When Jane came to see me, she was terrified. She was a living example of that old saying “I’d rather die than speak in public.” For a minute I wondered if she really would die before she gave her speech. She could not look me in the eyes. She turned bright red. There was sweat on her brow. She stammered, and that was all before she gave her one-minute presentation. I loved her! I just knew she would be my greatest success.

Jane was a receptionist for a large company with a strong public profile. She was sent to me along with four company account managers to spruce up their presentation skills. That was a smart move on the part of her boss. He knew the importance of public speaking. The company wanted everyone to represent it with confidence. And Jane was important because she was usually the first person people met.

Presentation skills are critical for everyone, whether you are a receptionist, account manager, sales person, CEO, president, teacher, preacher, broadcaster, or homemaker. Poor presentations are costing corporations tens of thousands of dollars—in lost orders, wasted time, and mistakes. They eat away at your reputation and confidence.

Every time you open your mouth to speak, you have two choices. You can inspire, make the sale, get your message across, influence others, and make a powerful impact; or you can bore, lose the sale, embarrass yourself, or, worst of all, make no impression whatsoever. The choice is yours.
Of course, there are a lucky few who do not have to make any choice. They were born with the “gift of the gab.” They can stand up fearlessly and delight and inspire us. Most of us, though, were not born that lucky. For whatever reason we are simply terrified to speak in public, or we do it badly. It is not our fault. Nobody ever showed us how to do it properly.

There are two key ingredients to being a great speaker, whether you are speaking to 1 person or 1,000. First, be passionate. Believe and care about what you say. People may disagree with you, but they will respect you. You will never convince everyone anyway, so figure out what is important to you, and speak from the heart.

The second key ingredient is to be yourself. Do not try to sound like someone else by imitating him. Your audience will know immediately. You will lose their trust. You are a wonderful gifted speaker if you just trust yourself to speak in your own, true voice.

Being passionate and being yourself is that foundation that you build on as a speaker. Now you need the right technique. Almost everyone uses the wrong technique when he prepares for his speech or presentation. Do you do this? You sit at your computer or grab pen and paper and stare at the blank screen or paper. You think.

Then the thoughts pour out of your brain and get tap-tap-tapped into the keyboard as sentences to be evaluated by the eyes. Your eyes move the words around, and your fingers follow through. You carry on like this until finally—hours, days, or weeks later—you finish. What a waste of your precious time.
The trouble is that this process bypasses two vital organs. The words are never tested on the lips. And the content is judged purely on how it looks to the eye, rather than on how it will sound to the listener. Now there is nothing wrong with this method if people are going to read what you wrote or, heaven forbid, you are going to read it to them. It does not work when you are preparing a speech or presentation. You cannot write something that is going to be heard the same way you write something that is going to be read.

Have you ever tried to bake a chocolate cake using a lemon pie recipe? No matter how fresh your eggs and juicy your lemons, you are not going to make a chocolate cake. You have the wrong recipe. If you want people to really listen, to be inspired and to learn when you speak, you need to prepare your material using the right recipe.

Here is the right technique. Imagine your audience in the room in front of you. Now say your first idea out loud to them. Do not write it. Whether it is one word, one sentence, or a story, talk it out loud. Speak the way you always do. Listen to yourself as you do. Do not whisper. Talk it out loud in your normal speaking voice. Get used to talking out loud and listening to yourself. If you cannot bear to listen to yourself, how can you ask an audience to listen to you?

Be creative. Try saying your thought out loud a few different ways. Keep doing it until you hear the best way. Now write it down. Look at the sentence you just wrote. Now say it out loud again, and continue speaking the next sentence in different ways until you hear the best way. Now write that down. Keep talking it out, then writing it out like this until you finish your speech or presentation. What you are doing is preparing it the way the audience will hear it. You are writing for the ear, not the eye.

Before the computer, before the typewriter, before the pen, we talked. We told great epic stories without writing them out first. Today, with all our technology, we make lousy presentations, tell uninspiring stories, and bore our audiences to tears. We have to go back and do what the Romans and Greeks did. Talk it out loud before we write it. That is the right recipe.

The beauty of this technique is that every time you go back a few sentences and talk them out loud, you are rehearsing. By the time you finish writing your speech, you will know it. And because you are talking out loud all the time, the words are your own true voice. You are not imitating anyone. This technique works regardless if you are a seasoned pro or a nervous novice like Jane. It makes great speakers, not just great speeches.

At the end of our session Jane delivered a passionate, inspiring speech. We all had tears in our eyes as we applauded her success. Jane was stunned she was so good. I was not. I knew right from the start she would be a success because all of us, given the right tools, are brilliant speakers.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways3.html

Author's Bio: 

Halina St. James is the internationally renowned communications coach and professional speaker who developed Talkitout. Her technique guarantees that you will become a powerful, persuasive speaker in minutes. Through her company Podium: Media and Communications Coaching, Halina delivers workshops and speeches in communication skills and media management to corporations, governments, and broadcasters. She is the author of TalkItOut: Discover the Secrets of Powerful Presentations and Dealing with the Media. Halina has been a globe-trotting television news producer, an actor, and a teacher. Visit her Web site, http://www.podiumcoaching.com, to book your personal or group workshops.