Five Quick Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Writing


3531532114_78338e283dIn Remote, the authors say the ability to write and communicate is absolutely necessary to get hired at 37 Signals.  Whether you’re trying to build a platform or send an email, it’s worth learning how to be a better writer.  When you write better stuff…

  • More people will read what you write.
  • More people will take action because of what you write.
  • More people will understand your message.
  • More people will share your message.

You can take writing workshops, read books and hire a coach.  I’ve done all three.  But start with this simple list, apply it to the very next thing you write, and you will see immediate improvement. Here are five quick ways to dramatically improve your writing.

1.  Remove the word “that.”

This word is rarely needed.  You can delete it 80% of the time and the result will be a tighter, cleaner sentence.  Of course, you should remove ALL unnecessary words that clutter your writing.   As Jed Bartlet said, something can’t be very unique or extremely historic.  Cut the clutter.

2.  One thought per sentence.

Your brain works faster than your fingers can type. So the result is often long sentences with multiple thoughts.  Go back and make sure you’ve only got one thought per sentence.

3.  Reverse the ME/YOU ratio.

People care more about themselves than they care about you.  So replace the parts where you talk about yourself with more stuff about your audience.

4.  Write for a person, not for people.

Pick a person and craft your message for them.  You’ll come across more personal and more likable.

5.  Act like you can only use five exclamation points in your entire life.

Exclamation are the cheap way to emphasize something.  Delete them and use real words.

Go back to your last blog post, email or paragraph.  Take 5-10 minutes and apply just one of these rules.  You, and your readers, will notice a difference.

Five Secrets of the Best Communicators

I’ve delivered well over 1,000 messages in my life, and I’ve listened to at least that many.  And while I don’t have a study or a stat, my experience has led me to the following observations about the best communicators.

1.  They start with the audience not with their content.

People care about themselves more than they care about your topic.  And while you’re the expert, you must make sure your message actually matters to people’s daily lives.

When I coach preachers on how to connect with their congregation, I give them advice that sounds heretical at first.  I challenge them to start their message prep with the Bible, but to start their message with the audience.

2.  They have a message, not just a topic.

A title isn’t the same thing as a point.

The best communicators work hard to find their message.  They uncover the driving point buried in all their points and slides.

3.  They have a unique voice.

Some communicators are storytellers.  Some are explainers.  Some are motivators.  But no matter their style, they find ways to truly connect with the audience.

Your experiences are unique.  Your successes and failures are unique.  Your style is unique.  So don’t try to communicate like someone else.

4.  They lead people to action.

There is certainly a time to call people to give thought to an issue, but some of the best messages do more than that.  They motivate people to take action.

Awareness is great, but action is better.

5.  They are master storytellers and point makers.

When I ask people what they remember from any talk they have ever heard, their responses fall in one of two buckets.

First, people remember carefully worded principles.  I’m talking about wordsmithed statements that stick.   Secondly, people remember stories and object lessons.  Instead of just sharing facts and points, tell a story.  It’s more memorable and impactful.

If you want to learn more, here’s a free video I did on becoming a better storyteller.

What lessons have you learned from the best communicators.  Leave a comment and help us all get better.

Five Quick Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Speaking


I am convinced improving your communication skill is one of the most crucial things any leader can do.  Whether you’re giving a keynote, a speech, a lesson or a sermon – you want it to be good and you want it to be effective.

Here are five simple things you can do to dramatically improve your next presentation.

1.  Reverse the ME/YOU ratio.

People care more about themselves than they care about you, so read through those notes and replace the stuff where you talk about yourself and add in more stuff about your audience.

2.  Turn three short stories into one developed story.

Get rid of the six one minute stories and tell one six minute story.  Not only will it be better, it will be memorable.

3.  Chop five minutes from your talk.  

There are very few talks that would not be better if they were shorter.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

4.  Lose the notes. 

You’ll definitely leave stuff out and forget to say something, but you’ll connect better with the audience. If you’re afraid to do this, then reduce your notes by 50%.  Pair the manuscript down to an outline, or the detailed down to five main thoughts.

