Whenever someone asks me what they can do to become a better speaker…
…I start by telling them to work harder to develop excellent message illustrations.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve got technically perfect delivery, voice control, nonverbal skills and killer comedic timing.
If your illustrations don’t clearly and concisely connect one idea to another, your talk will fall flat.
At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of “technically deficient” speakers bring an awesome message on the strength of one unforgettable illustration.
Want to become a better speaker? Start by following these rules toward generating better message illustrations.
Before we get started, let me tell you where these rules came from. I’ve analyzed and torn apart more than 100 different talks I’ve given in my career. I’ve also done the same thing for other talks that I’ve seen.
Lastly, I’ve tried to study the illustrations that Jesus used throughout the Gospels. I’m convinced that in addition to everything else, Jesus was a Master Illustrator, and you’ll see some of that in this list.
So grab a piece of paper and a pen, and let’s get started.
1. Illustrations should be immediately recognizable to your crowd.
A while back, a youth speaker at my church shared an illustration about his favorite basketball player, Pistol Pete Maravich. Hardcore (or older) basketball fans will know that name, but Maravich retired from the NBA in 1980, 15 years before any of my students were even born.
The problem with this illustration was that in order for students to understand it, the speaker first had to spend a full eight minutes explaining who Maravich was.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shares bundles of farming illustrations because that was the idea that was most well-known to the most people in His context. They may have struggled to understand why Jesus was talking about a mustard seed, but they knew intimately what a mustard seed was.
It was a sad day when I retired the illustration about Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” in 1997, but when it hit me that almost none of my students were alive when it happened and that most of them (incorrectly) thought LeBron James was the greatest basketball player of all time, I realized I didn’t have a choice.
I couldn’t help them understand the idea of Spiritual Endurance by relaying a story they didn’t know, hadn’t seen and didn’t care about.
Same thing goes for older movies and TV shows. It’s probably not worth explaining something they don’t understand to help them understand something else they don’t understand.