06/02/2013 12:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Public Speaking Is a 'Learned Art' -- One Which I Should Know!

Anne and Antoinette of Powerful Presentations

I do a fair amount of public speaking as a film producer and a blogger on The Huffington Post and my well-known restaurant newsletter. Recently, I was asked if I got nervous before speaking to large groups, and I think I surprised my questioner by replying that I did not. Of course I do feel some tension, excitement and anticipation, but not nervousness. Up until recently I thought I was a capable, apt speaker, until two very astute, smart women who run a fabulous "Public Speaking Workshop for Professionals, Powerful Presentations: How to tell It So You Can Sell It," got a hold of me and showed me how I could measurably improve my speaking skills. I attended their regular workshop at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, and joined a group of a dozen people like me who wanted to hone their speaking skills. There was a college professor, a guy who designed cars for GM, two Art College student, a business manager, a company owner, and a housewife. All had enlisted for the evening's course (at a cost of $135) to have these two experienced women coaches help us sharpen our speaking skills.

Students sit around a large table and interchange comments

Anne Reeves has more than 25 years experience as a design and marketing expert in London and the U.S. She is a partner in a major design firm specializing in brand identity. And was President of Santa Monica Toastmasters, a public speaking group. Antoinette Bryron is an accomplished Australian-born actress who is a highly-qualified communications coach and has a a very successful voice and public speaking coaching practice, using her wealth of experience from the coaching and teaching world to help clients communicate more powerfully. They have been teaching their presentation skills workshop, "Powerful Presentations," at this college location since 2006, as well as leading workshops at business and educational institutions such as the Beverly Hills Police and Fire Depts, Toastmasters, and UCLA. I was particularly impressed when they told us about a class they taught to high school students at Fairfax High...and how the young students responded enthusiatically to instruction in better speaking modes...something which will carry over to their adult lives.

Antinette critiques a presentation while Anne looks on

In the Pasadena class, after a long and very fruitful teaching session about words, voice, and visual... the major components for good public speaking, the second half was devoted to each of us taking an object from the table and making an extemporaneous talk of a minute or two to a target group. I selected a popcorn box and delivered a talk to an imaginary group of movie theater owners about the new 'organic' popcorn I had developed for their concession stands. I thought I had done well... until Anne and Antoinette quietly pointed out to me how I could have done it better. "Take pauses... don't rush through it... don't lean on the table (yes!).... make more eye contact with the listeners. They admonished me to stand straighter, bring my shoulders back, show the audience I was in command. All wonderful, welcome comments. Each of us was critiqued in a similar fashion... never harshly, always with praise to match the corrections. Believe me, I learned so much that will stand me in good faith from now on.

I won't encroach upon their class presentation, but must note a few highlights from that evening. As I said before, Words, Voice, Visual were each visited. Surprisingly, they told us that the latter two accounted for 93 percent of the success of a presentation. Antoinette pointed out that the words should be simple conversational language. The tenor and tone of your voice is vital: breathing, resonance, emphasis, articulation..all factors in speaking. Visuals were emphasized, from your appearance, who you are being, what diminishes your visual impact. Anne kept emphasizing, be yourself, see yourself!, and practice. So vital yet so neglected.

So I may sign up for another Powerful Presentations class on June 19th, from 7 pm to 10 pm ($135),when each participant can deliver a five-minute presentation with real visuals of an actual talk you may be giving. They will (gently) criticize and comment and help you polish and perfect it. Go to their website at or, to register, or call 626-396-2319. See you there!

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