I asked recently on the Facebook Page:
Speaking well is a combination of giftings, preparation, and practice. Which one is hardest for you to feel confident about?
And the overwhelming response was preparation! So I thought it was time I wrote a post on how to prepare to speak.
What’s the difference between preparation and practice, though? Practice is actually taking the talk that you’ve prepared and saying it out loud, going over it, and figuring out exactly how you’re going to emphasize certain words or anecdotes, and perfect your delivery. It’s best done in front of the mirror (or in the bathtub with the door locked and a timer! And some chocolate).
Preparation is a different matter entirely. Preparation has several elements:
- Listening to God
- Finding stories/anecdotes
- Writing the talk
- Familiarizing yourself with the audience
- Knowing the details of the night
The object of preparation is so that when you arrive to give your talk, you’re calm, you’re ready, and you’re not worried about other details. You’re at peace about what you’re going to share-you’re even excited by it! And you’re ready to get up on that stage and go.
1. Listen to God-6 months-1 month before talk
Here’s an important step-even if you’ve already written your talk, or you’re going to reuse another talk. Listen to God. Just listen to Him. I often find when I’m speaking that I insert stories or sentences that I never even meant to say. They just pop into my head when I’m speaking and out they come, and I know they are of God, meant for someone special there.
But those things can only “pop” into our heads if we’re spending time with God beforehand so He has a chance to talk to us about something.
So listen to Him. That matters so much more than just practice. Get right with Him. Take walks with Him. Read Scripture and think about it.
And I also find reading books helps, too. I read a lot of nonfiction Christian books-C.S. Lewis, Mark Buchanan, Philip Yancey. Just things that can spur my thinking. When we take time to meditate on God and to expand our own understanding, that will translate into our talks.
2. Find Stories/Anecdotes-6 months-1 month before talk
As you’re listening to God, if something pops into your head that would make a good story to illustrate a point, jot it down. Make an audio note on your phone. Send a text to yourself to remind you of a story when it pops to mind. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but do it consistently so that it’s easy for you to find them all later.
We usually get our best ideas not when we’re sitting at a computer, but when we’re out driving or doing errands and have time to think. So pray that something will come, and when it does-write it down immediately!
If you have trouble coming up with anecdotes or stories to use when you speak, I have some ideas here.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Audience - 1 Month ahead of time
Just before you sit down and write your talk, email whoever is running the event and ask as much as you can about who will be attending. Are they mostly of a certain age group? A certain social class? How long have most people been Christians (or are they Christians yet?) What percentage will be saved/unsaved? Will most be married?
This is important to know, because if there are a large proportion of unsaved people, you want to make sure that your talk is accessible to all without using a lot of God-language. On the other hand, if most there are ministry leaders, you want to make sure you give them a lot of “meat” to chew on and spur them on towards more good works.
I have gone to speak before with my regular talk prepared only to find that the majority of the audience is over 65. Many of my anecdotes that I use have to do with raising children. Had I known that the audience would be older, I would have incorporated other anecdotes. So I have now learned to ask for a run-down on the audience before I speak!
It’s important not to ask too, too early, though, because often the person organizing doesn’t really know who will be coming until closer to the time. So don’t think that just because when you booked the engagement she told you the audience would mostly be younger women, with a lot of seekers, that this is necessarily the case. Often that’s what an organizer wants, but that may not be what actually happens. So check in earlier so that you’re not surprised!
4. Writing the Talk - 1 month before talk
You know your audience, you’ve spent some time listening to God and refining your message, and you’ve thought of some good stories, so it’s time to sit down and write your talk.
It’s often easier to do this with few distractions. So turn off your phone, your social media, and anything with noise. Grab your Bible and a notebook (or your laptop), and sit down and write it.
If you have absolutely no idea where to start, my audio download, Crafting a Signature Talk, can help, because it comes with a “skeleton” that’s kind of like a fill-in-the-blanks for a talk. It tells you when to include Scripture, when to include stories (and what kind of stories), when to use a statistic, etc. etc. And it will tell you how to share your own story, too!
Even if you have already written your talk, and you’re going to be reusing a talk, a month ahead of time is a good time to get out that talk and read it through. I always end up making changes, because God is always speaking to you about slightly different things. Reading it beforehand helps it percolate so that you’re prepared.
5. Check the Details - 1 Week Before
Preparation is so much a matter of your own peace of mind. We’ll be more at peace if our talk is well structured and well written, we know who the audience will be, and we know how the night will go so that there are no surprises.
One week before the engagement, send a quick email to the organizer verifying all the details: the time of arrival; what time the event begins; what time you will be speaking; how long you will be speaking for; whether you’re the last thing in the program or you’re in the middle (if you’re at the end, you will likely end on a more serious note than if you’re in the middle); even the directions for where you’ll be going!
I showed up at an event once with my regular Christmas talk prepared only to find that they had advertised me as a “Christian comedienne”. Someone had heard me speak, and had thought I was funny, so they decided to put that on the posters.
Yes, I’m funny, but my talk was not a comedy routine.
I sat through dinner a nervous wreck trying to figure out more jokes to add to my talk. I managed to do it, and it went off well, but it was very stressful!
So before you go, check out the website and see exactly what they’ve told other people you’ll be delivering. All too often it’s not quite what we’re expecting! If you know what other people think they’ll hear, then it’s easier to give it to them.
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Finally, bathe everything in prayer. Pray when you first get the engagement. Pray whenever God brings it to mind. As you’re driving, pray over conversations you will have with people. Pray that God will bring something new to mind to say that is just what someone needs to hear. Pray that baby-sitters will show up and that all that God wants to be there will be able to come. Pray that distractions will be minimized. Pray that the Holy Spirit will speak through you.
Ultimately it is God’s event, not yours. You can prepare to your utmost, but He will be the one who makes the event successful or not. So step out in faith, and be obedient, and be responsible with the task God has given you.
And in the words of Paul to Archippus in Colossians 4, See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.
Next I’ll talk about how to practice! Stay tuned. And remember that you can sign up for speaking newsletter here, which will give you special emails on different topics of a speaking ministry.