Recently my church hosted a leadership conference to encourage and equip our lay leaders and staff. One of the speakers at the event, Nikki, impacted me with her engaging presentation. She spoke for nearly an hour training our leaders how to do ministry effectively in our context. About halfway through her presentation I had filled my page with notes and was eager for more. I started to think about what made the experience so captivating. I turned the page over and jotted down some notes that I want to share with you. Nikki embodied the 4 irresistible traits of speakers who connect with their audience.
Speakers who connect:
1. Relate to their audience. Irresistible speakers know how to relate to their audience. They understand the need people have to feel understood, and they make an effort to demonstrate to their listeners that they “get” them. When Nikki spoke that day it impacted me because I was convinced that she understood me. The subject matter was sensitive and controversial. She was speaking as an authority on the subject so if I didn’t think she understood where I was coming from I wouldn’t have trusted her and listened as closely.
How are you demonstrating to your listeners that you understand them? When a new person walks into your church, what impression would they have of you after listening to your sermon? Would they say, “The preacher understands where I’m coming from?” Or would they say, “The preacher doesn’t have a clue.” If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask around.
2. Show they are transparent, honest and open. Great speakers understand how much people need to see that they’re a real person. They want to know that you’ve walked through what they’re walking through. That you’re willing to show your humanity. Because Nikki was so upfront and honest it created a safe place for all of us to be honest and “bare our souls” because she led the way.
Does your church have a vision of you standing at the top of a mountain with your cape flapping in the wind? Do they see you as a super-Christian who never struggles with real-life stuff? If so, they don’t know you. They don’t know you because you haven’t let them in. Your preaching would go to the next level if you opened up a bit. Try showing your humanity and demonstrating what it looks like to seek God as a real person. This is not easy given that most people don’t understand pastors, but it’s worth the effort.
3. Seek to disarm their audience. In a preaching context especially, people tend to be on edge. Preachers deal with heaviness of life and sometimes people don’t want to delve into the depths. Great speakers and preachers know it’s their job to disarm some of that edginess so the listener is more open. Then, they are free to build tension in other ways which I wrote about here. Nikki was purposeful about making sure we knew it was okay to work out our issues and be vulnerable. Given the topic, we might have felt a little in the defensive. But she was two steps ahead of the audience thinking through what might make us armed and seeking to disarm us and invite us into the conversation.
In your next sermon, think through all the reasons people may not be listening (here’s a few). Consider all the reasons people may be on edge. Get inside of their hearts and minds and think through what it would take to reach them. I’m convinced that what separates irresistible preaching from mediocre is when the preacher thinks through these details and makes a purposeful plan to connect.
4. Use humor well. Some of the most engaging speakers I’ve heard have a masterful wit. They’re just plain funny and they know how to work a crowd. If I’m laughing, I’m paying attention. If I’m laughing, I’m happy. If I’m laughing, I’m open. There are few things that work to a speaker’s favor more than being (truly) funny. Nikki was funny from the start to the finish. She brought humor in to relieve the tension and refocus people. Her timely use of humor was one of the reasons her talk didn’t seem as long as it was.
These are the four traits that I saw in Nikki that day. I believe, if mastered, these traits are irresistible in a speaker. Which of these traits come most naturally to you? Which do you have to work at the most?