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My church has the best team of communicators for students. Sometimes I can’t even handle it. So this week during our middle school services, I paid attention to some of the techniques of our communicator of the week (our friend and favorite Irishman Adam Boyle) to see what we could learn.
And then I took some notes.
And then I shared them on Instagram.
And now I’m sharing them here.
So here you go. A few things I noticed about Adam’s talk . . .
HE KEPT IT SHORT
12 minutes, actually. It’s not easy to keep your talks short and focused. It’s easy to talk for 45 minutes. It’s giving a complete and compelling talk in under 15 minutes that’s the real challenge. Have you ever watched a TED Talk? One of the most-viewed TED Talks ever clocks in at 9 minutes and 58 seconds. And, coincidentally, it’s called How to Speak so That People Want to Listen. Especially for teenagers, sometimes shorter and more focused talks are the best talks.
HE MADE THEM LAUGH
Getting your audience to laugh is the easiest way to win them over, to help them connect with you, and to emotionally engage them with your talk from the very beginning.
HE KEPT IT INTERESTING
Adam’s talk wasn’t just about talking. He did a lot more than simply speak. He showed videos. He sat down. He stood up. He walked around. He talked to the audience. He had visuals on screen. Adam’s talk was a great reminder that, as communicators, we can’t expect our audience’s attention. We have to earn it.
HE TALKED WITH HIS AUDIENCE
Throughout the talk (but especially toward the beginning), Adam asked the audience questions. Sometimes the questions were rhetorical, but more often they were designed to actually elicit a short response. He asked things like . . .
“How are you feeling today?”
“Has that ever happened to you?”
“Did you ever have a friend do that?”
Great communicators involve their audience and, in return, their audience stays engaged. That’s what happens when you help your audience feel like they’re a part of the conversation.
HE KNEW HIS AUDIENCE
As communicators, we have to make some assumptions about our audience. But we don’t always get those assumptions right. In Adam’s case, though, it was clear he understood his audience and what his audience cared about because of the way they responded to him. We’ll know we’ve raised tensions and told stories that are relatable by the way our audience physically and verbally responds. With Adam, they nodded. They laughed. They nudged the person next to them.
Of course, this doesn’t mean every student was listening to every word he said (they were middle schoolers, after all) but, overall, it was clear that he had made the correct assumptions about what his audience would care about and relate to.
HE CONSIDERED UNCHURCHED STUDENTS
When we’ve been following Jesus (and teaching about Him) for years, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be unfamiliar with the Bible. But here’s the thing. Great communicators are in the habit of putting themselves in the shoes of unchurched students. So when Adam began diving into Scripture, he didn’t begin by saying, “Proverbs says…” Before he ever read the verse, he first explained what the book of Proverbs is, what it’s about, and who wrote it. It took less than a minute but, for any unchurched students in the room, it may have made all the difference.
So what about you? What tips and strategies have you learned about speaking to students?