Ten Keys to Effective Communication
From the pulpit to the boardroom, success starts with these elements
The Power of Effective Communication
Maybe you’re a megachurch pastor. Maybe you’re leading a small, community church. Maybe you’re a Fortune 500 CEO or you’re a general manager in a mid-sized company. Regardless, the ability to communicate effectively is critical to your leadership.
As leaders ascend higher into positions of influence, communication becomes paramount. From slide decks to emails or from encounters in the break room to presentations to an audience of hundreds, your influence depends on your ability to present information clearly.
Most of my leadership experience comes in the context of church leadership and nonprofit leadership. I’ve spoken, on stage, to thousands of people at a time. In that world, communication adds a unique twist. It involves not just conveying ideas, but interpreting and disseminating potentially life-changing religious teachings.
Communicating about the Bible is serious business.
That’s my background, but I believe it applies to all forms of leadership. I developed the list below to help leaders of all kinds, but especially those engaged in preaching, teaching, and speaking within church and ministry settings. But even if you’re communicating in an industry-specific conference or facilitating a board meeting, I think these tips will help refine your communication skills.
These ten key steps will empower you to deliver powerful, resonant, and inspiring messages to your audience.
The Ten R’s of Effective Speaking
1. Research and Prepare Properly
I think of Peter’s instruction often when I’m studying, planning, or praying about a speaking engagement:
…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.—1 Peter 3:15
Preparation is key. For a pastor, this includes both spiritual preparation (prayer, inspiration, and revelation) and personal preparation (study, research, rest, and focus). It also involves your attitude during preparation—one of humility and respect for the nature of what you’re being asked to do.
But preparation matters the same within the secular world. When you take communication seriously, you resist the temptation to “wing it.” When you prepare, you minimize distracting habits like using filler words (“um” or “uh”), over-reliance on notes, and a tendency to use exaggeration to get a point across. Remember, your congregation is more interested in a thoughtful, authentic message than a flashy performance.
2. Respect Your Audience
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Even with the most powerful message in history, he knew he needed to find kinship with his audience as he delivered it.
This doesn’t mean changing your core message or beliefs, but rather tailoring your presentation to those hearing or reading the message. To whom are you talking or writing? Are you leading or feeding? Are you addressing shepherds or sheep? When you understand your audience, you adapt your delivery to their needs.
3. Be Real
“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
There’s a common danger in the church world that arises because pastors often speak to their congregations from an elevated stage or behind an imposing pulpit. This arrangement conveys authority but can also set them apart—literally—from church members. It cements an assumption of spiritual or moral authority, and I’ve seen this arrangement lead pastors down a dangerous path in which ego or showmanship get in the way of their message.
Transparency is the antidote to this potential poison. As a pastor or as an executive, your authentic self is your most powerful tool. Be real. Refuse to hide or soften your rough edges. Share personal stories that expose your humanity, your failures, and your struggles, but make sure they also demonstrate growth and resolve. As a speaker, if your audience doesn't know you better after the message, you’ve missed a golden opportunity to connect on a personal level.
4. Be Relevant
If a pastor is preaching the Word of God, then that message will definitely matter. But every communicator should ask if their message will matter in the lives of the audience. If it doesn’t apply to their daily lives, then why speak about it?
As you do communicate, make sure your message is practical, understandable, and sensitive to the reality of your listeners’ lives. Avoid resorting to religious platitudes or business jargon without giving clear definitions, and guidance on how to apply that teaching to a real-world scenario.
5. Relax and Trust God
Here’s a truth that has meant so much to me when I speak to a crowd: Your audience wants you to succeed. In fact, they will feed off your energy and demeanor.
If you’re overly anxious or rigid, you may miscommunicate your message or feel as if you’ve failed. Remember, your job as a speaker isn’t to control people’s reactions but to communicate clearly to them. For pastors, your job is to faithfully deliver God’s Word and trust the power of that Word to bring about change.
Again, preparation is key here. I advise pastors and ministers, before speaking or teaching, to pray for comfort and peace. On a practical level, it helps to start with a personal story or humor to ease tension.
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6. Reel in Your Audience
I’m no professional fisherman, but I’ve been fishing enough in my life to understand one truth about it: It’s not enough to just hook a fish. “Catching a fish” means getting that fish to shore or to the boat. You haven’t successfully caught a fish until you reel it from one place to another place.
A good speech or sermon doesn’t just capture the attention of your audience, but moves them from one place to another. That might mean understanding a biblical idea better or letting a spiritual teaching take root in their hearts. It might spur them into action or changed behavior.
Beginning your message with a clear and compelling why—a reason for the teaching—is crucial. In other words, you have “sell” your audience on the relevance of your message before you delve into the details.
7. Maintain a Rhythm
Storytelling is an art form, and the best speakers or preachers can talk about any subject and make it compelling and highly listenable. One reason they’re able to do so is because, technically, they understand that they need to hit certain notes. These notes are the basics of good storytelling: drama, humor, sadness, happiness, dramatic pauses, engaging patterns of speech, and so on.
There’s a reason all of these 10 things start with the letter R: I’ve learned that rhythm and repetition are important. But, again, too much of anything can quickly become monotonous. Balance your message with information, revelation, humor, and personal experiences to maintain a dynamic rhythm as you speak. Remember, people can process information much faster than you can say the actual words. That’s why the way you deliver content is as essential as the content itself.
8. Be Relatable
Back to 1 Peter 3:15, consider the “meekness and fear” aspect of that verse. I tend to rely on the New King James Version, but other translations use the phrase “gentleness and respect.” That means speaking with appropriate humility before the topic. Yes, your audience wants to hear a confident message. They want to know you are an expert. But they also want to feel a connection with you.
Make sure your delivery is relational, not overly confrontational and definitely not “holier than thou.” If your personality drastically changes when you’re speaking in public, it can create a barrier between you and your audience. Be passionate, but make sure your passion is conveyed in a spirit of love and respect, not of self-righteousness or aggression.
9. Offer Revelation
Simply put, leave your audience wanting more. At some point in your message, you want them to say, “Wow.”
That’s not so you will impress them or that they will think you are the world’s best communicator, but so they will remember the core of your message. What’s the main takeaway? What key message will move them? Structure your talk around that “Wow” moment. Seek out unique information, facts, stats, or ideas that will stick with your audience.
10. Rest, Reflect, Recharge
This is one of the hardest parts for pastors, and I suspect it is the same for executives or others who operate in the public realm. After you’ve delivered your message, don’t just move to the next thing on your list. Take time to rest and reflect.
For me, at least, public speaking is emotionally and physically taxing. When I finish a message—or a Sunday in which I share the message two or more times—I feel physically tired. My mood sometimes drops as the adrenaline diminishes. Sometimes I’ll worry that I could have communicated better, or I focus on a moment when I stumbled over my words. That’s rarely very helpful.
My message to pastors is this: Trust in God, and ask Him to cultivate the seeds you’ve planted and remove any weeds of misunderstanding. Hebrews 4:12 describes the word of God as “living and powerful.” It is alive. It is active. Allow yourself time to recharge, knowing that the Word of God is still working even while you rest.
Dynamic preaching, teaching, and public speaking involve more than just delivering a message. They are about fostering connections, relating on a personal level, and inspiring people to apply deep, meaningful teachings to their everyday lives.
By embracing these 10 R’s of effective speaking, you can become a more effective communicator and a more impactful leader within your church, organization, business and beyond.~ Jimmy Evans
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