I toyed with the idea of titling this blog “how to breathe.” But since you are reading this, we can assume that you already have that breathing thing down pat, right? Talking about breathing is kind of like talking about public speaking.
Some people think that because presenting is communicating, they already know how to do it and don’t need further instruction. And that’s true, at least part of it. Breathing and communicating are literally two of the first things we ever do. Any newborn baby fills his lungs first and lets out a loud cry second.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve at things that come so naturally for us. Today, I want to teach you a specific breathing technique to use to calm yourself before a speech. It’s called box breathing (although you might have also heard it called square breathing.) It’s the simple, but powerful tool used by Navy SEALs that can help you manage your public speaking nerves.
To practice box breathing, you follow a specific, controlled pattern. First, breathe in for 4 seconds. Then, hold your breath for 4 seconds. Next, breathe out for 4 seconds. Finally, hold for 4 seconds. And repeat.
Ready to try it? Right now, try going through the sequence 4 times, which ends up being just over a minute. Use the following video to help guide you, if needed.
After practicing box breathing, you might have noticed that you felt calmer. Healthline says, “According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s sufficient evidence that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS) . . . The slow holding of breath allows CO2 to build up in the blood. An increased blood CO2 enhances the cardio-inhibitory response of the vagus nerve when you exhale and stimulates your parasympathetic system. This produces a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body.”
Public speaking continues to be at or near the top of every list of things that people fear most. It is one form of Social Anxiety Disorder, and research shows it’s a big one. In fact, one study found that “speaking (or performing) in front of a group was the most common feared situation, endorsed by roughly 77% of subjects with social phobia and by 24% of all respondents.”
If you are someone who struggles with presentation anxiety, try box breathing. Four in, hold for four, four out, hold for four. It’s not fancy. But it’s effective.
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