Pulpit Presenters: 12 Speaking Lessons from the Clergy
by Ed Tate (see biography below)
“Daddy are you going to church to hear the word of God or to take speaker notes from the preacher?” That question was asked of me many years ago by my young son while on our way to church. The one word answer I gave to my son was “Yes.” I was there to hear the word of God AND observe the speaking secrets of my preacher.
It has been said that if you want to quickly upset a room full of people, talk about politics or religion. Relax. There will be no ideological debates in this lesson.
If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. And some of the best orators speak from behind a pulpit rather than a podium. They speak to congregations rather than an audience. And their followers number in the millions worldwide.
In the United States, Billy Graham, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen are among the most popular pulpit speakers. What is it that he or she does from the pulpit that captivates the congregation and drives their sermon home?
I’ve identified 12 lessons:
Lesson #1: They use tools to help the audience understand the message. The tools in their toolbox are analogies, metaphors, stories, and parables. They seldom use facts, data, statistics, or PowerPoint presentations to get the message across. For example, Joel Osteen is pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. According to Forbes Magazine, it has largest and fastest-growing congregation in America. Joel uses two tools to make his point to his very large congregation: the story and metaphor. This story is called “Be a Thermostat.” You can find a copy of it on his website, joelosteen.com.
Not long ago I called to order a pizza. I had called this restaurant dozens of times before. When you call, the first thing they always ask for is your telephone number. Since I was so familiar with the routine, when a young lady answered the phone and, I answered very friendly and politely said, “Hello. My phone number is (713)…” and I gave her the rest of my number.
When I did that, you would have thought I had just totally insulted her. She practically screamed in my ear in the rudest voice you can imagine, “Sir! I am not ready for your phone number. And when I get ready, I will ask you for your phone number!” I wanted to say, “Lady, I will give you my phone number whenever I feel like giving you my phone number! But down in my spirit, I didn’t want to hear it, I could hear that still, small voice coming up inside saying, “Joel, be a thermostat, not a thermometer. You may have walked into a room that’s 200 degrees, but you have the controls. You can bring it down.
But I realized she didn’t have anything against me. She was just having a bad day. Something was irritating her. So I decided I was going to do everything I could to cheer her up. I started thinking of everything I could possibly compliment her on. And God knows I had to use my imagination! I said, “Ma’am, I just want to thank you for answering that phone so quickly and taking such good care of me. You guys make the best pizzas in the world. Your delivery is always on time. You run such a great organization.” On and on I went telling her all these compliments. Do you know by the time I got finished, she was throwing in hot wings and Dr. Pepper and coupons for more pizza? I had won her over. What happened? I became a thermostat instead of a thermometer.
A thermostat changes the environment by bringing the temperature up or down. Through God’s self-control and wisdom, you can do the same in situations and in the lives of others around you.
Joel Osteen used a story and a metaphor to teach us the lesson that we have a choice in controlling our temperature and our temper.
Lesson #2: Pulpit presenters use universal themes. That is, a message or lesson that practically everyone can relate to and understand. Universal themes transcend generations, gender, creed, race, or religion. These themes include but are not limited to massages of hope, relationships, finances, friends, family, faith, health, forgiveness, culture, and truth—just to name a few. For example, on my website, edtate.com, there is a story entitled “Three Questions.” It is a story about telling the truth. Several years ago, I told this story to a 100% Jewish audience. Two days and several continents later, I told this same story to a 100% Muslim audience. Their reactions were identical. Both audiences related to the universal messages: (1) it was a story about being a parent, and (2) that there is no relationship without trust.
Lesson #3: They take a concept and convert it into the concrete. In other words, they make their messages visual. Teacher and author Joyce Meyer does an exceptional job of this in her message entitled “It’s Time to Unpack your Baggage.” On the stage there is a large pile suitcases. Five feet tall. Ten feet wide. Each suitcase has a label as big as the suitcase: guilt, anger, fear, unforgiveness, and rejection. She grabs a few of the suitcases and walks back and forth on the stage to illustrate the point: we carry too much baggage a daily basis and how it weights us down. Her point is we need unpack our burden baggage on purpose and let it go. Joyce made the concepts—forgiveness and letting go—visual and concrete.
Lesson #4: Use humor. Joel Osteen, begins each sermon with a clean joke. He uses self-deprecating humor and occasionally will make fun of his brother. Pulpit presenters know how to deliver a punch line. This helps to break down walls and connects with the audience.
The next 8 tips are from Kirk Waller a minister from San Francisco, California.
Pulpit presenters have Passion – they care about what they say and whom they are saying it to. They start talking to me first. This lets me know that they care.
Simplicity – They simplify the message without dumbing it down. Again, tools such as stories, analogies, metaphors, and humor help people to connect and get the message.
Short – Typically their message is short: 30 minutes or less. And the stories and parables they use within their message is also short (typically under 2 minutes).
Connection – You feel as if they are speaking just to you. Usually they are. Again, one way they achieve this is by using universal themes.
Confidence – They never seem to be nervous. Confidence emanates from them. Joel Osteen spends all day on Wednesday and Thursday preparing this Sunday message.
Pace – They start off slow. I have taught many students “break preoccupation.” Begin with a bang. Many ministers start slow and end with a crescendo. According to Kirk Waller, “You begin low, continue slow, rise up higher, catch on fire, and sit down in the storm.”
Intensity – they vary their intensity from high to low, hard to soft. Toastmasters, call it vocal variety.
Decision – Pulpit presenters have a specific call to action for every message. They want you to take action with the message you have received.
Bonus Lesson: Stick the landing. They bring the message home, make the sale. Tie it all together and sit down in the storm. You leave them wanting more. Or as Craig Valentine says “Leave them on the edge of their seats.”
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I hope you find this helpful in your public speaking career