Lessons From a Former Preacher (About Public Speaking)

A pastor speaks a lot. He or she has a multitude of speaking opportunities - sermons, Sunday school lessons, special meetings, and board meetings just in one week! These engagements don't automatically make him a good public speaker because practice (or opportunity) doesn't make you perfect; practice can create ruts where poor skills can settle in. A minister can get comfortable in front of an audience, but that comfort may translate into getting used to (unknowingly) boring people week after week.

Like any public speaker, your experience affords you lessons if you are paying attention. I've learned a few over the years:

  1. IF YOU CAN'T SAY IT IN A SENTENCE, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. Crafting a sermon every week was difficult, often heady, work. It was easy to get bogged down in the details of translation, culture, history, theology, and application, let alone developing good structure. Early on in my career my sermons were 90% details and 10% of the good stuff (my point). I eventually discovered that studying and compiling the details was necessary for my preparation, it made me competent to speak on a given subject or passage of scripture. But all that information wasn't necessary to share an idea - I needed to get to the point sooner. As a result, I started boiling my messages down to one sentence. I was going to say that one sentence, if nothing else. By doing this, I clarified my ideas, got to the point quicker, and left people with a clear idea or action that couldn't be lost in the delivery. Boil your next speech down to one sentence before giving it.

  2. USE YOUR SPOUSE (OR CLOSE FRIEND) AS A REFINERY. Preparing, practicing, and delivering a speech with out any outside input is a bad idea. Why wait to get feedback until the Toastmasters meeting? How often do we give that speech a second time to refine it? (This would be a good idea) So why not give that speech to your spouse or friend and let them help you improve your speech? My speeches have always improved dramatically as a result. So call up your mentor and get together to practice and refine your next speech.

  3. THE SOONER YOU LOSE THE SCRIPT THE SMOOTHER YOUR DELIVERY WILL BE. I used to write my sermons out word for word. This is a good thing. Crafting important sentences word for word starts on paper or computer. But ask yourself, "Do I want to be sure I say everything just like I wrote it OR do I want my delivery to be smooth and authentic?" I've kicked myself for missing elements in a speech, but never regretted not having a script and presented in a way that was pleasing to the audience. Having a really simple outline can be very useful in staying on track - just don't get glued to the outline either.

  4. PUSH BEYOND YOUR COMFORT. My comfort zone is different than yours; we are all wired differently. But we each have limits to what we feel comfortable with. Push beyond your limits. If waving your hand is a bit awkward, then waving both hands is pushing beyond. Public speaking is very similar to drama - exaggeration is an asset. You have people's attention, so keep it. 75% of communication is body language - don't forget to use it!

  5. PROP UP YOUR MESSAGE. We have more than one sense (hearing), why don't we utilize more sensing in communicating our message? Talking about recycling? Why not bring in some tin cans, pass around plastic bags, set out some really good mulch for people to smell?

We all wish we had learned some of life's lessons earlier in life. But that is what life does - teaches us lessons over a lifetime, not overnight. Everybody can benefit from joining a Toastmaster club to refine their presentation skills; I wish I had discovered Toastmasters at a younger age, but sure am glad I discovered it when I did. Toastmasters gives me more opportunities to practice what I've already learned and continue to learn even more about leadership and presentation.