Richard Quest, familiar to CNN fans as that raspy-voiced commentator on business, the English, and the Royal Baby, is terrified of public speaking. Who knew? He’s a TV commentator and presenter, for heaven’s sake! What’s going on? It turns out that he’s fine when he’s talking to a camera, but the terror rises like a bad storm in the tropics when he has to talk to people. Live. So after suffering for years, he finally hied himself to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) for a class on public speaking for business leaders. There are similar courses in New York, Chicago, and wherever underemployed actors — and acting troupes — gather.
At RADA Richard was taught to breathe, deeply and from the belly. As I’ve blogged about many times, good breathing is the beginning of all good speaking and performance, whether you’re appearing at a business conference, on a TEDx stage or as the band before the Rolling Stones on their latest tour.
Are you possessed with similar pangs when you get ready to perform? Here’s what to do.
Breathe deeply, from the belly. Breathe slowly, and often. Breathing is good for you, your voice, and your composure. A slow, deep belly breath supported from the diaphragmatic muscles will start an autonomic relaxation response that nicely counteracts those feelings of terror, so start at the first sign of symptoms. Because those belly breaths will ground you, make sure you do them just before you get up to speak – while you’re being introduced, for example.
To deal with the classic problem of a shaky voice, breathe deep in the belly, expanding it as you breathe in, tense the diaphragmatic muscles, as if you were about to be punched in the stomach, and let the air come out slowly as you talk. With practice, belly breathing will eliminate the shaky voice. And, as I’ve suggested, it should also help generally with your nervousness, because we tend to breathe shallow, quick breaths when we’re alarmed, and deep, slow breaths are the opposite of that. Thus, your body will send a signal to your brain that things are OK.
There are many other things you can do to counteract the fear of public speaking, but belly breathing is the place to start. Thanks, Mr. Quest, for ‘fessing up and sharing your fear so that we can spread the word about breathing and dealing with anxiety.