9 Ways To Help Your Next Talk Stand Out

Rob Gillen
July 26th, 2019

In 2015 it was determined that we now have an attention span of 8 seconds – one second less than that of a goldfish. 

Yeah. Less than a goldfish.

It can probably be blamed on modern-day cinematography and the constant changes of shots, sounds, and music. Nonetheless, it’s tough for us to pay attention to one thing for too long.

Factor in the fact that 11% of students struggle with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and you’ve got your work cut out for you as a youth pastor.

Here are nine speaking tips you can use to help keep your students on the edge of their seats and make your next message irresistible.

1. Tell A Story…But Tell It In Parts

Have you ever been watching a Netflix Series and the episode ends on a cliff-hanger? Whatever you were planning to do after the show – kiss it goodbye! You just sit there paralyzed waiting for the next episode to begin. It hurts. It hurts so good!

The next time you speak, include a great story, but don’t tell the whole story all at once. Instead, tell it in pieces, leaving the students waiting for the next “episode” – which will come later on in the message.

In Lisa Cron’s book Wired For Story, she covers the basics of storytelling. Do yourself a favor and read it. A friend recommended it to me and I couldn’t put it down. Probably because Lisa’s mastered the art of story-telling. I was hooked!

2. The Never-Ending Object Lesson  

Youth Pastors have been using object lessons for millennia. Jesus was the first youth pastor, and he was pro at this!

A coin? Sure thing. A tree? Why not? Wheat? That’ll work! People love object lessons.

One thing you can do to help get the most out of yours is to physically revisit the object throughout the message. Introduce your object early on and then continually pick it up. Carry it around with you. Sit it down beside you. Ignore it for a while and then bring it back into focus. Sounds simple, but with practice you can do this in a way that really pulls people in.

3. Audience Participation Please?

Remember when the conference speaker called a random attendee up on stage?

It has to be the most terrifying moment of someone’s life. They’re sitting there, casually enjoying the message, and all of a sudden the speaker points and says, “You!”

They look left, and then right, and then point at their chest and lip the word “Me?”

It may be terrifying in the moment, but if we’re honest, it’s pretty exciting. And when it’s done well, it serves a unique purpose to the message. It also creates a break and re-engages your listeners.

One time I asked a student to stand up just so I could ask her how my message was going.

She smirked, nodded and said “pretty good.” I told the crowd “Nice. I really needed some encouragement.”

4. Hit Pause

Sometimes we talk too much. Sometimes we talk too fast. And sometimes we need to stop talking for a moment.

The pause is the most neglected and underappreciated speaking tool.

If you’re building up to an amazing moment in your message, consider pausing for effect. This is a great time to scan the room and look into the eyes of your students. It lets them know that your pause isn’t a stumble or a mistake – it’s on purpose.

I’ve found that if I’m about to close, a good pause can pull my students in real tight.

5. Use Your Body

More than half of communication is body language and that means your body is more important than your words. Your hands, feet, posture, smile, eyes, your sway, and your jump are all communication tools. How foolish if we seldom use any of them?

The next time you speak use your entire body. I’ve learned a lot watching Craig Groeschel speak. He involves his whole self in his message. I’ve even seen him dance while preaching! You wouldn’t consider all of those movements “techniques;” you’d just know that he’s super engaging!

6. Use Your Voice

Don’t just use your words – use your voice! Mastering the power of voice inflection takes time and a lot of practice. Pastor and Author Max Lucado is a guru. If you listen to him closely, you’ll hear a very methodical and intentional changing of inflections when he speaks. It’s enchanting!

7. Interrupt Yourself

Have you ever heard someone passionate speak? They don’t always communicate in neat, complete, structured sentences. They might say something like “I can’t wait to start the next project because it’s…wow! I just can’t wait!”

Give yourself permission to interrupt yourself.

Your interruption could be the perfect springboard for the middle schooler in the front row.

“Jesus knew why he was on planet earth. And he – Did you catch that! He knew his purpose! (pause for effect) That changed everything!”

We’re sometimes trying so hard to give the perfect message that we forget that we’re talking to actual human beings who have emotions and urges and really short attention spans.

Imagine you’re preaching to a room full of goldfish.

8. Use Your Graphics 

If you’re anything like me, you’re planned out, antiquated and somewhat OCD. So when I put together my message slides I tend to keep them all in the same pattern with the same fonts with the same general graphic. It’s simple, clean and organized.

It’s also predictable and pretty boring.

Instead of using one template for all of your slides, consider using 3-4 templates and mix them up. There will still be a similar look and style to your graphics, but maybe the words are on the top of the screen and then the bottom and then along the left side. It’s a subtle change, but it’s a consistent change. And change is good!

9. Preach With A Partner

Watched any of the late night shows? Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman or Conan O’Brien?

They all have a co-host somewhere close, just off stage. At any moment during their monologue or interviews, their co-host could chime in, even just for a moment.

It’s such a small thing, but it puts a natural break in the flow of the show and it pulls the viewer’s attention in another direction, with a different face and a different voice. Many times the host will intentionally pull them into the action, especially during a lull in the show.

Consider putting a mic on your assistant, your intern or just a random student in the crowd. During the sermon ask them what they’re thinking about a comment you made, the passage you’re exegeting or the football game on Friday night. It brings a fresh flair to your message and why not? It’s fun!

You may be thinking “Isn’t this all a bit much? Can’t I just ‘be myself?’”

The short answer is yes and no. You can be yourself. Just a very well-prepared version of yourself who’s willing to do anything to help students hear the Gospel.

We can’t give up now. We need to keep moving. Because if we stand still too long…

Rob Gillen

Rob Gillen is the High School & College Age Pastor at Christian Life Assembly in Camp Hill, PA and has served in student ministries for 10 years. He has his Masters in theological studies and he’s an Adjunct Professor at the University of Valley Forge. Rob and his wife Kara parent a son and two beautiful daughters.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.