As a youth pastor, I am constantly speaking in front of people. It’s something I never anticipated when giving my first speech in seventh grade. In fact, it was never something I truly enjoyed doing in school. I got more comfortable with it each time, and I did enjoy talking about topics that interested me, but I never guessed public speaking would be a large part of what I do on a regular basis.
Beyond my church, I often find myself speaking at small events, teaching workshops at conferences, and leading large meetings. God continues to give me opportunities with a platform.
But here’s the deal… I know I can definitely be better. I’m far from perfect in this area! In other areas, maybe, but not this one. (Clearly joking, but I feel I have to point it out.)
This year, at the Orange Conference, I attended Jon Acuff’s workshop on public speaking. If you don’t know Jon, do yourself a favor and get to know him. Go to a workshop of his, hear him speak, or at least, read one of his books. He’s not only a great speaker, but he has a great way of teaching others to be better.
Many of the things he shared were concepts I already knew, but it was good to hear the reminder. Other things, while often so simple, were mind-blowing.
If you’re also looking to get better in the area public speaking, I’ve compiled the main points from his talk below:
1. Know your audience.
Jon made some great points about how this is the first place we need to start. The speech is not about you; it’s about the audience. So, make sure to learn all you can about them. Ask questions about what excites them, their current challenges, and their demographics. Make sure to also ask if there is anything you should avoid in your speech!
He went on to state that the goal of the entire speech is to empathize with your audience, not to mimic them. You don’t have to fully understand and act like you know everything about them. Instead, be able to show them you get some aspects of it without acting like you are one of them (especially if you are not).
2. Play to your strengths.
After your research, Jon suggests going straight to writing. Also, he says to do this without editing. This “word dump” will help you write without fear. You can always go back later and edit it. Once that is done, look for ways to naturally connect the main thoughts together. He also said a good suggestion is to predict pushback and then prepare to respond to it well. And if you are preparing slides, get someone else to design them if you are not a designer yourself, and keep the points very short and “tweetable.”
Humor was one of the main points he spoke about under this point. He instructed us to only be as funny as we are in a normal dinner conversation. Many people try to be things they are not. Most audiences appreciate genuine honesty over someone trying to be a comedian. If you do use humor, though, Jon suggests the best times are when you want to release some tension. If you’re able to create a flow of tension and release throughout a speech, you can really keep their attention.
3. Read the room.
One of the things I’ve found comes with practice is the ability to read the room. When you can realize in the moment that something is not connecting or that another way of saying something would connect much better, it really helps to connect with the audience. There are times when I have given the same talk to two different groups, and while the content stayed the same, the illustrations and off-hand comments were different. The more speakers can do that, the better. This even comes down to mistakes. If you can read the room to see how they respond, you can respond well to it, too. Just roll with the mistake and play into the audience.
Jon stated that the more “inside-moments” we can create, the better. Draw the audience into what you are saying by helping them feel they are special. They aren’t just the random group of people you are addressing today. No, they are full partners. You are serving them, and you want to help them walk away with something that will help them. The more we can create moments they will remember, the more we will draw them in. One of the best ways to do this is a “call-back,” where you circle back around to something you mentioned before, especially when it is funny. It helps the audience go, “Oh yeah, we experienced that together. We had a moment!”
While this is probably something that could go left unsaid, I’m glad Jon brought it up. It’s really easy to get comfortable when preparing to speak and forget to practice. I find this is often the case when I speak on a more regular basis. When it’s a special event, I usually practice quite a bit, but regular gigs don’t get nearly as much practice.
Jon said it’s best to recreate the environment the best you can, so you can practice like it is the real thing. Be sure to time it and take notes throughout. Sometimes, you’ll think of something in the moment to say differently. Other times, you’ll realize something sounded much better in your head than it did out of your mouth. Timing helps you to know if you should lengthen pieces, or probably more accurate, cut things to keep it in your time limit.
5. Enjoy it or they won’t either.
I don’t know about you, but there have been a few times when I have been given a topic, and I just didn’t feel it. It’s these times when keeping this principle is especially difficult. Nonetheless, if you don’t enjoy what you are saying, how do you expect your audience to enjoy it?
There wasn’t much more to say about this point. If you don’t show your excitement and passion about your topic, there is little chance that others will go there on their own. You have the platform. You can easily set the tone of the room.
While Jon made some great points, the ones that stood out to me are definitely the importance of knowing your audience and reading the room. My favorite speakers were the ones that made me feel like they knew what I needed to hear and they said it in a way that truly connected with me. They made it seem so natural, as if we were just sitting in a living room together having a chat. That’s how I hope to be when I speak. So, I will certainly try to put all of these principles into practice, as God gives me more opportunities to talk in public settings.
What points stand out to you? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
You can connect with Jon Acuff on Twitter @jonacuff or check out some of his books. In fact, he has a new one coming out on September 12 called Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. You can pre-order it on Amazon today.
Want more from The Orange Conference 2017? Click here!