We all like to hear a powerful and moving message—one that touches our heart and challenges us to reach new heights and greater goals. However, we have all been the unfortunate victims of a poorly planned and executed message. This can be a mind-numbing and torturous event. In order to prevent unnecessary suffering on the part of our future listeners, I submit the seven major public speaking mistakes that people make. We could call them the seven deadly sins of public speaking.
Sin Number One
Can I have a pillow?
The cardinal sin in public speaking is being boring. People are compassionate and they will forgive you for many things. They will forgive occasional grammatical problems, a temporary lapse in flow, an unrelated “rabbit trail,” and even a rare doctrinal faux pas. However, people will generally not tolerate a boring speaker—at least for long. They may never tell you that your message was boring but they will voice their opinion through their obvious absence.
Evangelist C.M. Ward said, “If I don’t strike oil in 20 minutes, I stop boring.” It is important to monitor your listeners throughout your message to make sure that you are not the only one excited about your message.
As communicators of the gospel, we have been entrusted with the greatest message in the world. It would be a horrible injustice to deliver the most powerful, transformational, and life-changing message through a boring, dull, monotonous messenger. We should care enough about the gospel message (and our listeners) that we resist the sin of being boring!
Sin Number Two
Could you repeat that?
The second sin on our list is having an unclear purpose. Every good speech or sermon should have a clear purpose or objective. What is the goal of your message? You may have it typed on your notes, but you will only be effective when it is written on the listener’s heart.
Does your audience clearly know what you want them to know and/or do? Remember that your listeners don’t have the luxury of knowing what is in your mind or on your notes. All they have to understand your purpose is the clarity with which you deliver your thoughts and notes.
If you want to check your effectiveness, pick a few listeners and ask them what the purpose of your message was. In fairness, it is best to get a sampling of listeners not just your leaders or the most studious. If you hear the wrong answer or lots of varied answers, you may need to work harder on clearly communicating your purpose and objective.
Here are a few tips to brand your message in their minds.
- Make sure to state your purpose in your introduction.
- Repeat your purpose and what it will accomplish in your message.
- Call for a specific response to your purpose in the conclusion.
Dr. Larry Moyer noted, “It’s been said that too many speakers are like Christopher Columbus. When he started out, he didn’t know where he was going. When he got there, he didn’t know where he was at. When he got back, he did not know where he had been.”
Make sure your purpose is clear and understood.
Sin Number Three
I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony!
Did I get your attention? Good! A mosquito in that situation might feel overwhelmed with the abundance of good choices. In the same way, a message without proper structure may offer lots of good information but people will feel overwhelmed when they try to assimilate your message. Therefore the third sin in public speaking is a lack of message structure.
Have you ever heard a message that was good but you could not remember what it was about? Sure you have. We all have. Structure is what helps us digest and absorb the message.
Here are a few questions to help you organize your messages effectively:
- Is my introduction clear?
- Do people know where I am headed?
- Are my points in proper order?
- Do I have enough support for each point?
- Are my transitions from one point to the next effective and good?
- Do I repeat my points and summarize as I go?
- Does my conclusion clearly communicate what I want the audience to do?
Sin Number Four
Do you suffer from TMI?
The fourth sin of public speaking is trying to deliver too much information. What happens when you are listening to a message and you feel overloaded? You become antsy. You think, “OK, I’ve got the point already!” When someone delivers too much information it can cause audience anxiety.
Let me give you a story to illustrate. There was a country preacher in the flat lands of Indiana. One Sunday the weather was horrific and most of the church members decided not to venture out. However, one farmer decided to fight the elements and make his way to church. The pastor was so excited to have someone there that he preached and he preached and he preached. When the preacher finally finished, he said to the farmer, “How was the message?” The farmer said, “It was good pastor, but let me give you some advice. When I feed my pigs, I give them what they can handle for the day. I don’t dump the whole trough on their heads!”
In order to avoid the sin of TMI, try teaching a series of lessons. It will be less work for you and the people will certainly appreciate not being dumped on!
Sin Number Five
Can you prove it?
The fifth sin of public speaking is a fail to properly support your purpose or point. One of the main objectives of a message or speech is persuasion. However, we must have ample support for another person to accept what we are teaching. Without strong support, your point may be powerful but it may not be accepted.
In my first homiletics class, we learned a valuable way to make sure we supported our main points effectively. Each main point contained five subdivisions that each added a measure of proof. Over the years I found this method of preparation to be helpful and I want to share them with you.
- Explanation—How can I explain this point and what it means?
- Scriptural Support—What does the Bible say about it?
- Illustration—How can I illustrate it?
- Argument—How do I defend it from opposing viewpoints?
- Application—How does it apply to the listener’s life?
In addition, quotes from experts, examples, definitions, surveys and stats can all add to the strength of your point. However, I would like to offer a word of caution. We live in an information saturated society. The Internet has given us access to a new world of stats, quotes, and otherwise hard-to-find information. It is important to remember everything you find on a website may or may not be accurate. Just because you find it does not mean it is factual. I encourage you to check the references before you share it. This may save you some embarrassment not to mention credibility.
Sin Number Six
Ahh, Umm, Praise the Lord, Glory, Glory, Glory!
The sixth sin of public speaking is using too many fillers and being monotone. When it comes to public speaking, you will be judged based on what you say and how you say it.
Useless Filler Speech
In the realm of food and diet, we know it is better to avoid foods filled will fillers. Artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring…is anything real anymore? These fillers usually have no nutritional value and thus add nothing to the food. In like manner, people can often use phrases or words that add length to the message but not meat! Here is a list of frequent fillers:
- Praise the Lord
- Glory, glory, glory
- Can I have an amen?
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should never use these phrases or words. There are certainly appropriate times. However, we often use them to transition between points because we have not adequately prepared a logical transition to begin with.
Feed your audience whole food! Remove the fillers!
When I was in college I had a professor who possessed great information but hardly anyone paid attention in his class. Why? Because he was monotone and that is the same as boring to a college student. Unfortunately, college students are not the only ones who think monotone speakers are dreadfully dreary. It is vital for speakers to fluctuate their volume, pitch, and pace to be effective.
Sin Number Seven
Would you come out of the stratosphere?
The last sin of public speaking is a failure to address the real needs of people. A good speaker always considers the needs of their audience. You may have brilliant information but if it does not apply to your listeners, they will not listen.
It is easy for speakers to get carried away with subjects that are interesting and important to them. For instance, eschatology may be captivating to you but your audience may not want to endure a twenty week series on the subject. They would rather hear about surviving in the work place, how to make their marriage sizzle, keys to walking in love, or how to get out of debt.
Consider the following questions to avoid living in the stratosphere:
- Does this apply to my audience?
- What are my listeners going through or dealing with?
- Will they understand this illustration?
- Is this important information or a pet doctrine?
- Did I begin with the basics?
Congratulations! You have successfully isolated the seven deadly sins of public speaking. Remember…
- Don’t be boring
- Have a clear purpose
- Organize and structure your message
- Don’t overload the listener
- Adequately support your points
- Fluctuate your voice and resist meaningless fillers
- Focus on meeting the real needs of people
It is my prayer that you will develop this great gift of public speaking and that God will use it for His glory. I encourage you to resist the seven deadly sins of public speaking with all your might! You can do it. You can become a powerful speaker that educates, motivates, transforms, and empowers!
***Several of these points were adopted and developed from the book, Power Speak, by Dorothy Leeds.