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1 Skill That Will Make You a Better Public Speaker (Even Before You Say a Single Word)

Public speaking starts way before you ever step foot in front of an audience. Learn to do this well if you want to impress a crowd.

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BY Brenda Barbosa - 01 Dec 2017

1 Skill That Will Make You a Better Public Speaker (Even Before You Say a Single Word)

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

When it comes to being funny, Primetime Emmy Award-winning king of comedy Jerry Seinfeld has spent as much as two years -- two years! -- perfecting a joke. He starts every bit the same way: writing down what he thinks is funny on a yellow legal pad with a blue, Bic clear-barrel pen.

"I wrote every episode of Seinfeld, the TV series, with that pen," he told a New York Times reporter in this hilarious interview about how he developed his famous Pop-Tart joke.

You may think two years is excessive, or that writing everything longhand is archaic, but there's a reason Seinfeld's so successful. Not only is the man funny, he is a master at his craft.

Seinfeld understands that a joke begins way before he steps foot on stage -- it starts in his head and is transferred to paper where he then works it to perfection. "If (a joke) is just a split-second too long, you shave letters off words. You count syllables...to get it just (right)," he says. Like all great performers, Seinfeld knows that great comedy starts with great writing.

So it is with speaking. A powerful, memorable talk -- whether to a stadium of a thousand people or a conference room of four -- starts as an idea in the mind of the speaker and is transferred onto paper (or computer screen) way before he gets in front of an audience.

I find this to be true with many of the speakers I work with on developing content. The most successful ones always devote enormous amounts of time to writing and editing their scripts. The ones who struggle tend to wait until the last minute before jotting down some notes, or creating a loose outline, and jumping on stage.

The highest paid speakers write and rewrite their words until they're ready to be delivered. The pros know what top comedians know: great speaking starts with great writing.

You can't put lipstick on a pig.

International speaker and author David Nihill, whose hilarious tales have won him top spot in several prestigious storytelling competitions, says no amount of performance techniques can salvage dull or dizzy content.

"If you take the stage confidently, move your arms around enthusiastically, make eye contact with everyone, smile, maintain an open and welcoming posture, power pose and walk off again without saying a single word, you will freak people out," Nihill wrote in this blog post.

He continued:

"However, if you say what you want to say in the best way you can, using your words, without trying any of the above, it should be ok. Rubbish content delivered beautifully is still rubbish."

In other words, you can't put lipstick on pig. No matter how hard you try to dress up bad content with slick performance techniques, it's still bad content.

As three-time New York Times bestselling author and Ted Talk speaker Tim Ferriss said in this interview with Marie Forleo, writing bad content and slapping a fancy cover on it doesn't make it good.

"I see so many people trying to put a tuxedo on a monkey," Ferriss said. "They want to dress it up and cover it in gold and sell it as the Willy Wonka golden ticket."

Writing is a skill.

That said, good writing is a skill that can -- and should -- be learned. Learning how to communicate your thoughts in writing is a skill that will serve you well across different industries and professions for the rest of your life. Ferriss suggests enrolling in a writing class -- whether creative or non-fiction, online or off -- to develop your writing skills.

"Invest in the skills and the principles that are more timeless, because then, you are infinitely adaptable," Ferriss said.