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Connecting with the Audience

One important task of preparing to speak is planning to establish and maintain a personal connection with the audience. In his book, The Empowered Communicator, Calvin Miller discusses seven keys to unlocking an audience. He suggests that a speaker follow seven specific steps to better understand the audience and encourage connection.[1]

  1. Build a speaker-listener relationship. It is the speaker’s responsibility to connect with the audience.
  2. Step over the ego barrier. The speaker must be transparent and put aside focus on self.
  3. Promise your hearers usable information and keep your promise with content. A speech must actually contain the relevant material promised by the speaker.
  4. Create tension and resolution. Attention must be gained then released when information has been presented.
  5. Construct a pyramid of priorities. Listeners prioritize truth, interest, and inspiration. Speakers should be sensitive to these desires and respond intentionally.
  6. Make sure they hear through a “trinity of audio values.” Three vocal dynamics impact presentation: projection, dynamic, and pause.
  7. Kill interest-lag through six values of mobility or movement. Six values should be considered:
    • change everything on the spot – Spontaneous editing is often needed during a speech to adjust timing and content.
    • change what isn’t working – Adjustments and revisions may improve understanding by the listeners.
    • pull from accessible back file – Past knowledge or experience may assist a speaker in the moment.
    • casually ask for attention – A speaker may need to call for attention from the audience if minds seem to be wandering or distractions occur.
    • heighten projection – Increased volume or stress may refocus listeners.
    • quit early – Stop speaking before the audience stops listening. There is never such a thing as a bad short sermon or message

I am constantly in awe of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life as I stand to speak His message. Though I carefully prepare my material and plan specific illustrations or personal examples, the Lord often brings to my mind an experience or story while I am speaking that I have not consciously thought about in a long time. I share the God-given illustration and realize later that someone in the audience made a powerful connection with that account. The Holy Spirit, who always knows the audience, can pull from your past experience or previous knowledge to speak His Word directly to each person in the audience.

The most effective public speakers will exert effort ahead of time getting to know the audience and the occasion as well as preparing material. During the message, an excellent speaker responds to feedback from the audience, often editing and adjusting the speech in mid-message. When speaker-listener connection is maintained from the opening comment to the closing word, the outcome of the message will be positive.

Preparation for a speech is a challenging task. No two audiences are alike. No two occasions are alike. No two speakers are alike. In addition, the same speaker is different every time she speaks. Diligent work and dependence on the Holy Spirit is essential for a public speaker preparing to give a message. Face the challenge as you focus on your audience before you stand up to speak for them!

            [1] Calvin Miller, The Empowered Communicator: 7 Keys to Unlocking an Audience (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 11-206.

It’s All in the Delivery

There is not one perfect method of delivery like there is not one perfect type of speaker. Every speaker must determine what method of delivery fits the personal style of the speaker as well as the purpose of the speech and the occasion. Each speaker will probably utilize each method of delivery at some time and on specific occasions. Though most speakers have a preferred method of delivery, a versatile public speaker will be aware of the different methods and be able to use each effectively when indicated.

The four primary methods of speech delivery are manuscript, memorized, impromptu, and extemporaneous. Each method requires similar preparation though different delivery. The style of presentation and utilization of notes is different for each. As each method is described below, consider a situation calling for each type of delivery.

The Manuscript Speech is written out word-for-word beforehand and read word-for-word from a script or teleprompter. There are several advantages to this delivery method: words can be carefully selected; timing can be carefully managed; and content can be carefully reviewed. Several disadvantages may develop with this type of delivery method: presentation may sound forced; tone may sound monotonous; vibrancy may sound flat; and eye contact may be limited. Manuscript speeches may be appropriate when precision and accuracy are required such as for media speeches, political messages, or graduation charges as well as when controversial issues are discussed.

Some people who are mischievous may tease or torment those who speak from a manuscript. A playful preacher once took the sermon notebook of his friend who had gone to the bathroom just before he was introduced to speak for a pastors’ conference. The sermon notes were passed across the front row of the auditorium while he was gone. The preacher panicked when he returned and realized his manuscript was missing. If speaking from a manuscript, make sure it is always in your possession.

The Memorized Speech is written out beforehand and memorized word-for-word. It is then quoted from memory by the speaker without notes. A memorized speech allows maximum movement and audience focus. It can be a very powerful form of delivery from the audience perspective. It requires excellent memory skills, thus a lapse in memory is always a risk in this delivery method. Memorization may sound rote or stiff and can develop a sing-song rhythm if not carefully monitored. Only some speakers will be able to speak from memory confidently.

The most effective memorized speeches usually are less formal and more conversational in nature. Predetermined words do not allow for audience feedback or speaker adjustment. Memorization may be indicated in character sketches and for other similar reasons as the manuscript speech. This delivery method should have an integral relationship with the content of the message.

The Impromptu Speech is delivered on the spur of the moment without preparation. Ministry often calls for speaking “off the cuff” or “from the top of the head.” Even when no time is available for preparation, thoughts must be organized and ideas must be presented clearly. Previous preparation and research as well as familiar messages are invaluable resources when asked to speak spontaneously. In 1 Peter 3:14-16, the writer declares:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.

People in leadership positions must always be prepared to facilitate a meeting, give a report, or share a testimony. Unusual circumstances sometimes call for an impromptu message. A scheduled speaker may become ill or have travel delays requiring a backup speaker. Speakers must also respond to questions and handle debates spontaneously. Lack of preparation should not become habitual. This bad habit can lead to bad speeches or bad lessons. Mission trips also provide numerous occasions for impromptu speeches. Unclear details, cultural differences, changing schedules, and unexpected needs may necessitate speaking without advance notice.

The Extemporaneous Speech is prepared in advance and presented from abbreviated notes. An outline guides the flow of points though exact words are left to the speaker at the moment of delivery. There is a logical progression of thoughts which are freely delivered. Most topics lend themselves to extemporaneous presentation. Thorough preparation and prayerful saturation ensure the material will be present smoothly and understood clearly. Most occasions call for an extemporaneous speech which many public speakers believe to be the preferred method of delivery.

Christine Jahnke describes extemporaneous speaking as “preplanned spontaneity” in her book, The Well-Spoken Woman. Preplanned spontaneity is just what it sounds like: “a balance between being excessively scripted and being unprepared.”[1] It combines competence and casualness. Jahnke uses Elizabeth Dole as an example of a public speaker who used preplanned spontaneity with excellence. At the Republican Convention in 1996 when her husband was nominated for president, Mrs. Dole broke with traditional speech delivery. She moved away from the stationary podium and descended the staircase into the audience in the large convention center. Though less formal and seemingly spontaneous, her words and movements had been carefully rehearsed and choreographed. Thousands of people were intrigued as she walked down the aisles and talked to them warmly. Extemporaneous speech delivery can be strengthened by preplanned spontaneity. As Jahnke points out, “Preplanned spontaneity will help you be ready for anything versus anything goes.”[2] Those public speakers who master extemporaneous delivery will always be ready for anything.


[1] Jahnke, The Well-Spoken Woman, 155.

[2] Jahnke, The Well-Spoken Woman, 176.