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5 ways to discredit yourself as a speaker

When we are preaching to youth, the stakes are high. We don’t preach just any message, we preach a gospel that has the potential to change their eternal destiny, to change their lives from that day forward and to bring them into a relationship with their heavenly Father.

So when we’re speaking to youth, we’d better be as effective as we can be. But unfortunately speakers way too often make mistakes that discredit them, that make the audience question their credibility and thus question their message. Never forget that an audience has to like you and trust you before they’ll accept anything you say.

No matter how powerful and life-changing your message, if you can’t hold your audience’s attention it’s all in vain. Here are 5 common ways speakers can discredit themselves:

1. Clear lack of preparation

It’s not only important to prepare your sermon carefully, but to demonstrate your preparations as well. We once had a young preacher speak in our youth service who had forgotten to bring a Bible and only discovered this when he was already on stage. He needed the borrow one from someone in the audience. It was really a shame, because he had a good message to share, but this lack of preparations made him appear unfocused and unreliable.

Another example is a preacher who guest preached at our church and started her sermon with sharing that she’d given the same sermon before in another church and that she’d edited it a little bit the day before. I have nothing against recycling sermons, but this clearly isn’t the right way to do it. As a listener, I immediately felt ‘cheated’ that not only was she using an old sermon, but she’d only revisited it the day before. In my eyes, this discredited her. It was a big strike against her from the very start of her sermon.

2. Self-deprecating humor

It may be your style, but too many self-deprecating jokes or remarks will leave your audience feeling uncomfortable and unsympathetic towards you. Humor and jokes are a good method of getting your audience to open up towards you and to start liking you, but when your humor is constantly aimed against yourself, it will have the opposite effect and you will discredit yourself as a speaker.

Also, too many jokes won’t work either. We once had a wonderful young guy speak in one of our teen services. He really had something to say, but out of nervousness he kept making jokes. Funny ones, I’ll grant him that, but in the end they remembered his jokes more than his message.

3. Obvious mistakes

Everything in your message, including every example or illustration you use, but also your line of reasoning and logical build-up, should be correct and timely. Nothing will make your audience ‘switch off’ faster than obvious mistakes.

Again, it comes down to preparations. Know how to pronounce difficult words or names you will be using for instance. Check the source on any illustrations or quotes you use and make sure you know something about whom you’re quoting. And above all: make sure your Biblical facts are indeed facts, to avoid bloopers like the preacher who mentioned at least three times that Paul wrote this and this in Hebrews…

Notorious ones occur when you recycle old sermons for instance. We once had a somewhat older preacher preaching on the end times in our church who in the midst of his sermon, exclaimed ‘that the signs of the end of times were clearly visible in the year 1979!’. After a brief silence, the youth section roared with laughter and it was pretty much a lost case getting their attention back after that.

4. Being patronizing or trying to be cool

These two I’ve seen way too often with people not experienced in speaking to youth. They either try to be cool by dressing hip or using certain words they think youth will appreciate or they take the patronizing road and end up telling youth what to do. Neither one works and will discredit you as a speaker in youth’s opinion.

When preaching to youth, try to be yourself and to stand next to them, not above them or opposite them. Don’t pretend to be something or someone you’re not, you don’t have to be hip or cool to be accepted as a speaker. Authenticity is more important than anything else.

5. Apologizing

Oh, how I wish speakers would stop apologizing for being late, for not having the time to prepare a Powerpoint, for any and all technical failures, for the stain on their tie nobody noticed until they mentioned it, for anything and everything.

The worst timing is when they do it right at the sermon’s introduction, for example by beginning their sermon with: “I’m about to preach on a heavy subject, I apologize in advance it of will bore you.” Unrealistic? Unfortunately not.

If there’s a number one rule about public speaking and how to stay on your audience’s good side, it’s this: Do. Not. Apologize. Just don’t. You either tell your audience something they already know and don’t blame you for anyway or something they didn’t notice yet but now have and can’t forget till way after you’re done talking.

Which one of these is your weak point? What can you do to improve in that area?

[Photo Credit: Corey Grunewald, Freely, Creative Commons]
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0 thoughts on “5 ways to discredit yourself as a speaker

  1. Great stuff. I sat at a class where a youth minister mispronounced a name in Scripture where I thought was easy. He said, “I never know how to pronounce this but…” and then he butchered it. Why not look?

    I must confess though…I have been guilty of all five of those. I might add that becoming a life-long learner is a core quality for the public speaker. Thank you for this!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Robbie! Great example. it would have been so easy for him to just look it up. Especially the ‘I never know how…’ is such a disqualifier because obviously he’s never taken the trouble to find out how to say it right…

      And you’re absolutely right: we should never stop learning and growing as a public speaker. Not only is there always something we can do to improve, but our audiences constantly evolve and change as well, so we need to keep adapting to new realities.

  2. Some really fantastic observations… and some challenges!

    I think the root of a lot of these are insecurity, which isn’t uncommon for speaking up front- you make yourself vulnerable in a lot of ways. As common as these habits are it’s also worth remembering that these are also symptoms of a person who might not have enough conviction in their own voice.

    Thanks again Rachel, I’m always in awe of your blog and youth ministry wisdom… where do you get it all from???


    1. Thanks for your praise Becca, not sure I’m all that wise though…just learned a lot over the last 10+ years and paid attention 🙂 Let’s just say I’m a quick learner, haha! I think you’re right, insecurity and fear are often underlying motives and while it’s good to be vulnerable and open in some senses, you also have to be very aware of how this will come across to your audience.

      1. Dear Sister Rachel, this is pastor David James from Kathmandu, Nepal iam very much blessed by your all teachings for youth, God have been using me for youth ministry & healing & deliverance ministry here in Nepal i would like to request you to please cover me in your prayers there is very large youth Conference is going to come about 115 Churches youths are want to have youth Conference on this coming month of November 11-12 so please help me if you have any good teaching Sermons topics so that i can use them in that conference iam invited for that conference, please email me when you have time,
        Love to hear from you soon
        Your Brother in Christ
        Pastor David James
        Kathmandu, Nepal

        1. God bless on your conference David!

          1. Hi Dear Sister Rachel, my email have been changed it is and please pray for forth coming crusade on January 28-29 2013 in India in sikkim i need your prayers please cover me in your prayers & you can share this to your Church so that one day this Nation of Nepal will come to Jesus,love to hear from you soon.
            your always loving Brother David James from Kathmandu, Nepal

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