photo © 2010 Jason Meredith | more info (via: Wylio)
I get the emails almost everyday: “I feel called to speak to women about depression.” “I feel called to speak to women about surviving abuse.” “I feel called to speak to college women about deciding on God’s will.” Or whatever it may be.
And it’s a wonderful thing to think that you have a very specific message for people! I would, however, warn you that this is not the most ideal way to start a speaking ministry–and could easily backfire.
Let me explain. In general, in the Christian church today, when you are hired to speak, you are hired to speak to general audiences. You aren’t hired to speak to just single aged college women, or to just abuse survivors, or to just those suffering from depression. You are hired to speak at a spring outreach for ALL the women in the church, or at the launch of their fall women’s Bible study, or at their monthly dinner. Such events are frequent, and often have a budget for speakers. That’s where you will begin your ministry.
Thus, you must remember these things:
1. If you are called to be a speaker, you need a message that is timeless that resonates with everyone.
Maybe God has specifically talked to you in the areas of abuse, or purity, or depression, or anger, but you must find a way to take that key message of your life and make it something that all can relate to. For instance, if you’re talking about abuse, you can use that as an illustration, or one of your points, but your whole message should be about how God is close to the brokenhearted, or how God helps you through getting over hurts. If you’re message is on purity, your whole talk could be about the blessing of holiness, and how God wants us to live holy lives, and that could be one subpoint.
Take your subject and look at what part of this appeals to EVERYONE–and then turn it into that talk.
2. Speaking is Not Therapy
I don’t mean to be harsh here, but I fear sometimes in talking to new speakers that they feel called to speak because God has done something so amazing in one corner of their lives that they want to share it. That’s wonderful, and we should all be sharing our testimony. But speaking can’t be used as a way to further healing–or at least not that primarily. I believe that speaking does enhance healing, but you have to speak first and foremost because God has called you to be a teacher, not just because God has called you to share a message.
If God has called you to be a teacher, then you should be able to teach a wide range of people, not only people specifically like you. If you can only teach people specifically like you, then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to grow your ministry, and you could be too emotionally enmeshed in your topic that it becomes difficult to give the talk the objectivity it needs to teach it well.
Yes, some people have amazing testimonies, and they become speakers based on what seems to be their testimonies alone. But that is really few and far between. If you want to become known and get hired, you need to be able to speak to a generic audience, and that means that you have to have some flexibility.
3. Speaking Starts with the Audience, not with You
When you are designing a talk, you have to ask yourself, “what does my audience struggle with?” “What are the issues my audience faces?” “What are they going through?” It is the audience that you start with; not you. You have to think to yourself, what message will most resonate with them? Sometimes when we have a great testimony, we want to only share that, because we feel that it is so powerful. But it is powerful because it happened to us; that does not mean that other people will see it in the same way. Who you speak to must be your starting point.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying don’t share your testimony. Every time I speak I share about childhood rejection and I share about my son dying. But I frame it around generic issues: how we women try to control our lives so that nothing bad happens. How we live in fear that things we love may be taken away from us. I start from their issues, and then I use my own as illustrations. I don’t start with me.
4. Realize that God will open doors when you are ready
Maybe I’m depressing you, because you really do feel called to speak to college-aged women, or to depressed women, or to abuse survivors. But let me assure you: I am not saying that you never will. I am just saying that “niche” events, that occur just for a certain subset of women, are very rare. They tend to be workshops at conferences, or regional conferences that attract only that group of women. They’re few and far between. So to get your name known to be hired where you eventually want to be, you need to get experience speaking first. And that experience will likely be with generic events.
Once you have some of those under your belt, and you get better known, you can approach some conferences and offer to do workshops. But often these niche markets don’t really pay, and it can be harder to make a living at it.
Maybe you dream of speaking in front of hundreds of women who are just in your niche, but think about this realistically. How often do hundreds of women in that niche get together to listen to a speaker? Likely it’s not very often. But how often do those same women mingle with others and get together for outreach events? Likely quite frequently.
So find a way to make your talk generic, and you can touch these women where they already are in big events. Don’t label yourself as a speaker to “abuse survivors”. Simply say that you are an inspirational speaker who talks about how God can help us overcome past hurts. Do you see the difference? Then your ministry is bigger, more effective, and more likely to take off!
If you’re having a problem seeing how you could make your story generic, my audio download, “Crafting a Life-Changing Signature Talk“, can help. It takes you through the process of figuring out what God’s main message is to you, and then looks at how to incorporate your life story in a way that people of all backgrounds can relate to it! Look at it here.