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Feeling nervous? Do this one thing.

breath technique physiological sigh public speaking Mar 15, 2022
Margie Newman teaches you a simple breath technique to conquer nerves in the moment.

Feeling nervous before your presentation? Do this one thing.

Originally posted on LinkedIn here.

By Margie Newman, public speaking coach and creative director for large events

It’s common to feel some extra physical energy or even mild nervousness when you’re about to give a presentation. But if those sensations – such as rapid heart rate, shallow respiration, sweaty palms, tightness in your throat – get too strong, they can overwhelm your ability to present well. 

So here’s a breath strategy I share with speakers as we’re rehearsing. Having this technique ready will help you know what to do if and when you start to feel any signs of nervousness. 

  1. First, simply notice the extra energy. Don’t judge it, just observe and acknowledge. 
  2. Next, feel the connection between your feet and the floor (or your seat and the chair if you’re sitting). Let yourself sink down just a little deeper. 
  3. Place a hand on your abdomen, just above your navel. Then take a nice, full inhale through your nose, and feel your abdomen expanding. At the top of that inhale, take an extra sip of breath to top it up.
  4. Now open your mouth and let that breath empty all the way out. As your breath empties, feel your navel moving toward your spine: no extra effort, just moving softly. Try to let the exhale be a little longer than the inhale.
  5. Repeat this breath three to five times. Take a moment to notice how you feel after a few rounds of this breath technique.

This type of breath – called a “physiological sigh” – has the powerful potential to almost immediately lower your heart rate and respiration rate, and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, so you’ll feel less anxious in your body. It’s a type of breathing many yoga practitioners are familiar with, and now it’s been studied by neurobiology researchers at Stanford University.

So in summary:

  1. Notice the sensations you are feeling without judging them or panicking. You might even think, “This is normal.”
  2. Feel your body connecting with the floor or a chair. Sit up tall, but no extra effort or tension.
  3. Inhale fully through your nose, and take an extra sip of breath at the top of the inhale. 
  4. Exhale fully through your mouth, sighing audibly, and feeling your navel moving toward your spine. 
  5. Repeat 3-5 times. 

One final tip. If you’re still feeling some extra energy, especially in your chest, envision that energy like a ball of light, and here’s the key – SHIFT IT DOWN lower in your body, somewhere below your hips. Now envision that you can turn this energy into rocket fuel to help project your voice all the way to the back of the room.

That’s it! 

For a demonstration on this technique, check out the video here or on Youtube.

Take a breath. And break a leg!


Follow me on LinkedIn and YouTube for more free public speaking tips.

Margie Newman has more than 25 years of experience helping nervous speakers gain confidence, overcome anxiety and actually enjoy public speaking.

Her first book, Yoga for Public Speaking, is now available on Amazon!

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