Critique rather than criticize personal speeches or the public speaking of others.
Speaking skills can be improved incrementally one speech at a time. Because gratitude and grace are godly qualities to be developed for speech follow-up, expression of appreciation due to others, and personal evaluation of one’s presentation should be considered. Speakers fall short when they do not complete the follow-up process of public speaking.
Immediately after the speech, the public speaker will be strengthened by personal evaluations and follow-up. In this important step of public speaking, a person should not be totally focused on self. Instead, recognize those who worked diligently to make the event happen and acknowledge those who invested time in attendance. Public praise encourages others and strengthens the connections with the speaker. Gratitude may also be expressed later in writing.
Self-examination should also follow the speech. Constructive critique – not destructive criticism – is helpful. The speaker should honestly reflect back on what was said and how it was said. Then energy can be focused on improving weaknesses and continuing strengths in the future.
Criticism and critique are two different words with different attitudes. A dictionary defines criticism as “an act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything (usually involves finding fault).”  Critique is defined as “a serious examination and judgment of something (constructive criticism is always appreciated).” A criticism is typically emotional while a critique is intellectual. A criticism is usually vague and general while a critique is concrete and specific. A criticism is a harsh observation or negative comment; a critique is a thorough review or fair analysis. A criticism finds faults, condemns, and judges; a critique sees possibilities, clarifies, and questions. While a criticism states what is lacking, a critique identifies what is working. Criticizing one’s own speaking or the public speaking of others is not productive. However, critiquing speeches can be very productive.
An important part of personal growth and development is self-evaluation. It is helpful for a speaker to evaluate herself after each speech to learn from the experience. Identifying strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis promotes excellence in speaking. A speaker should also have general goals for sharpening speaking skills.
After each presentation, a speaker should ask herself if she was satisfied with her speech, what went well, and what needs more work. Was she confident as she spoke or, if not, what caused nervousness? The following questions may provide more in-depth self-evaluation:
- Did you accomplish the purpose of the speech?
- Did you adapt to the setting of the speech?
- Did you connect with the audience and receive positive feedback?
- Did you witness response to the speech?
- Did you experience any specific problems?
In addition, it may be helpful to examine each stage of the speech process. The questions below may promote more personal insights. Take time to suggest strategies for areas needing improvement.
- Adequate time in prayer and preparation?
- Accurate analysis of audience and occasion?
- Clear outline and balanced points?
- Thorough development of content and supportive material?
- Adequate preparation of presentation materials (handouts, slides, etc.)?
- Effective speaking notes?
- Confidence in speaking?
- Capture attention with introductory comments?
- Maintain connection with the audience?
- Appropriate appearance in wardrobe, makeup, and hair?
- Adhere to time allotted and pace all parts of the speech?
- Notice mistakes or stumbles?
- Appropriate use of words and language?
- Natural gestures and body language?
- Consistent eye contact and facial expression?
- Clear speech and comfortable rate?
- Appropriate volume and projection?
- Audience connection and response?
- Manage challenging situations?
- New techniques or material for next presentation?
If available, an audio or video recording offers objective feedback. Though sound and image are perceived differently, recordings can offer objective feedback to the speaker. Do you have any tips for self-evaluation?
 “Criticism,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Criticism (cited 22 March 2013) American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).
 “Critique,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Critique (cited 22 March 2013) American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).
”If speaking is like cooking,
then prayer turns the recipe into a meal.”
A Christian speaker has the responsibility of preparation but also has the privilege of prayer. Before, during, and after the speech, the speaker should commit the message to the Lord in prayer. Prayer opens the heart to hear from God and directs the mind to speak to others. Without prayer, a person speaks only words. With prayer, a Christian can speak truth. Pray to speak truth from God each time you speak publicly.
Jesus illustrated in His life the importance of prayer. In John 17, He prayed specifically for Himself and others. He sought God’s guidance with the words of His mouth and the meditations of His heart. His prayer focus can be a pattern for Christians at all times, especially before speaking or teaching.
In the first five verses of John 17, Jesus prays for Himself. He prays specifically to glorify God and expresses a desire to complete the work assigned to Him. Speakers should pray for themselves personally, to glorify God and serve Him through speaking. In the second section of John 17 (vv 6-9), Jesus prays for others. He prays specifically for His disciples to hear from the Lord and be united in their message. Christian speakers should pray that their audiences will hear from the Lord and understand the proclaimed truth. In the last section of John 17 (vv 20-26), Jesus prays for all believers to be one with the Father in taking the gospel to the world.
Speakers should pray for unbelievers listening to respond to the gospel as well as for believers to spread the good news to others. Christian speakers have an example in the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17:25-26:
The world has not known You.
However, I have known that You,
and these have known that You sent Me.
