We all breathe shallowly and fail to use the diaphragm, especially while we are speaking to other people. The exercise below will help you to incorporate an easy, natural, diaphragmatic breathing pattern into your speech pattern. This will make you feel less anxious when speaking, will loosen the tension in your throat, and will improve the quality of your voice.
Without the exercises below it is very difficult to teach yourself to breathe with long, deep breaths while speaking. It is hard to focus on what you want to say while monitoring each breath. The best way to train this is to read out loud while breathing diaphragmatically. You will be accustomed to speaking within a very narrow tidal range (shallow breaths). The trick to calming down your speech is to prolong the speaking time and ensure that it is not punctuated by anxious gasps. Speaking is exhalation, so you want to speak for as long as you can until you run out of air. I think that the activity below is a fantastic breathing retraining exercise.
Activity Diaphragmatic Speaking: Sit down with a good book and begin reading out loud. As you do so take a very deep, slow breath in and read aloud until you have no breath left to exhale. Do this repeatedly for five minutes or as long as you would like. To do this you have to stop reading for several seconds during each inhalation – do so patiently. You should find that you inhale for somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds and that you speak/exhale for between 6 and 12 seconds. Try to keep your voice at the same volume even when you have almost reached the end of your exhalation. It helps to speak in a calm, friendly voice. If you speak loudly and deeply while doing this activity your voice will become louder and deeper with time.
This method also works very well with singing. You can employ the tactic above when singing along to a song. The only problem is that as you inhale deeply you will be unable to sing several words in the song. Embrace this because deep inhalations permit deep exhalations and will improve your singing voice.
Activity Diaphragmatic Singing: Sing along to a song without breathing shallowly. Take a slow, deep inhalation until you cannot breathe in any more. Then sing until you have no more air left to exhale. Stop singing and inhale completely even if the vocalist in the song you are listening to continues to sing. Once you have taken a full breath in sing until you have no more air left to exhale. Repeat for five minutes, or as long as you would like.
I have been practicing diaphragmatic breathing for three years now but I just recently realized that as soon as I begin speaking to someone I completely stop breathing diaphragmatically. It became natural for me to breathe deeply on long intervals when I am alone. But as soon as someone started talking to me, I would breathe very shallowly. Because of this I would try to take breaks from conversation to try to regain my composure. At some point I had to force myself to continue to breathe deeply and diaphragmatically in social situations. It was very difficult at first because I was afraid that others would think I looked too calm.
Most people have a tendency to breathe shallowly when they are around others. A part of us is afraid that breathing calmly around others is the ultimate insult. We are almost afraid that the other person will become angry if they see us breathing too deeply. We breathe the most shallowly around people that we respect or fear. This is partly because when we breathe deeply, our emotional reactivity decreases, and our facial response time is delayed. Basically our faces become calmer and appear less attentive. Notice that when you breathe on long intervals during a conversation, your face goes blank and nonexpressive. We need to get over this fear that someone will see us and think that we look too calm. The best way to train this is to try to retain diaphragmatic breath during social encounters. It becomes more and more natural with practice.