Speaking as Leading
If in full-time college ministry, you are likely spending a fair amount of time each week preparing a talk to give at your weekly meeting. In one sense, this presentation is the most strategic time of the week. You get to influence both nonbelievers and/or young believers through teaching God’s Word. This talk will be what most college students judge your ministry by. It simply has critical importance.
However, in another sense, these weekly presentations are not the most critical aspect of your ministry. If these twenty-five-minute talks become the main thing to you and your ministry, then the likelihood of having a ministry that embodies the values of evangelism, disciple-making, and mission mobilization (EDM) is slim. A ministry built around its weekly meetings and its teachers will never last. It will never multiply. Obviously, this will be different in a different ministry context. A college pastor at a church will spend more time in sermon preparation than a campus minister.
Viewed properly, these talks must be seen as an opportunity to under-gird our wider EDM ministry. They are only as useful and strategic as they are aimed at furthering EDM in your ministry.
Talk preparation and presentation should never replace association and demonstration. Proportionally, the larger share of our time each week should be given to living lives of evangelism, disciple-making, and mission mobilization rather than preparing talks about these topics.
So, how do you do this? Let’s look at some principles for talk preparation and presentation that will serve rather than distract our EDM ministries.
Preparation and Presentation
The following principles are suggestions for preparing for and giving your presentation.
If we are going to be used by God to change people’s lives for his glory, we need to involve him in the process. This is unfortunately where I often fail. When I get behind in my week and have to rush my talk preparation, prayer is sadly the first thing to go. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Ask God what he wants you to emphasize, and respond appropriately.
Knowledge and understanding of your audience cannot be overstated. Spend lots of time with your audience, or ask a lot of questions about them. This will ensure that you will meet them where they are with your content. Living a life of evangelism, disciple-making, and mission mobilization will always help this aspect of talk presentation.
Based on your time spent in prayer and your knowledge of your audience, pick the most appropriate passage for them. First, study this passage for personal transformation. Then, attempt to summarize the main point of this passage in one sentence. Meditate on how it will be best understood by and applied to your audience, and then ask yourself these questions:
What is the most clear way to get this passage into their world without compromising the original context?
What do I want my audience to walk away and do?
Are there any analogies, stories, illustrations, or diagrams that could help me clearly communicate this?
Determining clear goals for your presentation helps cut out all unnecessary content and serves to help clarify what you are trying to communicate. I would suggest simplifying until you have no more than two main ideas you want to communicate. These goals become threads that run through your entire talk. They are the glue that holds your talk together and makes sense of it all.
Practice and review
I can’t tell you how many disasters I have avoided by practicing my talk with my wife. Things always seem to make sense in my head, but when they come out of my mouth, it’s a different story. Get some friends or coworkers together (preferably of both genders), practice your talk, and have them give you good feedback. This will always improve your talk. Trust me.
But don’t only receive feedback beforehand. Be sure to open yourself up to criticism after the talk as well. I think the best way for all of us to improve as speakers is to get regular feedback. Don’t miss out on the development that can come from hearing some constructive criticism after your talk.
When it comes to actually building your talk, a solid introduction can make or break it. Create one that draws your audience in and creates a desire to listen. I sometimes call this my “way in” to my audience. What is something you can talk about that will connect with your audience? A funny story that illustrates your point? An illustration from current news?
After this, give a good preview of where you are headed. A widely known public speaking tip is, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” There is a lot of wisdom in this. Giving a simple preview of what you plan to cover will cause your listeners’ antennas to be attuned to what you are saying.
Are there any shaping perspectives you need to give or draw attention to? For example, perhaps you start off a talk by asking, “Do you think it is possible for people to say they are Christians and to not be Christians?” You are preparing your audience for a potential paradigm shift in their thinking. This will draw the attention of the listener.
Paraphrase the talk
To end it is sometimes helpful to summarize your main point, goal, or “thread.” This will help you prepare and communicate what you want to.
Hopefully these tips will further the EDM cause on your campus and keep you from spending too much time preparing a talk. Our talks are important but shouldn’t be the main thing in our ministries. All things considered, our primary goal doesn’t need to be for students to walk away and think, “Wow, what a great speaker” but rather, “Wow, what a great Savior.”