“He who does not know how to speak well, even if possessing great intellect, risks being no more than a zero in society.” This reminds us of the importance of knowing how to speak well. Though at times we may feel like Moses, who asked the Lord for a good speaker to help him, we can all become better speakers. Here are some tips for polishing your speaking skills.
• Be optimistic. Mental attitude is one of the main traits of a good preacher. If you believe that you can and will speak well, this confidence will help you improve. The opposite is also true. The Bible says: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, NKJV).
• Prepare thoroughly. Nothing happens by chance. Behind a well-presented class, a moving sermon, or an excellent speech is a good amount of time spent reading, researching, thinking, and organizing. We must do our homework well. God deserves our best.
• Be sincere. Share ideas that will reach and touch others’ hearts because they have touched yours. The poet Robert Frost wrote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” The same is true for speakers; dull, dry information will not reach our listeners.
• Be careful with grammar. Being a good speaker doesn’t mean you have to use big words; however, it does require you to use the right language, being careful of grammar and accuracy. One way to improve your language skills is to read widely of skillful writers. It is often valuable to invite a teacher, professor, or educated friend to be your private critic to edit your sermons or speeches.
• Start well. The first minutes are decisive. Horne O. Silva, a specialist in speech, says, “The crucial minute for the speaker is at the beginning. A speaker who catches the audience during the first minute is likely to be successful at the end.”
• Use appropriate body language. The speaker’s motions should be natural throughout the presentation so that facial expressions and gestures match what is being said. Avoid nervous habits such as putting your hands in your pockets, crossing your arms, or touching your head.
• Articulate words clearly. To communicate one must be understood. Part of being understood is clear articulation. Be careful not to omit word endings such as “g”, “s”, “d”, and “r” sounds.
• Vary your tone of voice. Maintain an appropriate rhythm, varying the pitch and speed of your voice. Using the same pitch and speed throughout is monotonous and boring to the listener. Changing voice inflections creates a pleasant effect, as if you are painting a beautiful picture in which there are bright and soft colors.
• Be concise. “Some people produce a flood of words but a desert of ideas.” A good speech isn’t necessarily a long speech; on the contrary, an effective speaker speaks briefly and delivers a lot. Avoid the “sword speech”—long and flat.
• Be organized. Organize your ideas so they flow logically. Stick to only one main point and support it with subpoints. Omit everything that is not relevant to the main idea. Don’t ramble.
• Know when to stop. Some speakers act as if they are airplanes, constantly signaling to the landing strip but never landing. Your speech should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The conclusion should occur at the appropriate place and time. If you really want to lose your audience, talk too long. If you keep your speech a little shorter than the allotted time, your listeners will love you for it. Even adults have an attention span of less than 20 minutes.
As you practice these pointers, you will become a more confident, effective speaker, one who can inspire, inform, and bless others.
Pastor in Minas Gerais, Brazil