Would you like to preach just a bit better this weekend?
And even better the next weekend?
What if you had the tips, ideas, insight, coaching and feedback to become a world-class preacher?
That would be cool, right?
Without turning your back on what you learned in your preaching class in seminary and from the master preachers in the mega-churches, maybe it’s time for a fresh take.
It’s not your fault if you’ve gotten a little stuck, but maybe it’s time to try something new in your delivery.
Maybe it’s time for you to grow in your skill as a preacher by turning with an open mind to study the skills, style, and techniques of the stellar public speakers of our day.
Where, exactly, do you find them?
TED began as a conference that brought together speakers on technology, entertainment, and design for conversation around “ideas worth spreading”. Preparation to speak at TED these days is rigorous, and books are written to codify the techniques they advocate for powerful communication.
I got TED Talks by Chris Anderson for Christmas. I came across this article by Brian Tracy about how to wow your audience. These two have plenty to teach us about taking our preaching up a notch.
Here’s my curated list for improving your delivery as a preacher.
11 Tips to be a Better Preacher
1. Fuel your mental engine.
One thing to eat. One thing to avoid.
Eat protein for breakfast before you preach. The dopamine and epinephrine found in the amino acids in the protein will help you stay mentally alert.
Don’t drink caffeine an hour before you preach. You might expect that it will give you more energy, but the adrenaline already coursing through your veins is more than enough energy. The added caffeine will make you jittery and tighten your vocal cords.
Five minutes before you go on, drink one-third of a bottle of water. It will stop your mouth from getting dry. Don’t drink it too soon, though, or you may be hurrying to answer nature’s call when you should be walking onstage.
3. Establish a routine.
Create a routine that helps you get your game face on.
It may involve what you do Saturday night or Sunday morning before you leave the house; or what you do when you get to church; or what you bring with you into the auditorium.
Figure out what you need to do to preach your best sermon, then do it routinely every week.
4. Set the stage to maximize connection.
Don’t hide behind a bulky podium. Use a see-through or slim podium, or a music stand, or a table, like our friend Andy Stanley. The TED gold standard is no podium, no table, just one card of notes in your hand. Or give yourself a comfort backup by putting your notes on the podium, but preaching next to it so nothing stands between you and the congregation. If you lose your place, it’s easy to step back behind your notes and take a sip of water while you collect yourself.
Technology can remove the barriers between you and the crowd, or it can inadvertently make you appear less authentic. Preaching from an iPad is cool; just practice with it until you can keep your place and use it unobtrusively.
5. Focus on earning their attention.
Jeff Haden, contributing editor at Inc.com encourages,
“Make your presentation so interesting, so entertaining, and so inspiring that people can’t help but pay attention. It’s not the audience’s job to listen; it’s your job to make them want to listen.”
6. Speak with meaning.
The key here is to vary how you speak based on what you are saying.
You can communicate meaning on two levels: through your words and through how you say those words.
Watch the TED Talk by Julian Treasure called, “How to speak so that people want to listen.”
Read the chapter in TED Talks on Voice and Presence. Do the exercise that begins on page 200 to learn how to convey the meaning behind your words.
7. Don’t pace and wander.
Chris Anderson tells us that the simplest way to give a talk powerfully is just to stand tall, putting equal weight on both feet, which are positioned comfortably a few inches apart, and use your hand and arms to naturally amplify whatever you’re saying. This mode projects calm authority.
Avoid nervously shifting from leg to leg or walking forward and back. The movement may make you feel more comfortable, but it raises your congregation’s discomfort.
“Move if you want to. But if you do move, move intentionally. When you want to emphasize a point, stop and address your audience from a stance of quiet power.”
8. Share one thing no one knows.
It’s why you took Greek, got that advanced degree, and went to the Holy Lands. It’s why your sermon prep takes hours. Each week give them something they haven’t heard before.
People love to cock their heads and think, “Really? Wow…”
9. Pause for 10 seconds.
Jeff Haden says that when you pause for two or three seconds audiences assume you’ve lost your place; five seconds, they think the pause is intentional; after 10 seconds even the people texting can’t help looking up.
When you start speaking again, the audience naturally assumes the pause was intentional … and that you’re a confident and accomplished speaker. A poor speaker abhors a vacuum; only confident speakers are secure with silence. Take one long pause to gather your thoughts and the audience will automatically give you speaker bonus points.
10. Use slides sparingly.
Your congregation should be able to absorb your slides in an instant; if they have to actually read, you might lose them. And you’ll definitely lose them if you read to them.
Limit yourself to 10-12 words on a slide. Your font size should be double the average age of your audience – generally between 60 and 80 points.
I use slides to show the fill-in in the message notes and that’s about it.
11. Always repeat yourself.
Haden tells us that your audience probably hears about half of what you say, and then they filter that through their own perspectives. So create a structure that allows you to repeat and reinforce key points.
First explain a point, then give examples of how that point can be applied, and at the end provide the audience with action steps they can take based on that point. Since no one can remember everything you say, what you repeat has a much greater chance of being remembered–and being acted upon.
So repeat away!
1. Improve your craft as a preacher by thinking small. Practice one small improvement. Every week.
2. Get the download of this post so you can remember this list of 11 tips. You can find that cheat sheet in the Pastor’s Personal Toolbox — a library of our best tools and resources all in one place. Tap below to learn all about it, and keep these preaching tips handy.
3. Check out these sources:
- Get Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson
- 8 Public Speaking Techniques to Wow your Audience by Brian Tracy
4. Make it a habit to watch TED talks to learn from both the topics and the style. www.Ted.com
Blessings on you, preacher!
Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at www.pastormentor.com.
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.
Jeremy Mahood says
This was an excellent article. Straight and to the point. Thanks Hal!
Hal Seed says
I’m glad it was helpful Jeremy! I find a lot of basic (and very helpful) 101 level sermon prep articles out there, but not much for taking on the finer points of continuing to grow as a sermon “deliverer.” I’m praying this helps many preachers reach many people more effectively. God bless your Easter services!