I remember when one of my sons was in 2nd or 3rd grade and was practicing reading out loud. He would take a breath after almost every word. Teachers explain to children in that age group that they should wait to take a breath until they come to the end of the sentence. At that age, there are only 6 or 7 words in the sentence!
The problem comes in high school when sentences can be quite lengthy with little or no punctuation. Under the mistaken belief that they are not allowed to breathe until they come to the end of the sentence, students run out of air long before running out of sentence. The last few words become inaudible and breathlessness ensues.
As adults, we hear this more often in men than in women in normal conversation; but, we also hear this when listening to some public speakers which includes both men and women. The problem is in part caused by nervousness. When addressing an audience, many speakers never think to breathe.
How can you rectify the problem?
1. Understand that you have a ‘speaker’s license.’ You can breathe almost anywhere in any sentence.
2. Liken your air supply to that of a balloon.
3. Learn to supplement your air supply. Add air to your balloon BEFORE you run out of it.
There is a caveat to the ‘speaker’s license.’ If you speak in a monotone, interrupting your sentence to breathe becomes tedious to the listener. However, if you have any color, any life, any emotion in your delivery, then you can easily supplement your air supply almost anywhere in any sentence.
The two times I suggest you don’t take a breath is during the personal introduction: do not take a breath between your 1st and 2nd name or when stating the name of your business if it is more than 1 word.
For example, if your name is John Smith, you wouldn't say John - breath - Smith.
Let’s practice with the sentence below.
- I am going to the store * to buy some milk.
Say the sentence out loud and take a slight breath where you see the asterisk. (Again, this will not work if you speak in a monotone.)
Now say the sentence again and this time pause after the word I.
- I * am going to the store to buy some milk.
You may think this is an odd place to pause (to breathe) but it works if you speak with some emotion. As you say it, you might move your head slightly as if you are thinking about or debating whether you are going or not. There are so many possibilities when you speak with color.
The next time you find yourself running out of air before running out of sentence, bear in mind that you do not need some form of punctuation to take a breath. Keep your balloon of air inflated, supplement throughout, and your listeners will hear everything you say – not just the first half of your sentences!
The Voice Lady, Nancy Daniels, teaches voice improvement and presentation skills in private sessions, group workshops, and by means of Voicing It!, the only complete voice training program on video. To find out more, visit Nancy's Voice Training Website and discover your ‘real’ voice.