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The Great Public Speaking Myth: Speakers are Born, Not Made (Part 2 of 4)

You may believe that the content of your speeches and presentations—what you think of as your message—creates the influence you’re aiming for. But the truth is, you’re the one who’s doing that. And the reason is simple: you are the message.

Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs? It turns out there was a time their speeches didn’t end with standing ovations and thunderous applause..

While Winston Churchill is known as one of the most gifted orators in history, he didn't start out that way. Boris Johnson (Historian, politician and author of The Churchill Factor) said: “We think of him as somehow supernaturally gifted, as if he had sprung from a union of Zeus and Polyhymnia the very Muse of Rhetoric. I am afraid we are only partly right”. Churchill once stood to give a speech in the House of Commons as a newly elected representative and literally froze for three whole minutes at age 29. Barely managing a few words, he returned to his seat and covered his head with his hands in embarrassment.

Vowing it would never happen again, Churchill spent years working on his craft by obsessively practicing on his delivery, word choice. Through hundreds of speeches in his political career, he was a masterful orator by the time he became Prime Minister at 65.

Now think about the late Steve Jobs, one of the greatest undisputed corporate storytellers of all time. A talented marketer, Steve’s iconic presentation in 2007 headlined the iPhone's launch by Apple. Sure the phone was a breakthrough in the smartphone market, but years after, his powerful presentation lingered in our minds. You’d assume that anyone who had this kind of flair and stage presence had to be born with it.

As it turns out, Steve wasn’t always like that. Here’s a video of Steve Jobs in 1978 as he was about to go on his first ever TV interview. You can hear him telling his staff how nervous he was and that he was about to throw up. Not what you’d expect from an all-time great presenter right?

So how did they go from the nervous rigid personalities, to world renowned presenters?​​



​​Certainly, people pay close attention to what you are saying when you speak in front, right? Sure they do, but hearing and (really) listening have two very different meanings. Hearing is when a person might forget in the next 5-10 minutes. But listening, is when a person ingests the information and becomes aware (thus going through the internal processing mechanism covered in the first post of the series).

Words, do matter, we are the only beings on the planet with the ability to communicate on an elevated level compared to the animal kingdom. This begins and ends with our abilities to articulate through the use of words. So choose your words carefully:

  • Are you using impactful words? (ix up words to describe situations, paint a picture with your words)

  • Are you using too many jargons or the nomenclature? (Nothing worse than quoting lots of acronyms or terms no one understands)

  • What’s the setting, professional business pitch or casual seminar? (you don’t want to look too rigid, and

  • Is the situation tense and require diplomacy? (sometimes “Let me respond to that” is a better way to go than “You really are an idiot!”)

INTONATION & VOCAL EXPRESSIVENESS: It’s not what you say, it’s how you said it...

Ever had a girlfriend/wife, boyfriend/husband say that to you? You instantly know you’re in a world of trouble. To better illustrate this, repeat this phrase several times and emphasize on different words as you repeat it:

“I didn’t say she was annoying”

Did the exercise show you that he/she wasn’t the one being too sensitive? Negative and positive intonations contribute to your vocal expressiveness, painting word pictures with the full color palette, while being flexible enough to achieve any gradation of subtlety required. This means anything from:

  1. FROM BEING REALLY EXCITED!! with a booming voice

  2. To telling secrets….. in a hush

  3. and everything in between.

Emphasize on different messages throughout your presentation to drive your point.

ENUNCIATION: How much wood did the woodchuck chuck if a greaasodhuiqhw…

Remember the tongue-twisters in kindergarten? It's important to speak and enunciate clearly when you communicate. Your listeners might get irritated/annoyed when they can't get what you're saying.

Mumbling, talking too quickly or quietly, slurring, inhibit the connection that you want to make with others.

One way to improve your enunciation is to practice in front of a mirror. As you do this, watch your face carefully. When you speak clearly, your lips, jaw and tongue should all move. It can also help to read aloud from a book or repeat challenging phrases for a few minutes everyday. The mouth and throat is a muscle. So just like any athlete, flexing and stretching your vocals will contribute to how well you perform on stage.


​​Albert Mehrabian (a professor of psychology in UCLA) developed a world renowned model based on his research on elements contributing to liking of a person. His research shows our liking for the person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings with the following results: words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55% of the liking.

This model illustrates that our body language plays a monumental and foundational role in determining how the audience perceives us. Your stance tells the audience that you're happy, scared, confident, or uncomfortable. Audiences "read" these messages unthinkingly but unfailingly.

Work on your posture and stance. Try standing up straight without leaning on an object to show that you have your own center of gravity. Next time you're on stage and don't know what to do your hands, use them! Not wildly, but use it to emphasize a point, release tension, and engage your audience. Learning to occupy the space is a way to show that you're comfortable in the spotlight, and nothing demonstrates confidence like a speaker at ease in their own skin.


Again, we emphasize that there's no one right way to public speaking. It all depends on your personality and the message you're trying to convey. A definite tip is to practice as it's the only surefire way to improve.

When you have the conviction in your delivery and content, your message shines through and allows the audience to connect. Your audience need more than content. Keep practicing, and remember that great speakers are made, not born.

Thanks for reading!


YK has developed a comprehensive 1-2 day training on Towards Impactful Presentation conducted in some of the biggest organizations in Indonesia. This post is the 2nd of a 4 part series that explores what goes into developing and giving a great presentation - giving readers an exclusive sneak peek into the training curriculum. For more information please contact


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