While I enjoy preaching, teaching and in general getting up in front of others and talking, every time I do, I get the jitterbugs before hand. Research shows that public speaking ranks number 1 in the fear factor for most people. There was a time when I didn’t enjoy it. I was afraid to get up and speak in front of others. In fact while I was doing a diploma of ministry in 1999/2000, my then pastor asked me to join the preaching team, a suggestion I said no to at the time, because of the fear I had in getting up and speaking. Afterwards I felt convicted by the Lord that he had called me to preach and why was I afraid. So in 1999 I preached my first public sermon. It was at a baptism and so we had many new faces in the church, and with some nervousness I began. It was 17 minutes long and somewhere in my filing cabinet I still have the form that my pastor used to critique me. Needless to say I passed muster, for he invited me to continue to preach on a regular basis.
Since then, I have spoken at weddings (not officiated), taken funerals, preached many sermons, taught scripture in schools, spoken at conferences and time to time have addressed local, state and federal governments on a variety of issues. And I have come to enjoy the experience. And so today I thought I would share my tips on becoming effective in speaking to others.
- Start with prayer. Ask the Lord to inspire you what to say. Ask him to reveal to you what it is he wants you to say. James tells us that if anyone lacks wisdom, ask God and he will generously provide you with it.
- Know who it is your going to talk to. What is the setting. You will use different terms if your speaking to children or adults. What is the purpose for you to talk. Ensure your content is specific for the circumstances.
- Know the story. Become a story teller. Every speaker tells a story. Even if the content of your speech is mostly facts and figures, there is a story that those facts and figures are telling. Ensure that you are telling the story.
- Involve your audience in the event. Draw them into the story. Make what your saying meaningful for them. Show them how it affects them. Draw them into the conversation. Involve them in the importance of what you are saying.
- Look at people in the eyes. If your not confident in doing that, find a couple of spots on the walls that is just above their heads and look at that spots and keep talking.
- Don’t worry if you don’t say something in your notes. Your audience won’t know you missed it.
- Have fun in the process. If your having fun, chances are your audience will be having fun also. On the other hand, if your not having fun, chances are your audience wont be enjoying your talk either.
- Know your story before you speak. Don’t be tied to your notes. Practice what your going to say before you say it. Do this many times. While I write my talks and sermons, I also practice what I’m going to say by saying it. I preach it to my dog. While I”m driving my car, walking down the road, in the bath and at the table.
- Take minimal notes with you to the lectern. This will ensure you wont be tied to them. If you know the story, and have told the story a number of times before hand, you will be able to tell the story to those you are speaking to.
- Practice speaking in front of a camera or recorder. What you see / hear played back to you is what your audience sees and hears. It will honestly tell you how you are going. Do you mumble, repeat yourself. Have annoying gestures.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun. Be yourself and don’t try and be someone else.
- Dress appropriate for the circumstances.
- Finally don’t beat yourself up about the process. Once its over its over. Learn from it for the next time. Give it over to the Lord. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, and so we shouldn’t condemn ourselves for how we went either.
One final point. While all these points can be used for any kind of public speaking, within the Christian framework, ensure that all you say and do is God honouring. If your speaking about God, do so carefully and not hastily. Do so reverently and not flippantly. And the only way you can do this, is to be prayerful through the whole process. Soak yourself and your talk in prayer.