My Tongue is a Pen (Part 1)

Five Tips for an Effective Speech

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” (Psalm 45:1)

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. However, authors can’t use fear as an excuse to opt out because speaking is how we expand our platform and market our writing. As a Theater Arts and Speech major, I’ve spoken many times in front of varied groups. Butterflies come with adrenaline, but I’ve learned the best way to minimize fear is by having a well-honed speech that I know by heart.

In part one of this post, I’m going to focus on writing a speech rather than the presentation. Here are five pointers for an effective speech:

1. Know Your Audience

The age and demographics of the audience impacts how we address them. Is it a co-ed group? Do they have a solid Biblical foundation so they’ll understand Christian terms? Or, is the event an outreach for nonbelievers and the unchurched? A women’s tea that includes adolescent daughters requires a different approach than a women’s conference aimed at spiritual growth. Being a speaker is similar to writing—envision the target audience. Write and pray for them.

2. Audience Takeaway

Speeches serve one of three purposes: inform, entertain, and inspire. When we’re invited to speak, it’s important to know the expectations of the person who is organizing the event. Regardless of whether it’s my own topic, or a specific theme they want me to address, I ask the event’s coordinator what she hopes the audience will hear and take away. Then I stay on task and make sure my talking points are the means to that end. I also add slides or visuals to support them.

3. Be Authentic and Show

Personal anecdotes help the audience connect to the speaker’s heart. Stories also make a deeper impression because people remember stories. Like writing, show how we reached a conclusion. For example, I can define faith and support it with scripture, but I can also show the meaning of faith by sharing specific moments when my faith muscles were stretched. Or, those times I had a faith lapse, but in the process, God showed me His faithfulness. When people give me direct feedback, they usually say, “That’s what I experienced. Thank you for showing me how God helped you.”

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Although some folks prefer using an outline when they speak, try writing out the speech. Then polish the words until it flows smoothly like an article. Tighten sentences to avoid rambling. Make sure the talking points are concise and memorable. Underline key points. I’ve found that writing the entire speech prevents me from ad-libbing later, and helps me stay within the given time limit. I also highlight areas that I can omit if the event is running late. Then I practice, practice, practice.

5. Cover in Prayer

Moses asked God to go before Him. I feel the same way. I can write a polished speech and get accolades, but if the Holy Spirit isn’t working in people’s hearts, then I’m like a clanging cymbal. When I agree to speak, I ask the event’s coordinator to have people pray for me while I’m preparing my talk. Then I pray and ask God to teach me about the subject so I own the message. God never fails. I’m always changed by His lessons. I’ve often added an anecdote at the last minute as the Lord opens my eyes and imprints the message on my heart. When we rely on the Holy Spirit and think of ourselves as a conduit, the speech is more effective because our hearts are stirred by a noble theme. God is able to use our passion and tongue to draw the audience to Himself.


Is there a noble theme you’ve written about that you can share as a speaker?

About Karen Foster 7 Articles
Karen Foster is a nonfiction writer and speaker. Her first-person story appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families (May 2017). Karen's articles and devotions have been published in multiple magazines including The Upper Room, The Bible Advocate, Now What?, Discipleship Journal, and Moms Next. She blogs at KarenFosterMinistry.com. Or follow her on Twitter @eveninthis.

8 Comments

  1. Karen, these are five very concrete points! I appreciate you sharing them with us. I always write out my notes, but I thought that was cheating and I should be able to just wing it from an outline. Your point here encourages me to keep doing the way I know best.
    Debbie

    • Debbie, Cheating? I never thought of that. ha I’m thinking some of our U.S. presidents’ greatest speeches were handwritten in complete sentences. The only reason NOT to write out a speech is the temptation to read it word for word instead of giving eye contact with audience. That’s why I practice, and the adrenaline at the moment allows it to sound fresh. So yes, I encourage you to write out your speech if you like. To each his own. 🙂

  2. I appreciate your post so much. Such good reminders and pointers. I love knowing that when we approach our speaking and writing this way, we are “a conduit” for the Holy Spirit to speak to hearts and lives. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you, Terrie, for taking the time to comment. Covering my speech in prayer is essential. I trust the Holy Spirit far more than my human ability. Sounds trite, but I have seen the difference when God’s Spirit is moving vs when I’m at a podium wagging my tongue.

  3. The line that resonated with me was, “Although some folks prefer using an outline when they speak…”

    When I went through seminary, in our sermon prep classes we were forbidden to have anything more than a 3 x 5 index card with us. We were to speak without notes, yet not allowed to ramble. Our presentations were to be borderline memorized.

    I’ve never forgotten the exhortation from Dr. Cloer, that we NEVER present a sermon until we have preached through it a minimum of ten times. It seemed absurd at the time, but now it is a practice I heartily endorse. If you know your material, the nerves leave you alone. It is when you ad-lib that you get in a bind.

    • Damon, I know many speakers who ONLY use index cards…but I was raised in “old school” 1977 to be exact. ha As a speech major, we had to write out speeches. And then, use index cards while we spoke so we wouldn’t be tempted to read talk. I absolutely agree about practicing at least ten times to become familiar with speech. Thanks for sharing.

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