Do you remember public speaking in school when you were growing up? Maybe there was a class specifically dedicated to it, or maybe it would just roll around every once in awhile when projects were due or presentations were required.
The words themselves, “public speaking,” seem to carry an immense amount of pressure. They connote sweaty palms, cracking voices, and hours practicing in front of the mirror.
For some people, those words are about as welcome in their lives as a spider or a confined space.
Public speaking isn’t easy, but it is necessary—especially as a pastor.
So I’ve compiled the advice I’ve heard over the years into a quick, simple list.
Here are the three things every great public speaker knows:
1. Telling a story is the best way to engage an audience.
Telling a story is your best bet for not only connecting to and engaging your audience, but also for ensuring they’ll retain the information you give them. For some reason, our minds are wired to remember stories more than any other method of information delivery.
We can listen to facts all day and rarely remember more than a few of them.
But when we hear a story, we absorb nuances and the details with remarkable accuracy.
When you’re preparing a speech, or a sermon, tell your audience stories. Weave your message through with anecdotes and examples, both from your own life and from the people around you. You’ll keep your audience engaged and help them remember what you told them.
2. Focus on giving a complete message, not filling the time.
Have you ever listened to a TED talk? They’re remarkable aren’t they? They’re some of the best speeches given by some of the most fascinating people and they’re only 20 minutes long. Does that seem strange to you? The most fascinating people in the world are giving a speech and yet they’re restricted to 20 minutes.
But it makes sense and here’s why:
Our attention spans max out at about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, we have a much harder time paying attention and retaining information.
Now, I’m not suggesting that our sermons should all be cut to 20 minutes, but what if we focused on being intentional with our words and direct in our message—saying what we mean to say in the most effective way we can possibly say it?
When you’re preaching, focus on making your point—not filling the minutes. Your speech will be better, and your audience will appreciate it.
3. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to do next.
When we listen to a speech, we only retain about 30 percent of what was said. This is a combination of a limited attention span as well as the fact that we’re taking what the speaker is saying and applying the relevant parts to our lives.
So when you’re speaking or preaching, it’s important you are extremely clear about what you want your audience to do with the information you’ve given them. Don’t expect them to remember or to figure it out on their own. Tell them explicitly, and don’t be afraid to repeat it. Your clarity and repetition will help your audience remember and act on the point of your speech.
Keep practicing, trying new things, and seeking wisdom from excellent communicators. Public speaking is an art, and just like most things, you get better the more you practice.