5.  End with an action step.

As you get to the end of your talk, say, “So what should you DO with all of this.”  Then plainly answer the question.


Why People Don’t Do What You Preach


Your content was carefully researched, outlined in detail, and prayed over it multiple times.

You put in hours of study on an important topic and you communicate your guts out, only to have people walk out the door and forget everything by lunch or kickoff.

You delivered a faithful, accurate, truthful and well-written message. And nobody did anything.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

So why didn’t people apply any of it and make the changes you absolutely know would help them?  Here are five observations.

1.  They forgot what you said.

People can’t implement your sermon if they forget it.  A lot of sermons are accurate, but forgetful.  It’s hard work to craft memorable statements and deliver great content to a distracted congregation. There’s little change they can do what you say if you forget what you say.  That’s why saying it right and saying it well is so important.

Let me ask you a question:  What do YOU remember from your message three weeks ago?  You wrote it and delivered it…how much of it do YOU remember?

It’s a tall, tough order to shape your message in a memorable way, but if you want people to apply it, you’ve got to help them remember it.

2.  You didn’t give them a clear action step.

Too many messages do not drive an action step all the way through the content.  What do you really want people to do?  If you can answer this question on the front end of your prep, you can drive it all the way through your content.  Failure to answer this question might result in a helpful message that leads to little action.

Your action step has got to be more specific than “think about it this week.”  If you don’t have a clear and compelling action step, people won’t come up with one on their own.

3.  You didn’t tell them what was at stake.

Its’ a big mistake to assume people care about your message.  They didn’t come with a driving desire to learn about your topic.  They didn’t wrestle with those questions throughout the week.  Just because it’s important to you doesn’t mean it’s important to them.

That’s why you’ve got to show them what’s at stake.  What will happen if they DO NOT implement?  What will it cost long term if they don’t heed these words?  Miss this and it will be like trying to cram food into a man who just stuffed himself at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

4.  You didn’t inspire them.

Many accurate messages are never implemented.  That’s because most people aren’t motivated by something that’s true.  Emotion and passion and stories are what motivate people.  Connecting the content to THEIR lives is what causes them to think about making personal changes.

Seth Godin said it this way:  “The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s one the rest of us don’t think is a good one.  Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission – which is emotional connection.”

5.  They aren’t ready.

If people aren’t changing or implementing or applying your messages to their life, evaluate yourself.  Be honest and ruthless and hard.   Do everything you can to make changes that lead to effectiveness.

But sometimes people don’t implement things because they just aren’t ready.  Remember, preaching is a spiritual thing.  The Holy Spirit is the one who works in people’s hearts and leads them to life change.

Yes, your words are important, but at the end of the day,  you’ve got to let those words go.

Help! I’m a Brand New Speaker


Public speaking has been a part of my life and career since I started speaking to student groups as an 18-year old college Freshman.  Since those early dates at Florida State University, I’ve had the opportunity to address both small groups and large audiences.  From a few hundred teenagers to a business conference ballroom, I love speaking to people.

And I love helping people hone and craft their message, especially new speakers.  If you’re new to public speaking, or you think this is something you could incorporate into your work flow, here’s some advice from someone who has been in the trenches.

Here are four challenges for brand new speakers.

1.  Find your message.

A lot of people talk, but few people really say something.  As a new speaker, I want you to be in the second group.  I don’t want you to just book a gig, fill a slot or take up the time – I want you to deliver a message that really connects.

So before you start outlining and putting material together, you’ve got to take time to find your core message.  Your core message is not your topic.  It’s much deeper and far more important than that.  A lot of speakers have a topic without having a point.

So what’s your real message?  What driving principle MUST you tell?  How is that different, better or more entertaining than everybody else putting out content on that subject?  Great messages start with great sentences.

The best speakers have one or two core messages.  These are continually honed and refined through the years, but they rarely change.  They can be repackaged and reshaped, but the core remains the same.

