A short five to ten minute talk is often used in congregations at the end of a mid-week study or perhaps at the end of a night of worship in song. Preparing a talk is a challenge for both the new Christian and the experienced speaker. To someone who has never given a talk, five minutes seems like forever. To someone used to giving a thirty to forty minute sermon, you feel like you're barely warmed up and you're over your time limit.
Things to Consider
- Keep your talk to within a few minutes of the designated time. People have already invested time in the prior study or service. Extending their stay will make people grumpy, detracting from their reason for being there.
- You don't have to use up your entire time. If you come up short, but you have made your point, then you have accomplished your mission. That is all that matters.
- Decide what one point you would like your audience to take with them. Since short talks are usually at the end of a gathering, what you present will likely be the topic of conversation as people head home. Multi-point lessons are needed for longer sermons, but in a short talk, you only have time to develop one point; and your audience only has time to absorb one point.
- Write this point at the top of a piece of paper.
- Begin searching for every verse on or related to that point that you can find. Often you will have one verse in mind, so start with that one and use a cross-reference to locate more. Jot down the verse and write a brief summary of what the verse does for your point.
- Get as many verses as you can. You will very likely come up with more than you can possibly use -- that is for what you should be aiming. Having too many verses means you have done your research.
- Go back through your list and mark the verses that are most appropriate for your one point.
- Now sit back a moment and, considering the verses you have found, how can you organize what you have learned so that it can be clearly understood by your audience. There should be a logical flow that leads the audience to conclude the point you are trying to get across.
- Avoid using the passages as proof text for your point. It can create a tendency to pull passages out of context just to find a phrase or passage that gives credence to your point. Instead, think about what you have learned from the passages you have researched and work to present what God has said as clearly as you can.
- Keep the number of passages you use to be between one and four. Too many and you will spend most of your time reading and not have time to tie the points of the passages together into a coherent whole. Yes, there are likely a number of other passages that could be used, but no one said you have to use them all. Pick the ones that best present your point.
- Finally, you need a lead-in; something to get the audience's attention and causes them to want to learn a little bit more. Often I will clip articles from the newspaper, save interesting quotes, or copy a cute story. It is these clippings that often give me the idea for the point I want to make.
- A current event will make your point relevant. People will remember hearing about it earlier and your point will give your audience something to say when the topic comes up with their friends and co-workers.
- A story or a quote gives the audience something easily remembered. Consider Jesus' parables. He didn't tell the story of the widow's mite to discuss sweeping techniques, but the story helps a person recall the true point.
- A question for the audience to start pondering can be a very good lead-in to a topic when your point answers that question.
- Write down your lead-in and outline the major steps toward your point with the passages you will read. Don't write it out in full; otherwise, your delivery will sound like you are reading, instead of conversing. Your outline will keep you on track and once you know your next point, you can look at your audience as you make that point.
- Wait until you have your audience's attention before beginning. Give them a chance to quiet down. It might be nerve racking to stand there quietly for a moment, but wait until you have most of the audience looking at you before you begin. Eye contact means they are paying attention.
- Avoid talking about your talk. You are better off launching straight into your topic than saying, "The topic of my short talk tonight is ..."
- Make your voice project. Speak as if you are having a conversation with the people sitting in the farthest row.
- Most new speakers try to get louder by straining their vocal chords. Their pitch gets higher and they sound stiff. Within minutes they are worn out.
- Instead, get more volume by taking deeper breathes and pushing out more air from your lungs. In other words, use your diaphragm muscles! You will sound loud, but your voice will retain a natural quality. It is still tiring, but you will last hours instead of minutes.
- Most people talk faster when they are nervous, so counter it by speaking slowly and distinctly. It is not a race to the finish, but an attempt to get people's minds thinking about the point you want to make. Give them time to mull over the idea. Help them hear and understand your words.
- For this reason, pauses are helpful. Most new speakers (and even some old ones) feel they must fill every moment of their talk with sound. As they try to remember their next line, they will hum, say "ah," or use repetitive catch phrases -- "you know." It is hard to believe, but the best thing you can do is be silent for a moment. It gives the audience a chance to process your last statement while you are formulating your next statement.
- Watch out for nervous habits. Keep your hands out of your pockets. Don't pace back and forth or sway as you are standing. Don't fiddle with a pencil, your paper, or your Bible. Most people resort to repetitive action when they are nervous; it gives them an outlet for their excess energy. Instead, direct your energy into your voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Use your nervous energy to help deliver your point and not to distract your audience.
- Make eye contact with your audience as often as you can. Eye contact causes people to pay attention and to become engaged in what you are saying. As you get practiced at talking, you will be able to read your audience and know when something you said was unclear and needs to be expanded upon a bit or when you are losing your audience's interest and you need to pick up the pace a bit. Making eye contact also means your head is up and your voice is projecting outward.
- When reading a passage, state it, then turn to it yourself. Listen for the rustling of pages to die down a bit. State the passage again and, then, finally read the passage. This gives people a chance to find it in their Bibles so they can read along with you. The passage might interest them for further study and being able to turn to it gives them the opportunity to mark the passage.