April is Stress Awareness Month, and we’re continuing this month with ways to improve your accent by bringing down your body’s stress level. In last week’s article, I asked you to loosen up the muscles that control your speech with exercises for your shoulders, neck, and jaw. If you haven’t tried those, take a minute to look back at my previous article and stretch out those muscles.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some helpful stretches, let’s move on to an important part of your speech you’ve probably overlooked: your breathing.
I’m sure you don’t notice your breathing until you get into a stressful situation: a presentation at work, a tense moment of disagreement with a coworker, or an important meeting. You probably become aware of the quicker, more shallow breaths as your heart rate and stress level rise.
Let’s explore what causes this, and work to calm things down!
Try the following exercise, and notice how your chest and stomach both behave:
If your stomach moved in with your breath, and your chest rose and fell, you are chest breathing.
In a higher stress situation, this creates quick, shallow, less efficient breathing… but perhaps more importantly for you, your voice won’t sound as rich and full as it could if you were relaxing your chest muscles.
The last thing you need during a presentation is for your body to be working hard just to breathe, especially if you’re trying to project your voice across a room. You also don’t need your lungs working overtime if you’re trying to make a good impression!
Instead, I want you to use your diaphragm muscle to expand the lower part of your lungs. This deeper breathing automatically slows your heart rate and stress level, while reducing tension to the muscles that control your speech.
Try the stomach breathing exercise again, and this time make your hand pop out with your stomach while you expand the lower half of your lungs.
If you’re still having trouble making this happen, here’s a tip!
With repetition, you’ll be able to draw on this deep breathing technique when you need it most.
Slow, deep breathing is probably the quickest, most effective way to calm the nervousness before and during a meeting or presentation. And I have some other ways to help you prepare and feel confident for those big work responsibilities. I originally made the following video during Halloween season, but the presentation preparation tips in it for nonnative English speakers are still very true. Take a look, reduce your job stress, and be understood!
If this video and article helped you, or if you’d like more information on accent reduction, take my free accent screening and receive a free pronunciation guide at losemyaccent.com.