Before you start speaking, take time to find your true message.

2. Work on your talk.

With your core message discovered, now it’s time to do the work.  And this is where most shortcuts happen.

If you want to be a great speaker, you’re going to have to put lots of time, energy and effort into your talk.  Even if you’re a natural speaker, you’ve got to do the work.

You know why?  Your listeners will be able to tell.  Your audience can tell whether you’re talking about everything you know about a subject.   They can tell if there’s truly a depth of understanding or if you’re phoning it in.

Check out this post from Pat Flynn  a popular blogger and podcaster, who is making the intentional jump into public speaking.  In this short post, he talks about the prep work he did to prepare for a keynote presentation at a Financial Blogger’s Conference.

I put in about 250 hours of work over the course of 4 months preparing for this gig, from the initial idea throughcrafting the slides and rehearsing each night for the final 3 weeks leading up to the event. 

When my 1-year old couldn’t sleep at night (due to teething or growth spurts), I’d buckle her into our van and drive around town, practicing my presentation by speaking it out loud until she fell asleep hearing my voice. 

Before bed each night, I’d run through the first 12 minutes in my head before allowing myself to fall asleep. 

I “re-read” all of my favorite presentation books: Stand and Deliver by Dale Carnegie, Resonate and Slideology by Nancy Duarte & Zen Presentation by Garr Reynolds – mostly through audio while on runs. 

I studied the most viewed slides on, and the most viewed and shared TED Talks on – again.

I stopped watching TV (except for Breaking Bad), and I had to put some projects aside temporarily to focus on this.

This gig was incredibly important to me because FINCON helped me get my start in 2011, allowing me to get on stage in front of a crowd for the first time. I needed to bring my A-game, and I didn’t want to leave any chance that I’d fail or leave a bad first impression.

When you want something so bad and put in the hard work, good things usually happen.

Knowing your message isn’t enough.  Speakers, especially new speakers, need to put in the work.

Since you’re new to speaking, you might find building your talk off some best practices might help.  Lots of people have structured great talks, and you can learn from them.  There are systems and processes you can use to create your talk and hone your message.

3.  Learn from others. 

The third thing new speakers should do is commit to learning.

When I first started speaking as an 18-year-old college freshman, I was a know it all.  I acted like I had knowledge people needed and they were lucky to be able to listen.  I thought the information I was communicating warranted attention.

Now that I’m 20 years into public speaking, I am beginning to understand that great information isn’t enough.  The world has great information at their fingertips.  The organization, presentation and delivery of that information is what separates me from others.  And while it’s great to learn more about the subject matter, you can also learn a ton on how it’s presented.  And this will likely be the difference maker.

Speaking more doesn’t make you a better speaker.   It will help you be more relaxed, but it won’t make you better.  You only get better with coaching and intentional, evaluated practice.

Just doing more math problems won’t make a 10th grader better at math.  They need to learn HOW to do the problems.

Just hitting more golf balls won’t make a middle aged man better at golf.  He needs professional instruction and intentional, evaluated practice.

And speaking more won’t make you a better speaker.  You need to learn best practices and intentionally weave them into your style.

When I coach preachers (these people have to present new information to the same audience 50 times a year…that’s no small order), I challenge them to get better at speaking, not just research more content.  Just preaching more doesn’t make them better.  They need to learn from great communicators.

And here’s the thing…the list of people they can learn from isn’t limited to other preachers.  No matter your field, you should widen your gaze and learn from politicians, comedians, school teachers and TED talks.  You’re not just listening for content, you’re listening for how it’s delivered.  You’re not just listening to learn, you’re listening to see how the presentation is organized.  As you listen or watch, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why do I like or dislike this person?
  2. If I’m interested, why?  If I’m bored, why?
  3. Where did they get their materials?
  4. How was their talk structured?
  5. What was their big idea?
  6. Did they ask me to do anything?

If you want to be a great speaker, commit to listen, watch and learn from other great speakers.  From all walks of life.

