Although she's now paid to instruct it, it might surprise some that Pamela Hart, founder of Vancouver's Release Your Voice program, wasn't always a guru at public speaking. In our interview, she speaks effortlessly and confidently—traits that, ostensibly, are taught in her program. But the program exists, she says, because she had her own trepidations about presenting herself—and her words—publicly.
"I was terrified of it," she says. "It was so bad that when I was a graduate student at Harvard—and had to go onstage to talk about your area of study—I was shaking. Before I went up, I said, 'I can't run out of here. I can't leave. I can't go get a drink.' Then, I saw a fire alarm and thought, 'I know what I can do!'"
She laughs. And thankfully, she didn't pull that fire alarm. Instead, she proceeded, and what she learned from the process is that nervous energy can be managed. "Through my work at Harvard, it became something I could control through learning how to address the audience and hold yourself. And learning breathing techniques."
And those breathing techniques, Hart learned, defied conventional wisdom. "People tell you to take a nice, deep breath and you'll be fine. That's absolutely incorrect. It's the worst thing you can do."
Why? Because, says Hart, it interrupts your natural breathing patterns. And it can make your words sound unnatural, or forced, when you're speaking. Which, if you're listening to yourself speak (and you should be) will only excite you even more."
"When you take a big inhalation of breath, it actually excites your nervous system—making you more nervous. The exhalation breath it what actually calms you, and relaxes your nervous system."
And once you've got that mastered, learn, as all singers do, to speak from your chest—your diaphragm, really—which will help you project confidence. Breathing through your nose, too, will also provide a calming effect.
"So, what you do, if you're nervous, is take a small sip of air then breathe out. You next breath comes naturally. And that's the breath you speak on. Your voice will be calmer, more grounded, and you'll be more in the moment."
And that, as Hart notes in a story penned for Ezinearticles, is part of "deep controlled breathing," which circulates more oxygen into your system, gives you extra air (which, in turn, helps with projection) and prevents you from hyperventilating. Because, unfortunately, you won't have a paper bag with you for every time you speak publicly.