In almost 50 years of ministry, I have often had the privilege of sharing with aspiring ministers the following directives for effective public speaking. The most powerful people in the world are not always the most talented. Often, they are simply the best communicators. So, be very careful about your words. Work diligently on the way you express your ideas, because:
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Practice communicating your revelations and insights first to individuals or small groups. Doing so will prepare you to share in front of larger groups. Take every opportunity.
The Bible declares that we should all speak as oracles of God and that "death and life are in the power of the tongue," so this is an area that should definitely occupy our attention (Prov. 18:21, 1 Pet. 4:11). Whether you feel called to the pulpit or not, communicating with excellence is a life-skill you need to develop.
Start by focusing on the following important points:
1. Refuse to use filler words—Stop using words and phrases like "You know" or "um." They show immaturity as a communicator and prevent your listeners from really focusing on your content. Good speakers are very exacting about their word content. If you are a Bible teacher, don't use phrases like "Praise the Lord" in a repetitious, habitual way. Make sure when you utter praises to God, you do so with heartfelt sincerity and passion, and it will carry far more anointing and impact your audience to a greater degree. A silent dramatic pause is much better than empty sounds.
2. Maximize body language—Nervously moving your hand the same way over and over, or pacing back and forth in the same pattern, mesmerizes your audience until they are more conscious of your unmeaningful body movements than the important content you are attempting to communicate. Don't just utter words with your mouth. Make your whole body express the essence of the words or the ideas you are sharing.
3. Use inflections in your voice—Sometimes preachers especially will reach a certain level of pitch, tone and volume in their presentation and stay there, shouting out their words with no variation in volume and no inflections of the voice for long periods of time. You might be gushing out your ideas like water from a fire hydrant, but nobody can drink them in. Once again, you usually lose the minds of your listeners. If asked about your message, they might respond, "I don't remember what he preached, but it was sure exciting."
4. Be enthusiastic—Enthusiasm is a big key to successful communication. Ironically, it comes from two root words (en theos) that mean "God within." So, if anyone should be enthusiastic about his or her message and purpose, it is someone who has "God within." Some ideas are "caught" more than they are "taught" and the determining factor is the passion with which they are presented.
5. Be strategic—Be very strategic in how you build your case or present your idea. Don't ramble, tell unrelated stories or go down unnecessary rabbit trails, filling your time with content that doesn't really add to your purpose. Make sure everything you say is relevant to the idea you are seeking to transmit. Then wrap it all together like a gift shared with your listeners you hope they will treasure forever.
6. Illustrate your concepts—If at all possible, illustrate your theme and your concepts with real-life stories that grab the heart and the attention of your listeners. I have often told ministers in training under me that every sermon needs to go through five stages, and illustration is the pivot (the middle turning point).
The five stages are information, revelation, illustration, application, then transformation.
7. Never declare defeat before you even get started—Don't get up in front of an audience and apologetically say, "I really haven't had time to prepare for this" or "I'm not a very good speaker." Your listeners will sink back into their seats thinking, "Oh no! This person is not going to deposit anything meaningful in my life. I'm wasting my time." They will often shut down on you and barely listen from that point onward. Instead, you should start by saying, "I am about to share one of the most important and powerful concepts you have ever heard in your life!" If you value what you have to say, they will value what you have to say.
8. Make sure your opening and closing are attention grabbers—If you start slow or drag your way to a close, you won't carry your audience to a place of transformation, which should be the primary goal of any conscientious communicator.
9. Know your subject well—You may not be a former Boy Scout, but you should still memorize their famous motto: "Be prepared." Benjamin Franklin warned, "He who fails to prepare prepares to fail." Know your subject so well you can expound on it without looking at notes.
10. Build to a peak—Plan in advance a logical, ascending order for the thoughts you want to share on a given subject. Each idea should build on the previous one, until you reach the peak of your presentation—the full concept you want your audience to comprehend and retain. Remember, a powerful musical presentation usually builds to a major crescendo at the end and the hearts of those who love music are lifted simultaneously to a high place of satisfaction. Your message should have the same pattern and the same effect.
11. Be spontaneous—The flip side of No. 10 is spontaneity. Don't become a prisoner of your outline. Don't plan your presentation so rigidly that there is no room for spontaneity or creativity. The Holy Spirit will give you promptings to express yourself in unrehearsed ways. Be daring enough to do that and you will reach the next level of effectiveness. Always be willing to scrap your plans when you sense God taking you a different direction. However, it is always good to have a sturdy perch to return to after you fly for a while in the upper wind currents of the Holy Spirit.
