Recently, we watched the Ron Howard documentary on Luciano Pavarotti. When asked what he learned from opera co-star Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti noted her rock-hard diaphragmatic muscles. (The diaphragm holds a volume of air in the lungs and is used to support notes and give a speaker or singer a steady supply of air.) Once Pavarotti learned to control his diaphragm, it allowed him to sing with more breath control, reach a high C multiple times, and withstand years of touring and concerts.
At least twenty thousand times a day, we breathe without thinking. Breath control is a core element of athletics, yoga, musicianship, Zen Buddhism, speaking and singing. Yet diaphragmatic breathing is often a mystery to amateurs.
Because stage fright causes constriction, proper breathing for professional speaking is key. First step; imagine breathing into your navel, not your chest. Before going in front of an audience, your mind should be focused on your intention, but your entire speaking apparatus— lungs, diaphragm, larynx and throat needs to be open and relaxed. Breathe into your navel to flatten the diaphragm, then breathe out slowly three times between pursed lips. You’re ready.