4.  Speak anywhere and everywhere.

Some of my first talks were delivered to four teenagers.  And that was okay.   I needed to cut my teeth in small rooms.  Yes, the message to that small group of young people was important.  But it was equally important that I learned what the heck I was doing.

You might speak to hundreds or thousands one day.  But now is the time to talk to the tens.  You might be ready for the big leagues one day, but for now, you need to put in some time at the batting cage.

So accept every speaking invitation, no matter how small.  Speak to young people and senior groups.  If the local boy scouts want you to come talk for three minutes, do it.

And don’t just wait for them to come to you.  Pursue every opportunity, no matter how small.  Ask to say a few words before an opening prayer.   Ask to address your kid’s classroom on career day.

Don’t worry about a speaking page and booking fees and contracts – that will come later.   Don’t think big…think small.  Stop submitting TED talk ideas and join ToastMasters.

Your goal isn’t to make it big, but to practice your talk.  Your goal isn’t to be discovered, it’s to hone your message.

If you’re a new speaker or thinking about getting into public speaking, leave a comment with your thoughts.  What are your questions and concerns?  What’s your biggest challenge?

A Guide for Guest Speakers


Over the last year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several conferences and churches.  Sometimes, I fill in for a pastor who is on vacation and other times they bring me in to talk on a specific topic.  I’ve spoken at large conferences and small churches and lots of places in between.

I’ve learned a lot about pinch hitting and being a guest speaker, and I’ve learned much about working with guest speakers.  In this post, I’ll lay out some tips for organizations working with guest speakers, so you can have the best experience and ensure your expectations are met.  Then I’ll give some advice for those of you will serve as guest speakers.

Let’s start with the organizations first.  If you’re bringing in a guest speaker, here are some things to think through and DO.

What To Do If You’re Bringing in a Guest Speaker

1.  Give direction.  

The #1 thing your guest speaker needs is direction.  Not directions on how to get to the room, but direction in preparing his or her talk.

Things might go okay without good communication, but why take that chance?  On the front end, go ahead and clarify important stuff.  Here are some things you should clarify in advance.

  • Will their message be a part of a series?
  • Is there freedom to choose the topic?
  • What is the audience like?

This type of information will help your guest speaker prepare and deliver a great message.  You will set them up for success.  They need to know this stuff before they start working on their message.  Early in the process, give as much direction as you can.

If you’re working with an experienced speaker, you’ll be tempted to give generic directions like “you can talk about whatever you want,” but in my experience, that’s not the best.  Go ahead and communicate your thoughts and expectations, no matter how famous or experienced the guest speaker is. 

2.  Give directions.

Not only does your guest speaker need general direction, he or she needs specific directions as the date of the event gets closer.  Don’t wait for them to ask questions; answer them in advance.   Answer questions like:

  1. What time should they arrive?
  2. Do they need to provide notes, slides, etc?
  3. Are they planning to come alone or bring someone?
  4. Who is going to meet them when they arrive?
  5. Who do they call or text if they have any questions?
  6. Do they need to send notes or supplemental materials?  By when and to whom?
  7. What time should the message end?
  8. What time are the services over?

All of these things should be spelled out CLEARLY and IN ADVANCE.  As a guest speaker, I can tell you most people don’t do this.  I’ve spoken at places where I had no idea what time to arrive and I had to go to the organization’s website to find out.  I’ve showed up at places not knowing who to meet.

Not long ago, I spoke at Captivate Church in Baltimore.  Hannah, their Executive Director sent me the best information email I’ve ever received as a guest speaker.  She told me where to go, who to meet and what to do if I had any questions.  She literally answered every question I had before I asked it.

3.  Communicate expectations.

The person you’re bringing in can’t hit the target if a target isn’t there, so make sure you take time to communicate expectations to your guest. You might find it helpful to put standard information into a document to send to your guest speaker.  Customize it with relevant information, but use it to communicate expectations in writing.

