Even if the content of your message is superb, people’s minds are prone to wander. Beside the distractions mentioned earlier, a woman might lose attention because her learning style is being ignored. Some people are visual (learning through pictures), some are auditory (learning through lectures), and others are kinesthetic (learning through demonstrations and activities).
An effective communicator will seek to involve her audience’s emotions and senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. In doing this, she will reach all learning styles with her message. The following ideas will help engage your audience on multiple levels:
Objects and Visual Aids
Jesus was a mastermind at using familiar objects to illustrate spiritual truths: mustard seed, vine and branches, bread yeast, fig tree. The key is to choose something that clearly represents the truth you are explaining.
Display the objects early to create curiosity, or reveal them throughout your sermon as you make your points. You can even surprise your audience with unusual objects that bring amusement (i.e., an eccentric purse when talking about perseverance).
Video clips can be an effective way to reinforce a concept or present a living example. Try to keep clips shorter than one minute so that people don’t forget what you were talking about. And avoid using video clips from movies you would not endorse. You can safely search Christian Web sites that offer free or low-fee video clips for sermons (see the recommended resources at the end of this unit.)
Photos and Slides
A photo projected on a large screen can be a brief but dramatic way to grab attention. A PowerPoint presentation also helps people visualize your main points. But be careful that your slides don’t replace you as the speaker. Incorrect use of slides can actually distract attention away from you. Follow the guidelines in “Creating Effective Slide Presentations” (browse downloadable resources).
My favorite presentations have included sensory surprises. These target the hard-to-engage senses of touch, smell, and taste. For example, toss a few chocolates to the audience when explaining what it means to have a sweet spirit. Or have each bulletin or handout pre-sprayed with perfume before speaking on “being the aroma of Christ.” Use your imagination to create an unforgettable experience!
Acting out a story as you tell it helps the audience experience the story with you. You can begin your message by acting as a Bible character from a selected portion of Scripture (or recruit someone else to join you on stage as the dramatic character). You can also insert a dramatic story in the middle of your message to reinforce a concept.
If you are telling a story that has multiple characters, Carol Kent recommends:
a. Find the right story to tell. Make sure it clearly fits with the context of your message.
b. Learn the story well. Develop a cast of characters and use facial expressions, voice variance, and body language for each one. Rehearse out loud while standing up.
c. Distinguish between characters in order to help the audience know who is speaking:
• When speaking as the narrator, look directly at the audience.
• When speaking as character A, look at the back-right corner of the room.
• When speaking as character B, look at the back-left corner of the room.
Humor is one of the quickest ways to capture your audience’s attention. And when an unplanned distraction happens in the room, humor can help you recapture attention. Carol Kent recommends:
• Tell jokes, but don’t announce that you are going to tell them.
• Use mime for humor and emphasis—i.e., pause and quietly go look on the floor to “pick up” the thought you lost.
• Say out loud what people are thinking.
• React to what’s happening in the room—it helps to bring attention back to you after something distracting happens.
Nothing ignites a kinesthetic learner more than audience participation:
• Involve everyone in an exercise: “Turn to the person next to you, and tell her who has had the most influence in your life.”
• Question one person in the audience. As she responds, hold onto the microphone so you can control the flow of interaction.
• Ask a volunteer to assist you on the platform. Allow her to help with an object lesson or to give feedback about an issue.
Jesus often used stories and object lessons. What does this tell us about how people learn?
Aside from the seven ideas above, what are other ways you can appeal to the five senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell?
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 AG Women. Out of 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.