Have you ever tried to make a point, only to have words tumble out of your mouth and land in a messy pile in front of you? Or, how about a time you thought you expressed yourself with perfect clarity, but got a quizzical gaze from the listener, who looked as if you were speaking Latin? If only we could express our thoughts as clearly as we think them.

You can. You don't have to be eloquent or know every word on the GRE exam to get your point across. You just need to remember some basic rules of communication.

1) Use the Five-Second Rule. When you feel nervous or agitated, you slip into the stress response. Your body's autonomic (or involuntary) nervous system takes over and starts pumping adrenaline to your extremities. You sweat, lose focus and your heart rate increases. With the stress response in motion it's no wonder you have trouble expressing yourself.

But here's the good news. Studies show you can slow your body and reverse the stress response in just five seconds by doing two things. First pause, and then take one deep abdominal breath. This slows your heart rate and gives you time to clarify what you are going to say.

Will it look strange at a meeting if someone asks you a question and you take a deep breath and pause before speaking? Think about how you perceive people when they take a moment before responding. It makes them seem thoughtful and gives the impression they are truly listening.

2) Enumerate. Most of us talk too much. Studies on attention span show most people will only listen for about 20 seconds before another thought distracts them. To keep people's attention, preview what you are going to say in 20 seconds or less by enumerating your points. Say something like, "I think we should expand our business for three reasons ..." or "I have two concerns ..." That way people know what to expect. It also helps you zero in on the points you want to make.

3) Match your body with your words. In past articles I've mentioned that 85 to 90 percent of communication is done with body language. People subconsciously read you all the time. In fact, even as you are sitting there, reading this article, your body is talking. So, let's say you are trying to express an impassioned opinion. What will your listener think if you round your shoulders, cross your arms in front of you and refuse to make eye contact? Let's put it this way: No sale.

Think about people who express themselves with great conviction. They are doing four things with their bodies while they speak: They stand tall, lean forward, use their hands to accent their words and they make eye contact with everyone they can. Their body language is what makes them so convincing.

Great orators are like great leaders: They're not born; they're made. There is nothing that will increase your communication power more than your ability to express yourself well and clearly. So make a commitment to practice these three rules. Get good at them. Your communication depends on it.

Elisa Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For information, call her at 305-296-5437, or go to http://www.elisalevy.com.