Zig Ziglar said, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When you actively create emotional bonds with the women in your audience, they will naturally respond with open ears. You might not have a chance to build a friendship with each person in your audience, but you can do simple things to help each woman quickly feel like you care about her.
Know your audience.1
Before you even begin writing your message, take time to research about your audience.
• What is the demographic and culture of the city where they are located? What are some interesting facts about their city or church?
• What issues are they interested in? What struggles do they face?
• Where are they on their spiritual journey? What questions might arise in their minds?3
• What types of stories and humor would they best relate to?
After you have learned more about your audience, prepare your message accordingly. Avoid using canned sermons unless you carefully adapt the content and illustrations to this audience. Try to connect them to as many points of your message as possible. Use stories and humor that will make sense to them. Surprise them—comment on things they wouldn’t expect you to know about their city or church.2 And if you have time to mingle with the audience before you speak, add a few of their names into your message.
Prepare your heart.
Caring expressions can’t be faked; they must flow from a heart full of love. The best way to grow to love your audience is by praying for them before the service. Walk up and down the rows of seats, praying for each person who will sit there. Let God fill you with genuine love for the women—His perfect love will eclipse your fear of public speaking so you can really connect with the audience (1 John 4:16-18). If you have a chance, mingle with women as they arrive. Learn their names, their stories, and what brought them to the event. Let them into your heart.
Communicate with your actions.
Your entire body should show that you are excited, open, and glad to be there. Speaking expert Carol Kent recommends sitting in the front row on the edge of your seat so that as you are being introduced, you can approach the platform with energy in your step. Once on the platform, pause for two seconds and look at everyone with a confident, loving smile. Relax your shoulders and breathe deeply. As you begin speaking, keep your hands in an open position with your palms facing forward. Keep your upper arms away from your body instead of tight and rigid at your sides.3
Allow your gestures to be fully seen by everyone—get out from behind the lectern or podium. The podium might be a great place to keep your notes, but it also hides your expressions. Remember that your entire body is involved in communicating your message.2 Walk and talk as you normally do, using the full length of the stage.
Connect with your eyes.1
Despite common advice, it’s not wise to talk above people’s heads or at a spot on the back wall. People are looking for an authentic communicator, not a lecturer. Try to continually make eye contact with individuals throughout your speech. When you lock eyes with someone, hold it until you feel that person connect with you (i.e., a head nod, smile, etc.). Then continue until you are able to make eye contact with someone else. Make sure you are talking to all sides of the room, and be aware of your tendency to favor one side while neglecting the other.
When a speaker reveals who she is, she builds credibility and trust in the hearts of her audience. Relax, smile, enjoy yourself. Speak in words you are comfortable using, the way you would speak to friends over coffee. If you write your speech in manuscript form, use conversational English rather than proper English (unless that is how you usually speak).
Don’t be afraid to share your personal stories. You can inspire others when you share about difficulties or struggles that resulted in triumph. Go beyond telling what happened—tell how it made you feel, and how you learned and grew and changed. But if you’re still in the midst of a struggle and have not yet experienced victory, refrain from sharing it on a stage. Your goal is to bring inspiration rather than discouragement, so speak about the challenges you’ve already overcome.
When speaking, do you tend to display gestures that are repetitive or distracting? If you’re unsure, who could you ask to watch you speak and give feedback?
Read 1 John 4:16-18. What should we rely on when we minister to others? How can this help you overcome any
fears of public speaking?
What personal victories have you experienced that you are willing to allow God to use in ministering to others?
1From “19 Surefire Ways to Connect with Your Audience” by Doug Stevenson. Copyright 2003. www.dougstevenson.com
2From The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do, by Mark Sanborn (WaterBrook Press, 2008).
3From “Communicating So People Will Listen,” Advanced Speak Up Seminar. Presented by Carol Kent on August 11, 2008 in Springfield Missouri. Copyright 2000 Carol Kent. www.carolkent.org
4Adapted from Program Plans for Successful Women’s Events, produced by National Women’s Department. No longer in print.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®. COPYRIGHT ©1973, 1978, 1984 BY INTERNATIONAL BIBLE SOCIETY®.
“Engaging Your Audience” is published by the National Women’s Department at www.women.ag.org, 2020. Permission to reproduce is limited to personal use or within a teaching setting. All other forms of use are prohibited.