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Don't Forget To Breathe


I’ve recently done a run of gigs with JB and it was a lot of fun. You should make the effort to come and see us, we’re quite good.

One thing that I’ve been mulling over is this. JB does a routine that hinges around the Facebook motivational post “Don’t Forget To Breathe”. It’s a great bit, as all of Jacques’ bits are, but I’ve been thinking - it’s actually not bad advice.

Especially not in regards to performance.

I’ve seen a lot of open micers and newbies in the last few days and most of them would vastly improve their sets by simply taking the time to slow down and breathe.

Taking a breath is a power move - something to display your dominance of the craft both to the audience and to yourself. Someone who has the inclination and the chutzpah to slow the entire performance right down and intentionally leave a void, dead air, is someone who is so in command of the room that they fear nothing.

Whether or not you really do have that level of confidence, stopping to take a breath makes it look like you do.

The ever-brilliant Stewart Lee calls this “adopting a more ponderous tone”. By intentionally slowing down your performance you give yourself additional time to think without it appearing as though you’re stalling.

You get that extra half a second to plan out the direction of your set, to come up with that brilliant response to a heckler, to abort the panic attack and remember what bit comes next.

If you talk too fast and don’t stop to breathe you rob yourself of all of this.

That last point is worth diving into in more detail.

When people get hung up while talking - either through forgetting what they were planning to say, mentally organising the next sequence, even just transitioning between ideas - they tend to use what linguists call “filler words”. You would know these as nonsense words such as “umm” or “uhh” or anything of the like which are used as placeholder words between actual words.

The problem is that using placeholder words can make you look weak. It has a tendency to place you on the back foot, or make it look like you don’t know your material or that you don’t have any confidence in what you’re saying.

However, placeholder words exist for a reason and they have an important function in speech - they allow us to take a moment to organise, to collate, to transition. They’re natural. So how does one circumvent this issue?

You take a breath. You pause. You say the placeholder word in your head without ever vocalising it.

You’re performing exactly the same function, but instead of looking weak you look strong.

Because whilst saying “umm” is a sign of weakness, stopping the whole performance to deliberate on your next course of action is a full-on alpha dog baller of a move. Only someone with a total command of the performing arts would have the confidence to do that.

Audiences will subconsciously bow to your skill.

It’s exactly the same move, with only a very minor tweak. But one makes you look like a champ, the other has you coming off like a chump.

So next time you find yourself in a public speaking capacity, remember - don’t forget to breathe.

- Damo

Written to: Breathe - The Prodigy