12. Be confident—Don't allow nervousness to grip you when you walk up to the rostrum. Anxiety can block the flow of the anointing and cramp creativity. Don't let nonreceptive people in the audience hijack your presentation by drawing your attention to their bad attitudes, like unconcern, boredom or rejection of your message. Keep your attention on those who are for you and want to hear what you have to say.
13. Make eye contact—Be careful to make individual eye contact when you can. It helps people feel that you genuinely care about them and you are speaking into their lives personally.
14. Use repetition when appropriate—Sometimes, especially when speaking extemporaneously, you can draw your audience into your message by repeating a similar phrase, yet altering one or two words, like: "God will set you free from sin. He will set you free from pain. He will set you free from fear. He will set you free from depression" and so on. The mind likes predictable patterns especially if they are coupled with passion and an increase of intensity with each statement. Of course, if you overdo this method, it becomes mechanical and loses much of its potential impact.
15. Use colorful descriptions and comparisons—One of my favorite proverbial statements to up-and-coming speakers is this: "Most people speak in black and white; good communicators speak in full color." Don't just give the facts! Use descriptive adjectives and imaginative metaphors and similes. You can say, "Mary smiled" or you can say, "Mary's smile lit up the room like a sunbeam coming through the curtain at the dawn of a new day." Which one of those statements creates the most unforgettable picture in your mind?
16. Confess your authority and your identity—There is an old military maxim that says, "Every battle is won before it is fought." In other words, cultivating the right attitude in advance of your time of speaking is key. Before you walk up in front of an audience, especially if you are speaking on a biblical subject, make positive confessions like: "I declare that I will speak as an oracle of God. I am God's prophetic mouthpiece. I refuse to be confused, intimidated or fearful. I have authority in the Holy Spirit. I take dominion over every spirit contrary to the Holy Spirit in the name of the Lord and put it under my feet. Your kingdom come; Your will be done, Lord, in this place!" Your attitude going to the pulpit makes all the difference.
17. Speak with compassion, kindness, humility, and sincerity—Often Christians speakers teach, preach and testify in Christian gatherings to a room full of people who already agree with them. At times, they use this as an opportunity to present concepts with harshness that they would ordinarily attempt to say with compassion if someone of the opposite mindset was in the room. There is nothing wrong with standing for what is right, and we should do so boldly and unequivocally. However, we should strive to exude such humility, sincerity and love that people know they are not being "slammed" from the pulpit (even when the "guilty parties" are not there). I have often repeated Theodore Roosevelt's statement, "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." If you are confronting the worst social evils infecting our society today, make sure you address these things in such a way that advocates of the opposite view know that you really care about them, and not just controversial issues. Let your standard be WWJS & HWJSI ("What would Jesus say?" and "How would Jesus say it?") As Paul said so aptly, "speaking the truth in love" and "speaking the truth in Christ" (Eph. 4:15, 1 Tim. 2:7).
Bonus Key: Immerse every speaking opportunity in prayer—The most important preparation for speaking before an audience is prayer. You want your words drenched with the power of the Holy Spirit and full of inspiration. Only a life of intercession can accomplish that (and sometimes, that means hours). Oswald Chambers said, "Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work." If you implement all these techniques and leave prayer out, you will be like an ostrich trying to fly, flapping your wings around and never getting off the ground. Prayer gives birth to deep sincerity, and there is no substitute for that. A polished speaker who comes across disingenuous will ultimately have less effect and do less good than the sincere speaker who is not very polished. For the best results, these two qualities need to always walk hand in hand. Besides, you want God's attention most.
We have the greatest message in the world to convey to others.
Let's do it right.
Listen to Mike Shreve teach how to find your true identity, based on his book Who Am I?
Mike Shreve has been teaching God's Word since 1971, with an emphasis on healing and the prophetic. He has authored 15 books, including the best-selling 65 Promises From God for Your Child. Other Charisma House releases include Powerful Prayers for Supernatural Results and WHO AM I? Dynamic Declarations of Who You Are in Christ. His newest book, to be released July 3, is titled 25 Powerful Promises From God. He and his wife, Elizabeth, travel evangelistically as well as pastoring The Sanctuary in Cleveland, Tennessee. Visit shreveministries.org, facebook.com/shrevemin, twitter.com/shrevemin and instagram.com/mike_shreve.
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