Now, let’s turn our attention to guest speakers.  If you’re a guest speaker, here are some things YOU should think through and DO.

What To Do If You Are a Guest Speaker

Being a guest speaker is a great opportunity and responsibility.  It shows a great deal of trust, and you’re there to serve.  Obviously, you need to be prepared, knowledgable and engaging, but here are some pointers that aren’t talked about as much.

1.  Seek clarity.

In a perfect world, you’ll get great communication.  But I’ve learned to prepare for the opposite.  It’s up to me to ask questions like.

  1. What time do I need to be there?
  2. Who do I text that day if I have a question?
  3. What should I wear?
  4. Did you get my notes?
  5. What exactly will happen right before I speak and right after I speak?
  6. What will the audience be like?

If you’re not getting the direction you need, ask for it.  Ask about expectations.  Ask your contact person for details.  Not only will you learn what you need to know, you’ll communicate to the organization that you are on top of things.

2.  Learn about the audience. 

One of the best things you can do as a guest speaker is learn about the audience.  Every group is different, and a wise speaker adapts his messages to fit the setting.   What does this group of people think or believe?  What are their struggles and hopes?  What do you want them to think, do or feel as they leave?  Poking around on the organizations website, watching some of their videos if available, and asking questions will really help you get a feel for the audience.

You can ask these questions in advance, but you can also learn a lot by arriving early, walking the room and talking to people.  When I arrive to speak somewhere, I try to arrive early so I can talk to people.  I ask questions to get a feel for them, and that information influences my talk…even at the last minute.

3.  Stick to the  time and topic.

If you’ve been given 30 minutes, don’t speak for 31.  You are there to serve, and that starts by staying on schedule.    There are other things happening, and you might not be aware of them all.  You might want to go over the time limit and blame it on the Holy Spirit, but if the Holy Spirit really wants you to do that, He will tell your host!

You also shouldn’t say things other people will have to clean up after you leave.  A guest speaking opportunity isn’t the time to introduce a controversial teaching, change the methodology of the organization, or shock everyone into changing.  Make sure you clear your message through your hosts.

What would you add to this list?  Have you had any great or terrible experience as a guest speaker or with guest speakers?

What Seminary Didn’t Teach Me About Preaching


I loved seminary.  Both Southeastern and Liberty.

There is no better way to learn the Bible than Seminary. And though I have a Masters of Divinity, there were a few things I didn’t learn about preaching during these educational years. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in class (after all, I was long-distance dating my soon-to-be wife during the first round and leading a church during the second), but here are five things I didn’t learn in seminary about preaching.

1. You need to preach like YOU.

I learned a lot about Bible exposition, preparing an outline and staying true to the text. All of these things are very important, but I didn’t learn how to preach using my unique voice. We studied other great preachers, but preaching like someone else caused me to fall flat. My experiences, style and failures are unique – I can’t learn those from anyone else. Finding my own unique voice happened outside of the classroom.

Earlier this year, I had the incredible opportunity to lead a session at the Preaching Rocket tour, which kicked off at NorthPoint Community Church.  The other three speakers that day were Jeff Henderson, Louie Giglio and Andy Stanley.  I was nervous and I didn’t do all that well, largely because I tried to communicate like someone else.

2. Your points are forgotten.

I grew up in a church that loved alliteration, and I learned how to craft a powerful outline in seminary. But nobody told me nobody would remember all of those alliterated points. I wish it didn’t take so long to learn this principle, because I wasted a lot of time covering information when I should have been inspiring with stories. If you want to learn more about the power of storytelling (and where to find great sermon stories), I did a free webinar on this very subject.  You can watch it on-demand right here.

When I look back on stuff I remember, it’s a lot of stories.  When I get together with friends, we tell stories.  When I try to get through to my kids, I tell them a story.  Preaching is much the same.

3. Your audience doesn’t care.

When I was in seminary, I bought into the belief that people would come to church because what happened there was so important. In reality, people don’t think about church much throughout the week. And people don’t have built-in care when it comes to the sermon. Just because I think about it all week doesn’t mean they do.

