BLOG: Breathing tips and exercises for great public speaking, by Toastmasters’ Tom Balmont


Tom Balmont is from Toastmasters International. He is a professional performer, speaker and trainer.

And breathe… breathing is a fundamental part of life, it keeps us upright and moving. And more than that – proper breathing when giving a speech or presentation can give you that extra edge and reduce your stress.

Here are my five top tips to help you master your breathing during a presentation:

1. Belly breathing
Humans are designed to use the whole of their lung capacity when breathing. In order to do this you need to breathe from the belly, not the chest. With each breath in, push out with your stomach, and then when you relax your stomach the air should come out naturally.

2. Breathing rhythm
When writing a speech it is always useful to consider where your breaths will be, and to make sure that you put enough commas and breaks in for to you take a breath.

When practicing a speech, on one read through just focus on the rhythm of your breathing; are there any parts where you go to long without a breath? Is there anywhere with too many pauses so that your breathing becomes too rapid? A regular and steady rhythm to your breathing can also help maintain the idea in your audience’s mind that you are relaxed and in control.

3. Before you speak
Before you utter the first words, take a couple of deep breathes then, and only then, begin speaking. These first breaths make sure that you have enough oxygen to get you through the opening. They also set the pace and the rhythm for your breathing.

4. Always start on an exhale
Exhaling is the relaxed part of the breathing cycle – the inhaling takes effort and the use of lots of muscles. We inhale when we are about to do something that is a strain, about to lift a heavy weight or do something unpleasant. Starting your speech on an exhale lets everyone know that you are relaxed and comfortable. Starting with an inhale makes people feel on edge and tense.

5. Smile
Smiling helps with breathing. When we are relaxed we breathe more regularly and more deeply. Smiling releases endorphins that help us to relax. In turn, this loosens up the face, which improves our ability to take in breaths.

To help you control your breathing there are two exercises you can try:

There is video footage online of hundreds of powerful people giving speeches – watch where other people place their breaths and the rhythms they use. This will give you a much better idea of where your pauses and breaths should be.

Belly breathing help
Lie down on the floor on your back, take a reasonably heavy object (a bag of sugar for example) and place the object on your belly. With an in breath try to lift the object by forcing your stomach out. Now relax – the weight of the object should force the air out like squeezing a balloon. Repeat this as many times as you like until you feel you have the hang of it.

In conclusion, by breathing properly and rhythmically you can transform your ability as a speaker, making you more relaxed and more focused. Not only is it simple to master – you already have a lifetime’s worth of experience in doing it! So remember, breathe deep and breathe often!

– Tom 

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.