I've been speaking to teenagers for almost three decades now, during a third of that time I was a preaching pastor as well. I'm terrible at sports (uncoordinated) and horrific at hobbies (easily distracted) so I've poured everything I have into becoming a better, more impacting communicator.
Here are three things you can do to vastly improve your communication skills:
1. Master your message.
This may seem like a "no duh" but you'd be shocked at the number of preachers, teachers and communicators who essentially wing it when they speak. They may have a few notes they've jotted down but they haven't really done the heavy lifting of speaking prep. Instead they have a few points they've jotted down with a couple of illustrations they've woven into the fabric of their message. These are what I call "Texas Steer Talks"...They have a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
This is a no, no if you want to be an effective communicator. This is especially true when you are handling God's Holy Word.
When we preach or teach from the Bible we are standing in God's place delivering God's truth. 1 Peter 4:11 puts it this way, "If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God." A holy chill should go down our spines every time we grace the pulpit because it is a fearful duty and an awesome privilege.
So take time to master your message. Exegete your text. Exegete your audience. Wrestle with the Spirit until he helps you to put to paper (or iPad) the message He is giving you to preach. Work on your main points, transitions and illustrations until it is exactly what it needs to be to make a maximum impact on the audience. I call this process "baking it until it's cooked."
And once you have it down on paper, get it down in your hear, soul and mind. Review, practice, repeat...until you can preach it freely without being tied to your notes.
2. Tell great stories.
Jesus told great stories. Most of the greatest preachers who ever lived told great stories. I think the better the story teller you are the more you'll be able to amply and effectively illustrate the points of your talk.
Stories are windows that help us peer into the building of God's truth. They are lights that illuminate Biblical principles that may seem hidden in the dark. They are telescopes to help us see the breadth and magnitude of God's Word. They are microscopes to magnify the intricacies of God's character.
When I'm preaching and say the words, "Let me tell you a story..." the audience often has a visceral reaction. All of a sudden glazed eyes snap back to normal. In that moment everyone is transformed back to a child sitting on their father's lap listening to him read their favorite bedtime story.
I think of Chuck Swindoll, my favorite living preacher. He is a masterful storyteller, powerful exegete and effective communicator. Because of this, his sermons are simple (not simplistic), even when he is talking about deep theological truths. He draws you in with the stories and then, in his Swindollian way, clobbers you with the truth. And, because his messages are clear, compelling and convicting, millions keep coming back for more.
Tell funny stories. Tell serious stories. Tell enough stories. But don't tell too many stories, because the purpose of preaching is not storytelling, but truth telling. Telling just the right amount of stories can be a means to that end.
3. Give the Gospel.
As you tell stories during your sermon remember that the ultimate story that needs to be told is the story of the Gospel (which, I'm convinced, should be told, in one way or another, in every sermon!)
George Whitefield, powerful preacher of the 1st Great Awakening, once said, "Other men may preach the gospel better than I, but no man can preach a better gospel."
Actually, not many preachers in all of history could preach the Gospel better than Whitefield. The greatest actor of all of England once said, "Oh, if I could say 'Oh!' like Whitefield!" Benjamin Franklin, renown Founding Father (and, spiritually, a Deist by the way) didn't agree with Whitefield's Gospel but couldn't help but go hear him preach it over and over again. Franklin loved hearing him speak because of his command of the language and ability to move an audience. Tens of thousands would come from miles away to hear Whitefield preach. But, as powerful as his preaching was, he knew that, what was more important than oratory skills, was preaching a "better Gospel."
How many opportunities we miss when we don't carve out a few minutes of our sermons to point people to the cross of Jesus. How many lost souls continue in their lostness because the day they visited a youth group meeting or a church service was the day the speaker "just didn't have enough time to fit it in."
Give the Gospel. Some may give the Gospel better but nobody can give a better Gospel!
4. Tie your shoes.
Whenever I preach, teach or train I always try to remember to tie my shoes before I speak. The act of kneeling down to tie my shoes, quite literally, brings me to my knees and reminds me of my utter dependence on God to fill me and speak through me. It is one of the last things I do before I take the stage.
Why do I do this? Because I don't want to just preach, I want to preach with power. I don't want to just teach, I want to transform. I don't want to just share a message, I want to make a difference...and only God's Spirit working through me can bring this level of spiritual transformation.
On Sunday, November 19th, I'll be doing a training called "How to Give a Talk that Rocks" at Youth Specialties. During this seminar I'll unpack even more keys to speaking with impact and power. Join me during this training session if you're planning on being at the National Youth Workers Convention this year! If not, consider changing your plans and crashing the party in Memphis!