You are in a meeting, anticipating your turn to stand and present before a large group. It’s natural to feel the jitters. The speaker before you drones on, and you feel your heart begin to race. What can you do to settle your nerves?
Both friend and speech coach will give the same advice: take a few deep breaths. It’s good advice as far as it goes, but this advice can lead to danger. Did you know there is such a thing as counterfeit deep breathing—the type makes things worse rather than better?
To make sure you know the difference, try the following: Stand in front of a mirror, and take some rapid deep breaths. You should see your shoulders move, and you’ll know you are engaged in counterfeit deep breathing. When the shoulders and upper chest move, the breathing is quick and shallow. This type of breathing is counterproductive when you are nervous.
Slow, deep breathing calms your nerves, delivering a full load of oxygen to your body. Practice like this: Place your hands on your rib cage. Breathe in through your nose, directing your breath until you feel your ribs expand like a tire inflating. Fill yourself up with air, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Take another breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You’ll notice in the mirror that your shoulders are no longer moving. Keep your shoulders relaxed as you fill your body with oxygen.
Nervous before a presentation? Take some deep breaths. Just make sure you use the authentic kind. Don’t be fooled by counterfeit breathing.