in case!

Michele @ Trischel

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