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Thirty Ways to Be a Good Public Speaker

By Dr. Douglas Groothuis


1. Pray before speaking. I pray something like this, “Lord, help me to speak the truth in love with wisdom such that knowledge is imparted that sticks to the soul and spreads through the world for your glory.” See Ephesians 4:15; Titus 2:7-8.

2. Say something worth saying. Time is short, Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 5:16.

3. Study adequately. Better to over-study (if there is such a thing) than under-study, especially in preaching. See James 3:1-2.

4. Never rely on your charisma. Rely on God and the knowledge you have to offer people.

5. Learn how to speak grammatically and with the best version of your voice you can offer. You may want to talk with a speech coach.

6. Have water with you on the podium, but don't take large gulps, but small sips. The water should be warm, not cold. Cold water constricts your throat and hurts your voice.

7. Speak when you can on an empty stomach. It is rude to digest in public and it affects your voice and brain adversely.

8. Make eye contact with your audience. Don't look down at your notes too much.

9. Have trusted friends evaluate your teaching.

10. Read books such as Mortimer Adler’s How to Speak, How to Listen.

11. Don't abuse humor. Read A. W. Tozer's essay, "The Use and Abuse of Humor" which is online.

12. Read books on rhetoric, such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Mark Forsyth, Elements of Eloquence.

13. Read and study speeches by the greats, especially Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.

14. Try to make the room in which you are speaking a sanctuary of knowledge. Find your gravitas.

15. Pray after speaking, "God take what was good in your sight and burn it into their consciousness, so that you may be honored. Take what was bad and make them forget it."

16. Don't interrupt yourself. This causes you to lose track of your direction and is annoying to those who listen.

17. Dress appropriately for the event, neither ostentatious nor too informal—and definitely not sexy.

18. Take a moment of silence before speaking if you can. People need to make a transition into the learning environment, since most of our lives are not attuned to learning anything important.

19. Don't be histrionic. Let the words persuade more than wild gestures and bombastic utterances.

20. But, in some settings a bit of theatrics can augment the teaching. Some of my students know what I am talking about.

21. When you are being introduced, check with the person introducing you for what should be said. Long introductions are pompous. I have heard some monsters! Know that the intros are usually written by the speaker. The introduction should state the basic reasons why anyone should listen to you. In general, brevity is best. Brother Yun says that the longer the introduction, the less anointing on the speaker.

22. Work to figure out how the sound system works and that you go on stage with a functioning microphone. I am not too good at this. I usually forget to turn on my mic. So, it is better to have the sound person do this. (Also make sure the mic is off if you are still wearing it when you go to the bathroom.)

23. Use a decent podium. You need a place to center yourself and place your outline and other materials. Music stands stink for this, since they descend with much of any weight on them. I hate music stands for public speaking, because they are insubstantial.

24. For older people (like me, 67), make sure you can read your notes and whatever book you may read from. Also make sure the lighting is adequate. I gave a talk in a converted Masonic lodge which had terrible lighting. I had to fight that for two hours. The spiritual atmosphere was very dark and I had to fight for every word. See Ephesians 6:10-19 on spiritual warfare.

25. Whatever you do, be neither a clown nor a pedant.

26. Make sure that your life is not too far out of alignment with your teaching. In preaching, you are always preaching to yourself first. Perhaps you know what is right and could teach on it, but you are failing terribly to live up to your own standards. Then, you probably should not speak on that topic at that time.

27. Be polite by staying within the time frame you are given. I used to fail badly at this, but am getting better.

28. In some cases, however, the Spirit may prompt you to go longer than anticipated. But never do this in a way that disrupts things. I once went so long in a sermon that I caused church parking lot apocalypse. People from the second service were driving in while people from the first were leaving. Amazingly, they invited me back after my foolishness. This should not be your model, however.

29. Never, ever put a spouse or a friend in a bad light by telling a story that makes them look like a fool. Some funny stories are appropriate, but only if the spouse agrees beforehand. I have seen men belittle their wives in the pulpit. It is ungodly and nauseating.

30. If possible, do not allow your image to be projected on any screen in the room in which you are speaking. Your voice is more important than your face. People, by force of habit, tend to look at screens immediately. But this takes away from the personal element of unmediated communication.

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