“If you can’t say the main message of your talk in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.”
That’s one of my favourite quotations when it comes to speaking, and I tweet it every now and then to remind all my speaker followers (You can follow me on Twitter here). But recently, while doing some one-on-one coaching with a speaker, I was hit again with how hard it is for many of us as speakers to figure out what the main message is that we have to give.
Let me try to take you through my thought process on this. When I started speaking, I had only been out of university for a few short years. I had done two post-graduate degrees in my twenties, and I was still very much in “teaching” mode. I had my 4 or 5 points I was trying to make about every Bible passage I mentioned in my talks, and I was trying to teach.
It didn’t work. What I began to notice was that people sat up straight and listened when I told stories; eyes glazed over when I tried to teach my countless points.
And I started to question whether I was going about this the right way.
After thinking about it, practising, and reading a great bookon the subject, I decided to go back to what my grade 9 history teacher taught me when it came to essays:
Before you write it, decide the one thing that you’re trying to show.
You need a thesis. And for people in the audience, who tend to be quite passive listeners, you need a definite destination that you are taking them to or they will miss it.
In other words, don’t try to teach 5 main points. Try to teach one main action point, and have all your stories revolve around that. All your anecdotes, all your teaching points (and you are allowed to have them!), need to revolve around an action point.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say that you want to talk on prayer. You can give a talk that is “The 5 Methods of Effective Prayer”, or you could give a talk that is “Prayer and Peace go Hand in Hand”. What do you think people will remember more? What do you think they will be able to incorporate into their lives better?
Interestingly, in the second talk, where you focus on how prayer brings peace, you might mention those 5 methods of effective prayer. You may even use the same Scriptures. But your point isn’t to make everybody remember 5 main things, and all the subpoints from those main things. It’s to help them realize that prayer brings peace so that they will pray more. That’s the message: pray more, more peace.
Do you see the difference? It’s just in the approach and how you frame your talk.
But what if you’re stumped about the main message you should give? I suggest praying through your journey with God. Get out your journals, if you have any. Go for a walk of memory with the Lord and ask Him to bring to mind the major mountains and valleys that you have walked through. What has God been teaching you in your valleys? What has been your heart’s cry? Is it having a thirst that only God can satisfy? Declaring that He is enough? Living a life of trust, not fear? Entering into deeper worship? All of those things are perfectly valid, but they all have a slightly different slant, because God works with each of us differently.
What is your slant? How has God worked with you? Think about it, pray about it, and ask God to show you what the takeaway point–the ONE takeaway point–you should have from your talk!
And if you want to see how to use that point effectively, my audio download, Crafting an Effective Signature Talk, walks you through this process, and gives you a skeleton of what you’ll need to write a life-changing talk. Find it here!