People don’t care about a topic just because it’s in the Bible. And they don’t listen to me just because I’m the preacher standing behind a pulpit. When I step up to preach, I need to assume nobody cares about what I am about to say.

One of the most important things a pastor can do in the first five minutes of their message is to show the congregation why they should care.  Instead of force feeding, we need to make them hungry.

4. Be engaging and funny.

In seminary,I was taught how to be faithful to the text. And that’s important. But I didn’t learn how to be engaging and funny. After all, being funny and engaging doesn’t seem very spiritual. But humor is a universal language – a smile communicates in nearly every culture. I learned a ton about this from watching other skilled communicators, including comedians and business presenters.

I’ve spoken in a lot of different places, but humor is one of those universal connection points.  It might not sound very spiritual, but it’s really important.

5. You need to raise up other communicators.

Seminary was all about learning to preach. But one of the MOST important tasks of preachers is to build up another generation. I cut my ministry teeth as a youth pastor, and once got to speak to adults was on low-attendance, holiday weekends. My pastors taught on Sunday morning and Sunday nights, and only gave up the pulpit to traveling evangelists. I would have loved the opportunity to be mentored, but it never seemed like a priority.

Today, the preachers I admire don’t see themselves as the sole funnel for God’s voice, but intentionally raise up other communicators.  It’s not honorable to preach every weekend of the year – step away from the pulpit and raise up some other people who can preach the gospel.

Those are five lessons about preaching I didn’t learn in seminary. Some of them I learned the hard way, and some of them I’m still learning.

How Sermons Really Get Written


You stare at a blank document on your computer.  All the white space reminds you of a frozen lake or a giant white marshmallow.  You start with a ten second prayer for help.

You don’t really know what to write so you start with the title.  You’ll change it later.

You look at notes scribbled on a sheet of paper and you start writing.  Your fingers start flying across the keyboard.  You remember some old quote from Hemingway about writing being not that hard – all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

You write a few paragraphs from your head and think you should probably see what the Bible has to say about this topic.

You open up some computer software and type in a verse.  That verse links you to another verse.  Then another.  Now things are looking up because you have three verses on forgiveness. Plus there are some good notes from the ESV Study Bible people.  Those people are wicked smart.

Wait…Didn’t Francis Chan write a book on this?  You go over to your shelf and start looking.  You get distracted by a book about the faith of George Washington and start flipping through those pages.  Five minutes later you remember Francis Chan and the hunt is back on.  I should switch to Kindle.

You pick up the book and find the correct pages.  It’s the sermon material jackpot.  That’s good…I can use that. 

You return to your desk and marshmallow colored document and start typing.  Should you quote Francis Chan directly or just use the idea?  You decide to go with the idea, because people in your church don’t really know Francis Chan.

Now you’re up to three verses from the Bible and a Francis Chan illustration.  That might be enough for a homily in some traditional Presbyterian church, but you need twenty more minutes of material.  You’re bleeding, Hemingway style.

You open up a web browser and start googling.

Rick Warren sermon on forgiveness.  Click.  The second hit is from Sermon Central so you download that.

Andy Stanley forgiveness sermon.  Click.  The third result are notes from a message, but the fifth post is from an angry blogger and called Extreme MegaChurch Abuse.  You read about now Northpoint doesn’t preach the Bible, but you decide to use the sermon material anyway.

message on Acts 17.  ClickThere are hundreds of results, but the best one is from some Baptist preacher in Texas.  It’s an outline about the five excuses people make for not forgiving someone.  That wasn’t the original intent of the message, but this is good stuff so you decide to take it in that direction.  I’ll make this work.

You’re up to two pages now.  They are completely disorganized and all over the place, but it will make sense later.  Plus, you’ve downloaded that podcast from Craig Groschel and you’ll listen to it on Thursday.  That’s three full days before you have to preach so you’re feeling good.

