[This post is part of our blog series on Public Speaking in the Church]
Great speakers don’t merely have a solid message. They also connect with their audience. I’ve sat in audiences listen to a speaker I didn’t agree with, yet connected with anyways because of his or her delivery, style, and content. Let’s explore how you as speaker can connect with your audience.
The Goal of Any Talk
If the primary goal of your talk is to get information across, you’re missing the point. Pure information rarely triggers people to action, let alone the kind of transformation we long for as Christians.
In my opinion, the first goal of any talk is to connect with your audience. Only then can you share information that will hopefully impact them and lead them to act or change.
How, then, can you as speaker connect with your audience? Let’s look at a few crucial elements.
The first element seems superficial, but it’s anything but. As a speaker, you have to be likable to your audience. That means being someone they see qualities in they think are positive (and not merely acting like one, since audiences usually feel something is off when you fake it).
Let me share a story of a pastor who failed. I once went to a church where a pastor spoke I didn’t know. In the opening of his sermon, he stated firmly that the only books Christians should read were the Bible and Christian books. That did not go over well with me, since I’m a voracious reader. Needless to say, he lost me in the first two minutes and never got me back.
To be clear, being likable doesn’t mean faking or pretending. It also doesn’t mean watering down your message in any way. What it does mean is being human, a real person, showing your vulnerability and weaknesses. Be real, honest.
Find Common Ground
This, to me, is the most important aspect of making a connection with your audience. People like people who are in some way like them. Your job, then, is to find common ground with your audience.
In some cases, this is easy. If you’re in the same life stage for instance, or of the same race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic background. At other times, this is much harder. The more divided you and your audience, the harder you’ll have to work at finding common ground. This is why it’s important to know your audience when speaking.
When I was a youth pastor, I had trouble connecting with a teen from a disadvantaged background. We differed in race, gender, interests, socio-economic backgrounds, and even faith (he was a self-proclaimed agnostic). Determined to find something in common, I kept trying—until we discovered we shared a love for hard rock music. After a great conversation about the musical genius of some of our favorite bands, he was way more willing to listen to me on other issues as well.
Finding common ground takes deliberate effort. The illustrations in your talk, your stories and quotes, the stuff you reveal about yourself, it can all help to appeal to as many different people in the audience as possible. In a recent sermon I heard, every single example and the story was geared towards married people with kids. You wanna take a guess as to how connected the single people in the audience were or those without kids?
Even if it’s hard to find common ground—after all, it can be hard for a 55-year old white man from a rich background to find common ground with, say, African-American teens—you can always connect through emotions. Emotions are universal, understood by almost each human, no matter who we are.
Think of any homecoming video of a veteran. Who doesn’t tear up when a soldier-dad reunites with his small kids after months of absence? We may have nothing in common, but we still connect emotionally.
To connect with your audience on an emotional level, find the emotion in your message. This is often how we connect with Biblical stories as well. We may not recognize much of ourselves in Moses for instance, but we do emotionally connect with his anger, or impatience, or temper.
Once you’ve established a solid connection with your audience, they’ll be way more receptive to your message. And even if they disagree, they’ll at least walk away liking you, and maybe even your church or organization. That in itself could be a step in their story, their journey with God.
Have you ever had the experience as a speaker of really connecting with your audience? What happened?
[Photo Credit: Freely cc]