Have you ever heard of homiletics? It is all about the art and science of preaching a sermon. The most prolific public speakers are preachers who make a long speech at least once a week, and often as much as three times a week, every week save for vacations. That is a lot of public speaking.
Preachers are special in another way. They don’t suffer from glossophobia: the fear of public speaking. Some 25% of the population claim to suffer from that particular malady. It used to be said that people feared public speaking more than anything else. It certainly makes just about all the top 10 lists.
That tracks with another undeniable fact: Most people who attempt to do sales are terrible at it. Sales is really hard and most people are as averse to doing it as they are to public speaking. Sales are often 1 to 1 speaking and sometimes 1 to many. It is more demanding than a sermon because the salesperson has to speak extemporaneously. They have to adjust to the situation and respond to the moment. That is a big ask for most people.
While sermons are seldom interrupted, bible class teachers have to respond to questions and comments that can take them far afield from their notes. Even sermons are not altogether static. A preacher has to know when their preparation just isn’t working. They have to be prepared to abandon their notes and move in a different direction. It is a part of reading the room and understanding when you are not connecting. The purpose of the sermon isn’t to get through your notes. It is to communicate something important to the people who took the time to listen. The ability to read the room is a critical part of delivering a good sermon. Here are a few others that will help your public speaking whether or not it is inside a church building:
Include Emotional Hooks
A hook is something that compels the listener whether or not they want to be compelled. Some things like emotional hooks supersede our will. We react autonomically to certain stimuli. Before applying emotional hooks, study a good guide to giving a sermon to learn the basics like,
- Choosing the right topic
- How to study and practice
- How to leverage your content beyond the initial sermon
After that, you will need to learn the power of emotion, playing off people’s feelings and mood, while also strategically deploying shocks or hooks such as jokes. Laughter is autonomic. Even if you are sad, a funny joke will make you laugh despite yourself. Preachers take control of the room just by making them respond with laughter. They are being conditioned to respond to what the speaker is saying.
Stories carry emotional weight which is why so many preachers use stories. Some are personal. Some are from the morning news. We respond emotionally to stories. This is another way preachers compel the response they want when they want it. Pretty soon, the audience is leaning forward waiting for the next moment they are compelled to respond. You can feel it when that happens. From there, you can deliver your message and know it is being received. The audience literally can’t help but receive it.
Offer the Unexpected
Don’t try to walk someone else’s path. Some of the best advice you will ever get is to be cool with being different. This will serve you well in the field of public speaking. As a preacher, you can get people to keep coming to meetings out of inertia. But that should not be the goal. You can always tell when an audience is there just to be there as opposed to being there to be challenged and improved.
If you want to teach nothing from your sermon, just keep saying the same things you always have. We only learn things when we hear something different that challenges us to consider new information. You have to offer the unexpected piece of information that makes the audience stop and think about what you just said.
Again, it is an autonomic response that has nothing to do with will. If you say that 1 and 1 is 2, no one will listen because they already expect you to say that. But if you said that 1 and 1 is 3, everyone would stop, evaluate, and remember how wrong you were. They can’t help but respond to it. The same thing happens when you give them true, but unexpected information. You have to challenge their expectations. Challenge does not mean offend. You can challenge without being offensive. Use your quirky uniqueness to your advantage. Say what they don’t expect to hear and they will hear you whether they want to or not.
Give Away the Takeaway
Whether you speak for 10 minutes or an hour, you want the hearer to take away an important message. Figure out what that message is and give it to them up front, directly, and repeatedly. Don’t make them wonder what you are on about. Give away the takeaway to ensure that your audience actually has something they can hang on to and remember.
When you are first starting out, you will do well to make the takeaway some of the first words out of your mouth. Tell them why you are talking to them right up front and reiterate it after every major point. Do that so that each point you make has a clear connection to what they are supposed to remember.
You will need to make an appeal to someone at some point in your life. That appeal might take a few minutes. Much of public speaking is just making an appeal and pleading your case to the people in the room. If you were able to convince someone to marry you, then you already have the basics of speaking. Find the emotional hook that compels a response. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Be that tickle in the back of one’s head that challenges expectations. And be very clear about your message. Don’t leave the important things ambiguous. Whether for an audience of 1 or an audience of 1,000, these tips will get you to the finish line. And your audience will gladly come along for the ride.