Time to check in on Twitter and see what @perrynoble and @carllentz are up to.  It’s been an hour and you’ve surely missed some important things.  Then you remember you follow some people on Facebook and not Twitter, so you decide to check that too.  Dang – Kelly and her family are on vacation again.  I wish we could go on a cruise.

CMD-N to open up a new browser and type in  Dang…these are expensive.  Minimize window.

Checking Facebook turns into updating Facebook so you type, “Working on message for Sunday.  It’s going to be epic and you don’t want to miss the opener.”  If it’s the summer you add “If you go on vacation be sure to mail your tithe to the office.”

Now you’ve been on social media for 30 minutes and you feel guilty.  I’ve got to work on this sermon..I’m a knucklehead.  You close down Twitter and think about uninstalling it from your phone so you can be a distraction free preacher.

You started this thing with prayer, so you might as well end it there.  God, please turn all this mess into a good sermon.

You change the title of the message from “Understanding God’s Forgiveness” to “Forgive and Be Forgiven” because that works better with the Baptist preacher outline from Acts 17.

You close the document because you’ve got a meeting.  You’ll try and make some more time to work on this tomorrow, even though it probably won’t happen.  It’s okay, you’ve still got Craig Groschel to inspire you.

Preaching to a Distracted Congregation


One of the biggest mistakes preachers make is thinking the congregation wants to hear what they have to say.  After all, you’ve worked hard on the message and it’s eternally important.  Plus, you look out and see people sitting in the rows.

But a lot of people are there because they are supposed to be there.  They are reluctant worshippers and not automatically interested in your message.  They aren’t completely sure you understand their lives and their struggles, but they are willing to endure your sermon because it’s good for their family and buys them some credits with God.

So right off the bat, understand that a large part of your congregation might not be interested in your message.

That’s when distraction comes in.  They start out trying to pay attention, but after ten minutes, they start thinking of other things.   What’s for lunch?  What’s in the bank account?  When do we leave for Florida?  How much longer is this guy going to talk?

Don’t judge – there is actually scientific research that tells us the brain loses focus after ten minutes.  It’s why the best communicators know to mix it up every ten minutes or so.

Now, are you ready for the depressing formula?

Uninterested congregation + brain hardwired to ignore stuff + tools = massive distraction.

Not only can people’s brains wander in church, their fingers can wander to their smart phones.   Facebook and hundreds of interesting people are just an app away.  Email beckons.  Distractions galore.

So, what can you do about this.  Here are a few suggestions.

1.  Tell more stories.  People listen to stories better than any other form of information.  If you want to capture their interest (which is the first step to impacting their lives with a message), tell stories.  Stories don’t have to set up truth – they can contain the Truth.  It’s what Jesus did in his parables.

2.  Use pictures.   Putting all of your words and verses on the scene doesn’t help people pay attention.  In fact, there is research to show while they are reading, they are not listening.  So instead of putting up stuff because there is a screen at your disposal, think of supporting images.  Think of ways you can illustrate your sermon with images, and talk about those images.

3.  Stop with the announcements.  People can’t pay attention to 100 different things, so fight to keep your services simple.  One announcement js enough.

4.  Tell people what’s at stake if they don’t heed the words of your sermon.  Remember, they probably don’t care.  You’re going to have to tell them why they need to listen and why they need to listen to you.

5.  Use object lessons.  Done right, these are powerful attention grabbing moments.

Getting the attention of the congregation is the first step in getting through.  Let’s stop assuming they care about the sermon and start working hard to make sure it connects.

The Death of Google Reader and My New Reader Alternative

For years, I’ve tracked with hundreds of blogs to stay up to date on news and events.  I subscribe to lots of church leadership, business, marketing and personal blogs.  And for the past few years, I’ve used Google reader to keep it all in one place.  But as of July 1, 2013 Google Reader is dead.

I switched to Feedly, and it’s turned out to be even better than Google reader.  Their easy import option made the switch a breeze.  And of course, they have mobile devices that keep my content in sync.  Here is a 4-minute video I recorded with a little inside info on how I use it.

