Have you ever heard a sermon and struggled to understand the pastor? There have been times when my wife and I have visited churches and struggled to listen because the pastor’s public speaking ability was so poor. In those situations, deciphering what is being spoken about is difficult.
Whether it is a sermon full of ‘umms’ or a prayer spoken at the speed of sound, if the audience has lost track you are not communicating effectively. As a pastor, this could quite literally be the difference between redemption and condemnation.
There are a myriad of reasons why a pastor should always continue to develop as a public speaker. Here are five communication tips for pastors to consider:
- Verbal pauses are opportunities to lose your audience. The more ‘umm,’ ‘what do you think’ and ‘ahhh’ statements you have in your speech, the more opportunities there are for your listeners to check out. This is a hard task to break, but you can do it. Simply record your preaching and then do the difficult task of listening to yourself. Identify your verbal pause, and make mental efforts to do it less and less in both conversation and preaching.
This won’t stop overnight, but working at it will help maintain your audience’s attention because you, as the speaker, will appear more knowledgeable about what you are talking about.
- Body language matters. Do you use your hands to talk? What motions do you make? Do they support what you are currently saying or are they the same motion over and over and over again?
Hand motions are a fantastic way of driving home a point. Your body language on stage is half of your speech. If you stand like you don’t care, your audience will think you don’t care. If your hand gestures don’t match what you are saying, people will be confused. A way to learn what you do when you preach is to video yourself. Set up your smart phone in the back, record your speech and then watch it. You can begin to learn what gestures best fit you and suit your personality and the speech you are giving.
- Jargon alienates people. Jargon is language that is specific to a field of work or study.The more you use it the less people will listen. For example, if you were to preach on inaugurated eschatology or the problems of annihilationism you would probably lose your audience.
I find that speaking to the lowest common denominator in a speech can be demeaning to some listeners, but speaking to the smartest person is not helpful. Aim to speak to the average person and the majority of your audience will understand you.
If you must use jargon use it sparingly and explain it clearly, using examples when possible.
- Your speaking rate matters. As you watch or listen to a sermon you have given, listen to your rate of speech. Dynamic pauses (which are different than verbal pauses) can help drive home your point and allow you a breath to prepare for the next point. Many people speak too fast when they are nervous. This can leave people in the dust wondering what they just heard. If you speak too slowly, however, your congregation will learn new and inventive ways to take a nap during your sermon.
- Passion is key. If you care about what you’re speaking about, sound like you care. Passionless preaching is unengaging preaching. Be willing to break inhibitions and let your emotions show through when you speak. Convictional speaking is always better than un-convictional droning. A good video to watch about speaking with conviction is Taylor Mali’s poem “Speaking with Conviction.”
These are points to consider, and it may be that you should attend a seminar on public speaking or hire a speech coach. The important thing is to always be improving.
God can certainly save people in spite of (or even through) poor public speaking, He even used a donkey to speak to a man once (Numbers 22). But as ministers of the gospel we should aim to speak well in public in order to not stand in the way of the message we are proclaiming. It is the preaching minster’s role to develop his speaking abilities in order to do his job with excellence to the glory of God.
What about you? What public speaking advice can you share with us? Please place your comments in the section below.