3 Ways to Avoid Preaching when you Speak

Reach don't preach

Most audiences do not want to be preached to outside of the church. However, it is sometimes easy to fall into preaching especially when you are very passionate about your message. Below are three guidelines you can follow to prevent destroying your speech due to preaching.

Guideline #1 – The soft “you”

The word “you” is the most important word in speaking and, frankly, speakers do not use it enough. However, some speakers do use it quite often but there’s one big problem. They use the hard “you” rather than the soft “you.” What’s the difference? Listen to the quick audio below to see the difference.

[audio:http://www.craigvalentine.com/wp-content/uploads/Softyous.mp3|titles=Soft You]

Did you hear the difference? The hard “you” sounds like you’re commanding your audience and forcing them to listen to you. The soft “you” is much more inviting. In fact, you should listen to the very beginning of this story and count the number of “you/your” words that I use in only 57 seconds. You will need to pay close attention because some of these “you/your” words can pass by in a barely noticeable way.

[audio:http://www.craigvalentine.com/wp-content/uploads/YouandYourStatements.mp3|titles=YouandYourStatements]

Welcome back. How many “you/your” words did you hear? I counted 15 in 57 seconds. With all those “you/your” statements, did it make my speech sound “preachy?” No. Why? Because each was a soft “you” rather than a hard one. But, rest assured, it’s very important to use many more “you/your” statements than “I” statements. In the audio you just heard, I used “you” or “your” once every 3.8 seconds. You don’t have to keep up that rate throughout the entire speech but I just wanted you to see that it’s possible (and effective) to use many “you/your” words without preaching. Use that soft “you.”

Guideline #2 – Let the story make the point

Too many speakers tell their story and then spend far too much time driving home their point. If you tell the story with the most effective structure, then your audience will be 80% across the bridge to understanding and buying into your point. Then it only takes a Foundational Phrase and perhaps another line or two to drive that point home and get your audience 100% across the bridge.

Top Line      O.     O.     O.

Bottom Line      O. . . . .

Look at the Top Line and Bottom Line above, because this is the mistake that speakers make. Look at the circle as the story and the dot as the point. The Top Line is great because you can see a story (circle) and the attached point (dot), then another story and the attached point and then another story and the attached point. That’s fine because each point is made by (and anchored to) the story.

What many speakers do is represented by the Bottom Line. They tell their story (circle) and then keep driving home several points (multiple dots). The problem here is that only the first point is attached to the story. The extra points (that are not anchored by the story) will all come across as preaching. Each point deserves its own story (or other anchor such as an Activity or Analogy) and that way each point can be uncovered within the story and prevent you from preaching. Keep those images in mind.

Guideline #3 – Don’t tell; ask

So often I hear speakers make statements like, “We all have tough challenges in our lives…” and this sparks people in the audience to think, “What makes you think you know about me? Why do you say I have challenges?”

That’s the problem with “telling” your audience members about themselves. The solution is to ask. For example, instead of saying, “We all have challenges…,”prequalify your statement by asking, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever faced a challenge?”  Most hands will go up.

Secret Key: When you’re asking a question in which you want to get a “yes,” then it’s a great idea to include the past rather than just the future. For example, you will get many more hands raised if you say, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever faced a challenge.” You will get fewer hands if you say, “Raise your hand if you are facing a challenge.”

That’s why I love to use the following stems:

“Have you ever…”

“Raise your hand if you have ever…”

Those phrases are much more inclusive and will get almost all hands to go up. Then, once you qualify them with that question, you can continue with something like, “That’s what I thought. Well, wouldn’t it be nice to have a system of turning each challenge into an opportunity? Well, guess what? There is a system. It’s called…”

There is nothing “preachy” about that because you did not tell them about themselves, you asked them about themselves.

Final Thoughts:

If you have a conversation with your audience instead of preaching to your audience, you will connect and they will want you back time and time again. See…even that previous sentence had five more “yous and yours!”

Craig Valentine

As a motivational speaker I've been fortunate to have spoken in over 20 countries, and back in 1999 Toastmasters International awarded me the World Champion of Public Speaking.

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