How To Improve On Public Speaking and Preaching

mustardseedguy asked a question:

How do you improve your public speaking? I pause a lot and I don’t like it. I think it’s because I think about what I’m going to say a lot.

Hey dear friend, thank you for trusting me with this question. I’m honestly much more comfortable with writing than speaking, and I know the trepidation of being on-your-feet without the safety net of going back to edit. Preaching a sermon is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Even teaching a Bible study or just sharing your testimony is extremely unnerving. Most surveys will show that public speaking is one of the top three fears in the world, even more than death or spiders. People would rather die by spiders than speak in public. If you’re introverted like me, it’s preferable.

I’m not qualified to be an authority on speaking, but the absolute number one piece of wisdom that has helped me is to know exactly what I want to say and to care about saying it. That probably sounds obvious, but it makes a huge difference when you’re passionate about your message, regardless of your speaking ability or style. When I have my message down cold and I’m fired up by the content, there’s an urgency where I can’t wait to get to the next point. It creates a kind of excitement and enthusiasm that can’t be faked or replicated by someone else.

If you find yourself forgetting what you want to say next, it’s possible you have too much to say. Try a 3am test. If someone were to wake you up at three in the morning and ask, “What’s your message in one sentence?” – you should be able to answer. Think of it this way: if you can’t remember your own points, no one else will, either. I have an entire file that’s a “cutting room floor” of extra stuff I never used for a message. As they say in English class, “Kill your darlings” and keep it simple. (By the way, you mentioned you have a pausing issue, but there’s nothing wrong with pausing sometimes. A dramatic silence can punctuate your point.)

Here’s another thing. Speaking has a learning curve, like any other ability. I heard in seminary that your first one-hundred sermons will always be terrible. It’s growing pains, sort of like a song-writer’s very first songs or a writer’s first poems – they always cringe at those. Most parents raise their first child with a lot of worries and extra attention, but by the third child the parents are laid-back and relaxed. The more you speak, the more you’ll find your voice and what works best for you.

I’ve given about 700 messages so far, and it took a few hundred before I was comfortable in my own skin. Even then, I still bomb sometimes. We never fully “arrive.” It’s a learning process for the rest of your life. And it does get easier. These days, I almost never use notes and I’ve stopped getting nauseous on stage. I call that a win.

A few last things: Be able to have a sense of humor about yourself when you’re speaking. Unless it’s a very serious topic, you can call out a mistake and laugh. Try every kind of method until you find one you like, whether it’s a full manuscript or a one-sheet with skeleton notes. Watch this super-helpful video by Andy Stanley. Watch some good sermons or even stand-up comedy to get a sense of pacing and structure.  Try recording yourself a few times to see where you can improve. Pray like crazy. Love the people you’re speaking to. Sermons are a way of serving people and serving God, and in the end, God is your main audience. Keep His glory in view.

I hope you’ll allow me to be a little vulnerable here. I’m going to share three messages I’ve preached. The first two were prepared, concise, and from the heart (in my humble opinion, though I could be wrong). The third one was choppy, not as prepared, and you can hear me reaching for things to say. You totally don’t have to listen to any of these, or even just a minute or two might help.

– The Reckless, Relentless, Sloppy Grace of God: The Church That Jesus Had In Mind

– Our Story, Carved of Grace and Glory: What It Means To Glorify God, The Most Important Purpose of our Lives

– Grace Is Not Easy or Romantic: The Gritty Grinding Gears Of Grace 

Love you my friend, and kick butt!

– J.S.

5 thoughts on “How To Improve On Public Speaking and Preaching

  1. Good post, and blog. I had a pithy comment and it all disappeared. The best thing you can do in public speaking is to practice a lot. It is an art, and like music, you have to practice. Im a story teller . . and our rule is, you dont really get good at a story until youve told it 100 times.. 🙂


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