The power of a breath

I remember the exact time I stopped feeling “get me out of here” and started feeling “please can I stay” when it came to public speaking. It was during my talk at Dublin Web Summit (as it was called then) back in 2013 and for the first time, I found myself not wanting to leave the stage. Despite nowadays absolutely loving giving talks, just before going on, my heart always raises.

In the beginning, my pounding heart was accompanied by a “Why on earth did I agree to do this?!” and I genuinely wished that I could back out, even if I knew that just a few minutes into my talk, I’d be more at ease and really enjoy it. That feeling of wanting a way out have passed and I rarely experience it nowadays. I love the topics I talk about and I love putting together the narrative and visuals that go with it. And for some reason, I love to step into the spotlight and begin to tell my story. It’s almost like stepping into a time capsule. Everything stops. It’s just you and the audience. Sometimes you can see people. Sometimes you can’t. Even if all eyes are on you, it feels intimate. You’re vulnerable, but there’s something beautiful and magical about that. Whilst I’m not the kind of person that seeks or particularly likes to be the centre of attention, I absolutely love to step onto the stage and weirdly enough, the bigger the audience the better.

Despite all of this, my heart still beats a bit extra during the talk right before mine and then particularly in the minutes leading up to when it’s my turn. Just how much tends to depend on the setting and the atmosphere – particularly the light in the room – how many times I’ve given the talk before, how much I’ve slept and how on form I feel in general.

Last Friday I gave a talk at Generate London and a couple of talks before mine, Paul Lewis talked of sensors and showed his heart beat in real time. In the talk following that, Vlad Magdalin also mentioned his heart beat and there was something quite nice and honest about this. Most speakers I know feel nervous, particularly right before going on stage and as Eva-Lotta Lamm was doing her live sketch notes and my talk slot was approaching, I could feel my heart beat faster and the nerves taking over. That’s when I turned to my watch.

The Breath app that came with the latest update is my new favourite thing about the Apple watch. I’ve recently started going to more yoga and pilates style classes and D is very much into breathing techniques and meditation, so it’s something we talked about a lot recently. “Take a deep breath” is nothing new and it’s what I’ve always done before going on stage previously. It helps to settle my nerves and it has felt like it’s slowed down my heart rate somewhat as well, but it’s often been one or two deep breaths and not much more.

On Friday as I felt my heart beat faster I started the breath app. There’s something incredibly calming and soothing about the floral animation and the haptic beating that accompanies each breath in and each breath out. It’s so simple, yet really powerful. I tapped the ‘breath again’ button over and over and tried to hide the bright light of the flourescent animation in the dark auditorium. It was the first time I gave this talk and whilst the subject is one I know, I wasn’t as familiar with the flow of my talk. But despite that, my nerves and my heart beat were the lowest they’ve ever been going on stage and I felt more relaxed and at ease than I’ve ever done before. Something I thank both the breath app and the wonderful venue and atmosphere of Generate London for.

For the Curious George, this is what the Apple Watch clocked in terms of my heart rate. 13.50 is when Eva-Lotta started her talk and my mind went “It’s soon my time”. It’s also when I started using the breath app. 14.35 was when my talk started and 15.12 is just before it finished.

Ps. For more about heart rate I recommend reading Becca Caddy’s post Sex, shoplifting and scares: Plotting my heart rate highs and lows

Image source: Screenshot

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