Have you ever wondered how you can find your voice as a speaker?
A few weeks back I had the opportunity to speak at the seminary chapel here at Andrews University. After I finished, and after I had greeted some people and was on my way out, a seminary student asked me this question: “How would you describe your preaching style?”
I was a little surprised by the question. I wasn’t quite sure what was behind the question, and because I didn’t want to give a simplistic answer, I asked her to write me an email so we could get together and converse further. (By the way, she gave me permission to share part of this email and our interaction).
A few days later I found this email in my inbox:
“I was really impacted by your delivery style and want to know how you would characterize it. It gave me hope that I can do what God is calling me to do. I think it would be ideal for the audience that I am attempting to reach. I am in my last year and I can’t preach the traditional way that I have been exposed to. It feels fake, like I’m in someone else’s armor and its not working for me. I dread preaching and even have some related anxieties when I do because I prepare the message of ‘truth’ then in my mind I have to become someone else (fake) to deliver it. Since God has called me, then the least I can do is show up as myself when it is time to deliver the word.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever felt the same way?
I want to share with you what I ended up sharing with her concerning how to find your voice as a speaker.
1. Be Yourself
Through my conversation with her, it became clear that she had a certain picture in mind of what a preacher/speaker was supposed to sound and act like. She was under the impression that she needed to raise her voice substantially to really “preach it.”
The truth is that you need to be yourself as a preacher or speaker. God wants to use someone exactly like you with your personality. Preaching is not something that you put on. If someone is conversing with you, and then you get in the pulpit and sound like someone else, then you’re probably doing it wrong.
If you’re a happy-go-lucky kind of person, people should be able to get a sense of that from seeing you.
If you like to smile, people should be able to get a sense of that.
In preaching, God is using you to communicate some Bible truth. That means we should not all sound the same up there.
2. Don’t Try To Sound Like a Preacher or Speaker
This one is perhaps similar to my previous point, but what is a preacher or speaker supposed to sound like? I think through the years certain teachers have put together certain rules that they feel exemplify what a preacher or speaker is supposed to sound like. As a result, and particularly in certain cultures, preaching has developed a certain look and sound to it. I disagree, though, that there should be a certain sound and look to preaching.
3. Listen to Different Speakers
Have you ever listened to a preacher/speaker and thought to yourself, “this person sounds exactly like _________”? This normally happens when someone is listening to a limited rotation of speakers. Or worse: they only listen to one speaker. If you only listen to a limited amount of speakers, you will inevitably sound like them. You will elaborate, phrase, ask questions, stand, and do things the same way they do. It’s ok to have a few speakers that you really like but be careful with turning into copies of them. I think it comes across badly when someone does this.
4. Practice Speaking
The more time you spend speaking and preaching, the more time you begin to settle into yourself. You gain confidence. You’re not afraid to let your true personality begin to shine through. For at least my first year in ministry, I still sounded like other people. But slowly, I began to become myself as a speaker.
So how would I characterize my speaking style? If I had to summarize it in one word, I think I would use the word conversational.
That’s all for now. In the next post, I’ll address some tweaks you can make that will radically make your presentation, sermon, or speech much better.
What about you? What would you add to the list about how to find your voice as a speaker? (To leave a comment click here)
[image by Kerry Jardine}