Communicating: 5 Ways to Avoid a Bad Talk, Keynote, or Sermon
For the better part of my life I’ve been standing in front of audiences. I still remember the first time I had to approach a microphone and stand in front of a group of people to deliver a speech. It was in a Catholic church and I must have been in 2nd or 3rd grade.
I stood in line behind the other speakers for the day and when my turn came I carefully approached the step that had been set in place to assist us with reaching the microphone behind the podiam. My parents were there but other than that I looked out into a sea of unfamiliar faces. From what I remember things went pretty well. But then again most audiences are pretty gracious toward adorable elementary school students.
Since that time most of my public speaking has been done in a congregational setting as a preacher/pastor or some sort of special spiritually focused gathering. There have been some occasions where I’ve spoken to a local civic group or emceed a special event. Not to mention ceremonial type events such as weddings, funerals, or dedications.
Even with my experience I completely understand how public speaking is consistently ranked in the top 5 of most Americans’ greatest fears. What I know is at times I’ve communicated well and at other times it’s been quite disastrous! Like anything else though with experience you learn to hone in on some things that can help you avoid giving a bad talk.
Today, we are a culture obsessed with knowing where we are and where we are going. I have GPS on my smartphone, some come built into new cars, and it’s nothing to run to a local retail electronics store to pick up a pretty inexpensive GPS device. Whatever the case, we generally don’t have a problem getting directions to a particular DESTINATION. The same is true for any talk. It’s critical to know where you’re going! Have a destination in mind and it will make all the difference in the world. When I have the jitters upfront it generally has to do with the fact that I’m a bit foggy on where the plane is going to land.
If I’ve done this difficult work before hand the anxiety subsides dramatically. In fact it can become a rather fun (noteless) trip getting there. So, it is wise to begin with the end in mind. Start at the end of your talk and work backwards. If you don’t know where you are going neither will your audience and they’ll sense that very quickly. Once that happens it won’t be long before they go off on their own little journey and start playing Words with Friends or checking their Facebook status. If you lose them it will be a frustrating and forgettable experience for you as the communicator and for your audience that has loaned you their time.
This may not be a new insight but I’ve picked up on something that I’ve seen master communicators do. They never lack for ENERGY. They understand that for the time that they’ve been given they are taking their audience somewhere and the only way they arrive at that destination is to energize their crowd. It isn’t unusual as a speaker to feel completely exhausted after a talk. That’s mainly because you’ve exerted some serious energy, life, and vibrancy to your audience and that’s a good thing! We have to remember that most of what we say won’t be remembered, but what the audience will remember is how you made them feel. If you are energetic, alive, and speak with a sense of urgency your audience will feel the same energy. Can’t stress enough then how important it is to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water before you head out to speak.
Stories are the language of the heart is what I’ve picked up on over the years. When you use a STORY whether personal, or otherwise it connects your audience almost immediately. There’s something very human about it that draws people in and touches beyond the surface. I think that is why Jesus used stories. He wasn’t just about conveying information, He wanted His message to penetrate the tough exterior and land at the level of the soul. Stories can give us a highway directly into the inner world of our audiences. It’s a relational point of reference that will keep them thinking about your message long after you’ve left the platform. Whether you use them at the the beginning, middle, or the very end, a story will make your talk powerful and memorable.
I’ll confess that this is my greatest area of weakness when it comes to speaking. I have to consciously work to keep my head level and EYES focused on the people. The eyes are so important because they convey integrity, and credibility. If you aren’t looking at your audience then it gives them the impression that you don’t have it all together and you’re potentially not credible. Since authenticity is so powerful with today’s audiences our eyes help us keep it real. When you rehearse your delivery, make sure you consciously focus on keeping your eyes on your audience. Even after you get going and things feel good don’t drift up or let your eyes just kind of roll around. You will stand out as a gifted communicator if your eyes are where they need to be.
This lesson comes from the last 3 years that I’ve been running. I’ve learned that if I just RELAX and run I can run farther and run faster. The same is true for speaking. Settling down and just breathing will go a long way in helping to deliver a powerful message. Before a talk it’s natural to start to panic and think about everything that could go wrong. We fret over whether or not we’ll say what we need to say just the way we prepared it. We think about whether or not the audience will laugh at our jokes or if they’ll take us seriously when we need them to. At the end of the day though they will notice if you aren’t relaxed, poised, and focused on giving the best talk you can. I highly recommend praying before your talk! I also believe you have to be dressed comfortably. Nothing too restrictive or you’ll feel stiff and then you’ll talk like a stiff!! Which will make everyone become stiff!! So, my final tip, take your time. Don’t rush through just to get it over with. Don’t be afraid of silence. Take your time, and enjoy the ride and deliver a life changing message.