Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free TOS apps to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

There she was, a mere slip of an English woman, barely 5 feet tall, standing in the middle of a foreign Chinese prison, surrounded by chaos. The prisoners in the middle of a riot, guards dead or wounded, blood everywhere, and Gladys Aylward was being asked to stop it. How could a white foreigner, and a woman no less, hope to stop a mob of violent men when their own Chinese soldiers refused to do it?

“Why me?” she’d wanted to know. “Because you tell us many times you serve a God of love,” said the mandarin of Yangcheng, governor of the remote mountain village where she was a missionary. “Will not your God protect you?” 

Suddenly, across the yard, a little man broke free of an angry group of prisoners. He ran straight for Gladys and hid behind her while being chased by a half-crazed man who was swinging an axe. In that moment all Gladys could do was pray a quick, desperate prayer to her friend, Jesus: “Please Lord, protect me and give me the words to say.” And in a big voice, one she’d practiced many times on a wooden soap box back home, she said, “Put that axe down!” And the wild looking man stopped in his tracks and with a confused look on his face, handed her the bloodied handle. 

Before she went to China, Gladys knew that she would have to overcome her fear of speaking in public. She was just an ordinary parlormaid with very little education. If she was to become a missionary she had to learn to be a good communicator. 

In the year and a half that it took her to save up for her travel fare to China, she often went to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where anyone with something to say could have a go. Gladys would bring along a wooden soap box, stand on it, and practice using a big voice while telling passers-by about God’s love. Many times she was ridiculed or completely ignored, but she didn’t let it stop her.    

How could Gladys have known how important those times she had practiced speaking back in Hyde Park would be? Over and over, the time spent at Speaker’s Corner had proved invaluable to Gladys while she was in a foreign country that was 5,000 miles from home. Now she found herself standing before an angry but silent mob, the complete center of attention. Not one of the dangerous and desperate-looking men could have discerned by the sound of her voice how frightened she really was. The Lord had prepared her to face this challenge.

“What is going on here? Why are you all behaving so badly?” Gladys’s voice could be heard clear across the yard.

Then the men began to tell her about their frustration with poor living conditions, little food to eat, and nothing to do all day long. Gladys promised to see what she could do for them if they would stop their fighting and take care of the wounded and the dead. Miraculously, the men agreed and the riot was stopped.

While Gladys definitely experienced God’s intervention in that situation, she also had equipped herself to face this crisis. Many of us may never find ourselves in a situation like hers. However all of us, at one time or another, will find ourselves having to speak before some kind of group. Here are a few tips and exercises that can help us become better communicators . . . without the help of a soap box. 

Tip #1: Clear Speech