The Craft of Communication
Being a good public speaker is both a talent and a skill. Yes, some people are naturally gifted in speaking, yet that doesn’t mean it’s a task meant only for them. If we are asked to lead a service without a mic stand or instrument, it’s all too easy to feel completely out of place. Being prepared and practicing can help you build the confidence to comfortably address your church community when called.
Most likely, you’ve been asked to share your insights to the church because of the value you hold in the topic. People want to hear what you have to say. Anxiety around speaking and leading is also entirely normal, so embrace it. Or better yet, use it as fuel. Worrying about worrying just creates more worry 🙂
An easy way to quickly subdue fear of failure is to rest in your true identity. You’re not defined by how well (or poorly) you speak from stage. Trust in God’s love and appreciation over you being will to share your thoughts and feelings with your church. You aren’t defined by what you do or how you perform, but rather by your adoption into the family of God. You are a child of the King.
Make sure there is a clear flow that will be easy for the community to follow. Let someone else read or listen to your message to ensure someone not as familiar with the topic can follow and relate. If it’s a difficult or controversial topic, start off slow and ease the congregation into your message. If you can, open with something light-hearted (a joke or funny story) to set a more relaxed and comfortable tone. Be yourself.
Try to avoid sounding scripted. Be familiar enough with your content that you can talk “off note” on the subject. Some people prepare with bullet points, some people manuscript out their entire talk, so if all else fails, they can circle back and read straight from a script. When you’re on the highwire, there’s no shame in having a safety net!
Keep it Personal
Inject yourself in your message. It can be tempting to find a great book on the subject and then regurgitate as much of the book as possible in your time-slot. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to have a testimony. How has this topic impacted your life? What can you share from your personal experience? A great way to make other align with you is to show humility. No one wants to hear from someone that has it all figured out.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
As we mentioned in our article on how to be your best for Sunday morning , rehearsing is essential. Learn the beats, pauses, and emphasis of your message so you can create special moments for every service (if you have multiple services per weekend). Avoid speaking in the same tone and volume throughout the service. If you want to be inspiring or thought provoking, you’ll want to be dynamic in your tone and cadence.
90% of communication is non verbal. Exercise and rehearse your body language, your facial expressions, your movement. Smile. Make the most of your pulpit or stage. If you do have the space to walk around a bit, challenge yourself to change position when you come to a shift in your message or story. Movement, even a few steps, engages the listeners, while also giving your nervous, restless legs something to do 😉
Laugh It Off
Stumbling over your works–or even forgetting your train of thought entirely–happens all the time. The best way to deal with it is to laugh it off, give it a quick mention, and regroup with your notes.
I once saw Craig Groeschel speak at a conference in front of 5,000+ church leaders. The stage must’ve been 100 feet long, and he was on the opposite side from his notes. After he made a powerful point, he paused and said, “You know, my mentor always told me that if I lost my spot in a sermon, to just slowly repeat my last point and quickly walk back to my notes…” And he took off at a near sprint back to his notes while saying, “Slowly… repeat… your last… point…” And the crowd erupted. He had lost his spot, but had the humility and wherewithal the embrace it and make it a funny moment.
Keep Your Head Up
If you equip yourself with notes or bullet points, don’t bury your head in them. Your attention should stay with the community. Ideally, keep your glances to your notes minimal. (If making eye contact with a crowd makes you uncomfortable, look at the very tops of their heads. No one will know the difference.)
Keep Your Head Down
When leading a closing prayer, you might be tempted to recap your entire sermon, as a last ditch effort to drill home your “big idea” one last time. I’d challenge you to listen to what God might want to say specifically in that moment. Unite your community in that closing prayer. Express your heart for what you long to see take place in and through your church community. Scripting a short prayer in your notes is sometimes helpful, but be willing to go wherever God might take you.
Preaching, teaching, and leading worship is incredibly fulfilling, but it’s important to recognize that it takes work. Chances are, you’re listening to sermon podcasts of men and women that have been public speaking for decades. Give yourself grace. If your church records sermons, listen to yours. If they film them, watch yours. It’s invaluable. And it’s something that great communicators like Andy Stanley continue to do to this very day.
We may never arrive, but we can make some waves on our way.