You can even use Feedly to read my blog. :)

Do You Know the Secret to Great Public Speaking?

My mom used to say God gave you two ears and only one mouth because He wanted to listen twice as much as you talk.

As a professional communicator, it’s easy to forget that advice.   But Mom was right (she usually is).  That’s why the secret weapon at getting better as a communicator has nothing to do with talking and everything to do with listening

Here are four people every communicator, public speaker or preacher should listen to:

 1.  Listen to others.  There are lots of fantastic communicators in the world, and it’s prideful to think you can’t learn from them. Pick three to five people you trust and respect and create a well-balanced diet of communication coaching.  Listen to what they are saying but listen to how they are saying it.  Why three to five?  Because if you just listen to one person all the time you will sound like a clone.  And if you’re listening to dozens and dozens, you should probably get to work.

2.  Listen to comedians.  These are people who charge top dollar and keep a crowd engaged for more than an hour.  Comedians are master of their material and they know how to own a room.  And while they have a much different end goal, you can learn a lot from listening to them.   You could also listen to politicians, but it’s likely you’ll end up angry and boycott something.

3.  Listen to yourself.  If you’re not in the habit of listening to your own messages, commit to do it for the next five messages you preach.  Force yourself to do it, because it’s not really fun.  Listen to how fast you talk and the tone of your voice.  Are people laughing at your jokes?  Do you sound too angry or too excited?  Listen to a recent message with a critical ear and work on getting better.

4.  Listen to the listeners.  Most people don’t get better at things without honest feedback, yet preachers rarely seek out helpful feedback.  Find a few people who will give you honest and specific feedback on your messages.  You will have to help them, and you’ll have to work hard to listen.  But once you create a good environment,  you’ll have a brilliant source for improvement.  In addition to a select few you train to give you good feedback, you can learn from anonymous surveys as well.  It will take some guts, but the reward is worth it.

Breaking Down the Best TED Talks

In the 20th Anniversary edition of WIRED Magazine, Jason Kehe gives the winning formula for the most successful TED talks.  I listen to several TED talks a week, so I found his list right on the money.

  1. Simple PowerPoints slides or graphics. It turns out, most great presentations have simple presentations with minimal graphics.  Those bullet points aren’t all that inspiring.
  2. Opening jokes.  A few catchy statements, but most people just get right to it.  When you’re on the clock, you don’t have time to waste words.  The first five minutes of any talk are the most important, because this is your chance to connect.
  3. A spontaneous moment.  Kehe points out that there are few memorable, unscripted moments.  Don’t be afraid to respond to the audience.
  4. Statement of Certainty.  When you’re standing in front of a room full of people, be the expert.
  5. A snappy refrain that’s repeated often.  Work hard to craft a sticky statement, then repeat it again and again.  Like the chorus of a song, repeat what’s important.  I call this a sticky statement, and there’s a formula to create a good one.
  6. A story of personal failure.  John Maxwell says you can impress people with your success but you impact them with your failure.  Be authentic and honest.
  7. A contrarian thesis.  Saying something everyone already knows isn’t all that interesting.  Look for the tension.

Meet Jack Carrol, a 14-year old Comedian with Cerebral Palsy

Jack Carrol is a 14-year old comedian with Cerebral Palsy who appeared on Britian’s Got Talent.

“I’ve still got won’t go away,” he says. “I use it in my act, because your weakness can be your strength.”  There are a lot of reason why you might not be able to do something, but then there’s Jack Carrol.

As I watched the video, several thoughts raced through my mind.

  • Laughter brings people from diverse backgrounds together.  It really is a common language.
  • Finding your unique message is so important.  Everyone needs to find their angle and develop their voice.
  • Reasons don’t have to become excuses.  There are lots of reasons Jack Carrol can’t be a comedian.  But he has no excuses.

What did you think as you watched this video?  What is your inspiration for overcoming excuses?