[This post is part of our series on Public Speaking in the Church.]
The goal of any speaker is to get his or her message across, whatever that message may be. In order to do that, a speaker needs to have a big idea to begin with. Then, this message should be communicated in a way that resonates with the audience. We’ve seen how a connection with listeners is crucial. But once you’ve connected, how do you captivate your audience? How do you entice them to listen, or even bring them back when they’ve wandered off?
Captivate Your Audience Through Preparation
The first thing you can do to captivate your audience is prepare your message well. No matter if you’re delivering a 45-minute sermon or a 2-minute report on the church’s finances, your message should be well prepared. This includes elements like:
- A crystal clear key message or big idea
- A solid structure (beginning, middle, end)
- A compelling opening
- A satisfying end
- Appropriate multimedia or slides when necessary or useful
All these aspects are crucial in making your talk compelling for listeners. An often-made mistake is that speakers think they can wing it on any of these elements. Sadly, they usually can’t pull it off. There are few speakers who can improvise as well as they can prepare their talk, so unless you know for a fact you’re one of them, you’ll need to prepare well.
I want to give stories a special mention here, because of their unique ability to draw listeners into your talk. Stories, when appropriate to your content and delivered well, captivate any audience, of any age or background. Everyone loves a good story, and this is a fact you can use to your advantage. A few well-placed stories throughout your talk ensure you get your audience’s attention back, even if you lost it for a bit.
Captivate Your Audience While Talking
Even when you’ve prepared well, it can still happen that you lose part of your audience during your message. If you’ve developed the skill of reading your audience while speaking, you’ll notice this at some point. Now what? What can you do to get people’s attention back when you notice you lost it? Here are a few suggestions:
- Change something: people are wired to notice a change, so anytime you change your voice, your tone, your body, etc., they’ll pay attention—if only for a little bit. This won’t work if you do it every other minute, but it may help to get some attention back.
- Ask a question: this is a change, too, of course, but a specific one. Interaction with the listeners is a break in the pattern that will draw attention. A simple rhetoric question sometimes works, but more effective is an actual question people can answer.
- Make listeners do something: in the same line is an improvised request to make people do something. Ask them to write something down (may alienate some listeners who don’t like being told what to do by the way), shake their neighbor’s hand (same), change their body posture, etc.
- Make a joke: this is a tricky one, but if you can pull it off, a little bit of humor is a great way to captivate your audience. [Insert warning about appropriate jokes]
- Tell a story: as explained above, stories have an almost magic capacity to bring people’s attention back. If you see your listeners are fidgeting, sharing a short (personal) story is a great way to bring them back.
- Adapt your content: this is a harder one to accomplish, but sometimes you’ll need to adapt your content to get attention back. An example is when you notice your message is too complicated, or maybe too long. I’m a former youth pastor, so I always pay close attention to how students are responding to my message. If I see confusion, I know I need to slow down, explain more, use easier language, or bring it in a different way.
What about specific disruptions, you may wonder? As a youth pastor, I’ve had my fair share of teens chatting, throwing stuff, fidgeting with something that made noise, making noise in general, giggling, etc. What’s the best policy here?
To me, it really depends on the circumstances. If I see the disruptions are distracting others from listening, I will usually say something. If it’s just me they’re annoying, I let it slide.
Be aware of the megaphone that comes with being on stage, though. A joke that would work well in a personal setting can humiliate someone when delivered from behind a microphone. Whenever possible, I try to keep it general and impersonal as not to embarrass anyone, unless I know the group well enough to address specific students by name.
What speakers always captivate your attention?
What makes them so captivating, you think?
[Photo Credit: Lightstock. Used with permission. All rights reserved.]