A Simple Way to Improve Your Speaking

Shorter, MOre Focused, Communication

I recently started a mentoring relationship with a young pastor.

We’ll call this fella Benji because that is in fact the name of his dog. So I’m sure he’ll be good with me referring to him as Benji. He must like the name.

Benji is a wonderful fella. He’s got solid character, a great Christian heritage with grandparents and parents in ministry. And he’s a natural, comfortable, up-front kind of speaker. He’s also a musician. He’s got lots of skills and abilities. Most importantly of course is the fact that he’s got character as well, that he’s a solid follower of Jesus Christ. That makes it easy and makes pouring into him worthwhile.

A few weeks ago he preached a sermon, and as I do whatever I’m working with someone, I evaluated his sermon. I took several pages of notes as he preached.

When I meet with someone to evaluate their sermon I don’t dump the whole load on them. I say “I’m just going to make a few observations but then I’m going to boil it down to one thing to work on for next time.”

And so I made some general observations- this was good, this was maybe not so good. But then I said “When I boil it right down, there’s really one thing and in this case two closely related things that I want to challenge you to do next time. First of all, the message that I heard was 40-45 minutes. From now on, for the time being, cap your sermons at 30 minutes in length. Keep them to 30 minutes or less.”

The simplest way to improve most sermons (or talks of any kind) is to make them a bit shorter. Capping the time will often reduce the “sawdust” and eliminate saying things twice. That’s a common habit of speakers trying to put too little content into too big a space. Shortening the time forces focus.

I told him “Tied to that focus issue, I want you to come up with a one liner, one sentence that summarizes your entire message.”

If we can’t crystallize a message or a piece of communication in one line then probably it’s not that clear our heads. And we will tend to ramble.

So, I set those two parameters for his next sermon: 30 minutes max, and have a clear one liner.

Well he preached again the other day. (By the way I ask for evaluations for myself as well. You know- what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If I evaluate others I need to be completely open to being evaluated myself.) So, he preached again and I evaluated him again. It was outstanding. He chopped the length down and that did indeed “force focus”. There was a much clearer structure. The one liner was obvious and he actually used it as a part of his conclusion to summ things up.

There are still some things to work on- there always are some things to work on! But the gains just from those two tweaks were dramatic. I look forward to working with Benji over these next few weeks and months and refining his speaking still further.

It’s easier to evaluate someone else than to evaluate yourself. We need objective voices speaking to us. But perhaps we can all start here: When you teach, when you preach do you go to long? Are you trying to fill too much time with too little content? Most importantly do you have a one-liner? Can you summarize what you’re saying in a devotional, in a sermon, in a teaching session in one line? That one thing will ripple through all of your communication and make you more effective.

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