Public speaking is often the most feared obstacle in people’s lives. Some people fear public speaking more than spiders and even death. As a church leader, you’re most likely going to have to speak in front of people on a weekly basis or more.
With my time serving on staff at Willow Creek Community Church, I have had the privilege of hearing many effective communicators. Regardless of background, theology or style, all of these speakers had common characteristics that made them effective.
No matter the size of the audience, engaging speakers share these traits as a common denominator, and we can all learn from them, whether we are on a church staff or a church leader in the congregation.
1. Know your audience. Great communicators know exactly who will be sitting in the crowd and will tailor their message to that audience. Make sure you know who will be in the room and where they come from. Speak with the appropriate energy, passion, tone and language for your audience. Pay attention to the signs of an engaged audience. Look for eye contact, heads nodding in agreement, and other indicators of an actively listening audience.
2. Have a crystal-clear focus. What are you trying to get across to your audience? Before you even write your sermon or speech, know the concise answer to this question. If you don’t know, then your audience won’t either. To hit your target, you have to know where you’re aiming. Have a roadmap for where you are taking your audience. Clarity is the key to articulating your points without complexity.
3. Win the hearts of your audience. All of the engaging church leaders and speakers that I have heard won the hearts of their audience members. They are authentic, transparent and down to earth. Remember that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. People who are more relaxed appear more confident and make their audiences more comfortable. Engage your audience with humor and tell your stories, but remember that clear content is key.
4. Evaluate yourself regularly. Do you evaluate yourself and receive feedback from your church staff on a weekly basis? Are you focused on doing whatever you can to improve your communication? Watch videos of yourself to help improve style and transitions? Be sure to remain open for constructive criticism. Use a tablet or cell phone to record your content, and pay attention to the things that you can improve. Pay attention to facial expressions, repeated words and the filler words that you continually use out of habit. Once you see yourself speaking, it is far easier to change ineffective behavior.
5. Call people to action. Tell your audience how they can respond. Challenge them with next steps. It is no longer enough to simply educate an audience on a topic. People are looking for more than just an education and inspiration. They want to be moved to behave differently and called into action. Give your audience tangible and obtainable next steps and goals.
6. Be prepared. Speakers that are gifted in captivating the attention of a group are always prepared and have rehearsed in advance. Don’t leave anything to chance, especially since nerves can get the best of you when you step in front of your audience. Make sure you practice aloud multiple times so that you are used to the material and can fit it in within your allowed time segment.
By trying to incorporate some of these skills and characteristics into your speaking style, you can effectively improve your communication, no matter what the topic or audience.
What other tips do you have for church leaders looking to improve their communication?