I made Your name known to them
and will make it known,
so the love You have loved Me with
may be in them and I may be in them.
Prayer is important to life and essential to ministry. As a Christian speaker prepares to speak and stands to deliver, she must commit her words and herself to the Lord. Then, the Holy Spirit will speak through her with power.
A Christian speaker should begin praying about her message from the moment she is invited to speak. Prayer not only helps a speaker know what to say, it keeps the focus on God, not self; it opens eyes to the needs of others; and it calms the spirit with confidence to speak.
In his book, Saying It Well: Touching Others With Your Words, Chuck Swindoll writes: “If preaching is like cooking, then prayer turns the recipe into a meal.” Prayer gives meaning to a speaker’s words. Like a recipe, a message has many ingredients. It is not the individual ingredients, but the blending of all ingredients that gives the dish a satisfying taste. It is prayer that blends together the contents of the speech and the methods of delivery to make a powerful message. A message from the Lord is just not right without prayer.
In general, a speaker should pray daily without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Praise to the Lord as well as personal petitions are vital aspects of prayer. Prayer should be focused on the purpose of the speech, occasion of the speech, and content of the speech. Prayer should be for the speaker and for the listeners. At all times, pray for God’s will to be accomplished in the message and messenger, in the hearers and their hearts. Through prayer, a speaker is reminded that God is in control of everything and can be trusted.
E.M. Bounds’ book, Power through Prayer has been called by many people “the greatest book on prayer ever written.” Bounds believed a preacher’s prayerful heart and the Holy Spirit’s anointing gave power to the message. He said, “Prayer, much prayer, is the price of preaching unction. Prayer, much prayer, is the sole condition of keeping the anointing. Without unceasing prayer, the anointing never comes to the preacher. Without perseverance in prayer, the anointing, like over-kept manna, breeds worms.” Christian speakers must be persistent in prayer.
What role does prayer play in your own preparation for speaking?
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”(Helen Keller)
An effective speaker speaks from her heart and with humor. As she speaks, she must develop an atmosphere of openness and honesty as well as enjoyment. According to Gronbeck et al, the speaking atmosphere is the mind-set or mental attitude that the speaker seeks to create in the audience. The desired atmosphere is based upon the speaking situation, the speech’s purpose, and the listener’s expectations. However, a speaker must be open and transparent to connect with the audience.
Being an open and honest speaker is not always easy because of the uncertainty of the responses from people in the audience. I (Monica) struggled for years with an eating disorder which I kept secret from everyone except the Lord and my parents. As I was healed by the Lord and found absolute deliverance, opportunities for me to share what He was doing in my life presented themselves. My first opportunity was in high school when I was asked to meet with girls, who were struggling with eating disorders, and offer them hope. At times through the years, I have been hesitant to share my personal story with others. However, I have felt the Lord encourage me to share at specific times. When I have shared my personal story with others transparently, women have waited to thank me for my authenticity. Due to my openness, the ladies were open to the Lord for His healing touch! Authenticity from the speaker will always have a positive effect on the audience.
A Christian message from the heart must come from the heart of the Lord and the heart of the speaker. Sincerity and genuineness open the listener’s heart to the speaker. The message is more powerful when the speaker is passionate and earnest. Speaking from the heart reaches the hearts of others.
To speak from the heart, a Christian speaker must first hear from God. Then, she must be concerned for others and willing to share personally. She feels a burden for everyone to hear from the Lord and respond to His gospel of hope. When Jesus spoke, His words from the heart changed the hearts of those who heard Him (Luke 24:32).
I (Rhonda) recently asked a group of women: “Who is the most sincere and transparent speaker you have ever heard and why?” My interest was in the “why” more than the “who.” Of course, the consensus answer was Jesus because He is perfect. Actually, we can learn a lot about openness and sincerity from His sermons and personal encounters. The gospel of Mark alone records “they were all amazed” many times in response to the words of Jesus. The writer of Luke 1:41 reports that Jesus was moved with compassion and then spoke honestly and sincerely. The immediate and unrehearsed responses to my question above underscore the importance of speaking from the heart.
When asked for descriptions of a sincere speaker, this same group’s responses included the following:
- Authentic and endearing
- Down to earth
- Speaks the same to one or one thousand people
- Gentle, loving spirit
- Jesus oozes from her
- Gives glory to God
- Relatable, believable, personal
- Inspiring, convicting, captivating, enthusiastic
- Joyful personality and love for people.
Several comments about sincere speakers were very compelling: “She talks to me, not over my head; she listens without judgment, and speaks without condemning; and she doesn’t hide who she is, she shares warts and all.”
The most important thing about being a public speaker for the Lord is letting your heart come through. How can you infuse more of who He is and more who you are into your speaking opportunities?