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The Art of Speaking  

Learn how to breathe

How do you breathe? 

Unless you’ve had voice lessons or athletic training, most likely your breathing is shallow, misdirected, and lacking in control. 

Correct, natural breathing is the foundation of a good voice. Failure to breathe properly is a leading cause of poor speaking volume.

Watch an infant or a dog or cat lying asleep. The entire body is relaxed and the abdominal muscles work with every breath. The muscular movement is almost entirely below the ribs. 

You can judge the correctness of your own breathing by watching your shoulders. If they are raised as you inhale, you’re missing the deep, abdominal breathing effect that is natural and correct.

Here are 10 exercises that will help you develop proper breathing and improve your vocal volume. 

  • 1. Exhale all air from your lungs. Continue pushing it out even after you feel it’s totally expelled.
  • When no more air can be forced out, you will automatically inhale. Inhale deeply. Observe how the air rushes in.
  • Only a deep, full inhalation will satisfy your hunger for air. Repeat this process frequently, but not more than three or four times at each repetition. 
     
  • 2. Exhale comfortably. Then take a moderately filling breath, not crowding your capacity. Hold it for 15 seconds, then exhale quietly. Repeat this process frequently for several days. 
  • Then gradually increase your holding time to 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and 45 seconds. Eventually, you will be able to hold your breath for a full minute.
  • This exercise will help you to develop breath control by strengthening your diaphragm and related muscles. 
     
  • 3. Standing erect, inhale with five quick, short gasps through an open mouth. You will notice that you cannot gasp like this without using your diaphragm.
  • Five gasps should fill you to capacity. Then exhale in five quick gasps or puffs. Next, practice gasping and puffing through your nose with your mouth closed. 
     
  • 4. Laugh heartily with a big Ha Ha Ha. Carry this through to complete exhalation, then inhale deeply and quickly. 
     
  • 5. Close your lips and laugh soundlessly through your nose. You will exercise your diaphragm whether you breathe through your mouth or your nose, but laughing silently through your nose will promote better control.
     
  • 6. Lie on your back. Place a book on your diaphragm. Try to relax each part of your body, then concentrate on the movement of your diaphragm.
  • As you inhale, the book rises. As you exhale, flatten your abdomen as much as you can.
  • Repeat this exercise until you automatically expand and contract your waist as you breathe.
     
  • 7. Stand, then bend over as if to touch your toes, but just hang limply. Remain in this position for a full minute, then straighten and repeat the exercise.
  • Your breath is expelled naturally when you bend at the waist.
     
  • 8. Standing, place your hands on your hips, lean your head back, look at the ceiling, and yawn. Your waist will expand as your diaphragm flattens and draws in air. Then, as you exhale, produce the sound ah, holding it as long as you can without discomfort.
     
  • 9. Standing, take a deep breath. As you exhale, count aloud from one to five on a single breath. Repeat the exercise, counting from one to 10. Do not strain. Allow the air to flow easily.
     
  • 10. Read aloud a paragraph that contains a mixture of short and long sentences. Read each sentence on a single breath, if possible, inhaling before the sentence, then controlling your exhalation as you read.

Do not think that you must fill your lungs to capacity before speaking. Your brain controls the amount of air needed with each breath.

Keep your breathing easy and comfortable. 

The preceding exercises will help you increase breathing strength and technique. But when you speak, keep your breathing quiet and natural so that the audience won’t notice it.

Breathe easily at natural pauses. And if you’re using a microphone, be especially careful that the microphone does not pick up your breathing sounds and transmit them to your listeners.

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About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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