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How to Capture the Crowd: What Great Preachers Know

“Life doesn’t have MUCH to do with living in the land of CERTAINTY, but it does have MUCH to do with living in the land of HOPE.”

I hastily scribbled these words in my program during a church service out of town.  After the pastor repeated this same phrase three times I noted he was using two great speaking devices: EMPHASIS and REPETITION – the perfect choice for the Easter sermon, which is normally attended by “less than regular” churchgoers.

He continued…

“And the tomb was rolled away. And they said,” (PAUSE) “ SHHHH!” (Finger to lips) “ Let’s not tell anyone,” (PAUSE) and they didn’t.   (KNOCKING ON PULPIT) (SHARP HAND CLAP) “Peter’s out the door,”

He was also a master of SOUND EFFECT, GESTURE, AND PAUSE.

And he knew how to BEGIN.

He had begun with a joke about a retiring pastor whose secretary was valiantly seeking his title for the Easter sermon to type in the program. Finally he turned to her and quipped, “Oh just call it…”Another Easter Sermon.”

And he knew how to END:

“Let me share one more story with ‘ya and then I’m gonna quit.”

And that’s exactly what he did. He made many very good presentation choices for a crowd of “sometimes” churchgoers. He grabbed the large audience that he had and pulled them in.

(In the reception line I discovered he was a semi-retired interim senior pastor named Rev. Eric Erikson with years and years of sermons behind him. I thanked him for his talent and skill that day.)

And here’s what great preachers know and all speakers can learn: no matter the content you must deliver, there are three keys to getting the audience to listen:

1) How you begin and how you end

2) How you use Delivery Basics: eyes, voice, hands, stance, pause, and volume

3) How you repeat, emphasize, and reinforce your key message

As simple as they sound, these are also the most common points of entrapment for speakers:

(1) Do you apologize in the beginning?

Here are some actual openings I’ve heard just in the last month.

“Thank you for being here on this sunny Saturday April morning.” (I’m thinking, OK, don’t make it worse than it is that I have to be here today!)


“Well, since it’s just me between you and dessert I’ll be brief…oh, I see you already have dessert, well I’ll really be brief.” (This comment was made while the speaker, a top-level manager, held a half-empty glass of wine.)

Do you throw away the ending? Here are some actual endings I’ve heard recently:

“So that’s all I have to say.”

“Thanks and I hope you enjoyed it.”

(2) Do you just “show up” without running through the talk out loud?

It’s very different actually delivering a talk and just reading it over at your desk. Practicing out loud while standing up allows you to think about what your eyes, hands, and voice are doing. And that’s what the audience sees.

(3) Do you lose the key message in oodles of detail?

Your listener needs emphasis, repetition, and energy to remember your key message. Write it on a card, highlight it, repeat it in the power point slide, or even have the audience repeat it with you. If you don’t know your message, who will?

Before your next presentation, ask yourself if you’ve given your key message a chance. Thanks to all the great preachers and rabbis out there for reminding us how to do this – week after week after week.

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