3 Questions to Ask When Speaking To A New Audience

I had just been asked to speak to an audience I had never met. The good news was I had (what I thought was) a killer message in my back pocket. I had delivered it about 2 months earlier and hit “knocked ‘em dead”. It was good stuff. I agreed to speak and added it to my calendar. No prep needed...

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Okay, you’ve probably already guessed. It didn’t go well. I assumed that my new audience was similar enough to my original audience that it would go off without a hitch. I assumed wrong.

It bombed. I paused for laughs, no one laughed. I tried to make it personal with some life application but it was like talking to a room full of sleep-deprived ER nurses. They could have fallen asleep at any moment considering how non-riveting my content was. 

I made a huge assumption that I understood an audience I had never met. We might get lucky every once and a while, but when it does work, it’s more likely that we are just brining our message down to the level it connects with the broadest audience. Not specifically with our audience. Honestly, they deserve more than that. 

To overcome any assumptions we may have, I suggest asking these 3 questions whenever you plan on speaking to a new audience. 

These aren’t rhetorical questions either. 

Get on the phone, shoot out an email and ask. 

  1.  What does this new audience have in common? 

    This could be a demographic question. It could be a life stage question. It could be an occupation question. And if your answer comes back as a bullet point list, that’s even better. The more you can understand about your audience, the better. 
  2. Is there something specific you need to address? 

    Rather than both parties (you and the organization asking you to speak) making an assumption about your content, ask if there are any specific issues they were hoping you’d address. This can give you a better sense of what your audience is struggling with. 
  3. Is there anything related to the agreed upon topic that they would prefer you did not talk about? 

    What you are really doing with all three of these questions is to identify exactly where your audience is coming from. The more you understand about who they are, the more intimate you can be with your content. 

    By asking this question you make sure you fit into their current speaking plan. You would hate to cover the same thing the last speaker did. 

In the end, you want your audience to feel like you were speaking to each of them as individuals and the best way to do that is to understand who they are. 

Who knows, you might get lucky and only need to tweak that old message to serve the new audience. 

3 Skills to Teach as You Develop New Communicators

Is your church developing new communicators or are you hoping young communicators will cut their teeth at someone else’s church? I’ve you’ve lost any sleep over your church’s leadership pipeline you probably realize the importance of building your own farm team. 

Realizing the needed to grow more high capacity leaders from within our church we started a residency program. What I think has been most invigorating about this process has been realizing the untapped potential that exists among the people we already know. 

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The question is, what do you focus on? We can’t just expect that their “get it” right out of the gate.

As you begin to develop these new preachers there are 3 skills you need to pass on to them during their growth process. 

  1. Choosing scripture: 
    How do you choose the scripture you will be preaching from? Your new communicators may assume that these magically appear. I’m only half kidding. If they’ve never had to do this before they will not have had to develop the skill necessary to consider the entirety of scripture. They most likely have been working from a prescribed text, whether that was assigned or determined by a curriculum. Spend some time explaining how you came to the decision to use the specific text you are planning to use for a given weekend. 
  2. Unpacking Scripture: 
    How do you approach the task of “unpacking" that scripture? While the idea of biblical interpretation may come naturally to you now, it wasn’t always that way. As you begin to look at a text, ask them what they think the text is communicating. Then ask, “How do you think the author felt writing these words?” “What was the context he was communicating from?” Then, to get an even deeper understanding, “What was this text communicating to the original recipients?” 
  3. Addressing Your Audience: 
    What makes your audience different? Teach them how to speak to your specific audience. What style are they already used to? Who makes up your audience? How does that affect how and what you teach? 

These three skills will be routine to you, but likely new to any developing communicators. Spend the time on these three basics to help them get a solid foundation as they grow as preachers. 

And if you’re looking for some tools to help you through this process, check out Preaching Backwards. An eCourse that uses 6 simple questions to add more value to your next message. They will help you:

  • Speak in a way that encourages your audience to respond. 
  • Sharpen your call to action
  • And, give you a framework to develop new communicators while minimizing your leadership risks.

6 Simple Questions

6 simple questions to help clarify your message. Because if your message isn't crystal clear, how can your audience put it into action? 

Check out the Preaching Backwards eCourse available completely for free. It will walk you through 6 questions that will transform your Preaching Preparation into a more efficient and more powerful message. 

1 Big Clue You’d Better Pay Attention To

We had just gone multisite. It was exciting but there was a group of people we missed. We used to get to see them on a regular basis but now that they were in the city next door, we wanted to be together. We wanted to make sure what we stayed on the same page as a church no matter which campus we attended, so we started an event to bring our all of our volunteers together. It was fantastic. We got to see friends we hadn’t seen in a while and at the same time were able to cast vision about where we were going next as an entire church. 

It was great, but as time passed it started to run its course. 

We decided to redesign it and inject some new life into the event. We shifted from a volunteer appreciation gathering to conference style event which included a number of different workshops designed to help our church grow in their spiritual journey. It worked, that was until we recognized one big clue we had failed to pay attention to. 

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You see, from a leadership standpoint, we had recognized a problem. We needed to offer practical skill-building workshops to help our church grow in their individual spiritual journeys. It was a valid problem that needed to be addressed. 

We were solving a problem, filling a need and it even worked for a while…until we told staff that the event was mandatory to attend.  

Maybe you’ve experienced this. You put a bunch of time, effort and money into a training event for you volunteers, but no-one shows. Or maybe you start a ministry but no one attends. From the leadership side of the equation, everything looks good. The content is top notch, the issues are important ones to address, but you can’t seem to get people excited, and the only way to get people there is to make it mandatory. 

The moment you make something mandatory…it’s time to pay attention. 

The moment you make something mandatory…it’s time to pay attention.
— StevenJBarker

In some fields, mandatory makes sense. If you are regulated or have to ensure that every staff member MUST complete a training it may make sense. But in the church world that list is very short. 

More often, needing to make a meeting mandatory means we haven’t done the work to help our staff understand why a meeting is important and valuable to the effectiveness of their ministry. 

The moment we called our workshop event mandatory for all staff to attend, we realized that they didn’t see the value, and if they didn’t see the value, how would anyone else in our church. Slowly but surely, egistration numbers fell season after season. 

So what do you do if you’ve got a mandatory meeting for staff? 

First, write down why you started having this meeting in the first place. Is that reasoning still valid? 

Second, write down every staff member's name. Next, to each name write down what value they would miss out on if they didn’t attend. Think of each member’s specific situation. What challenges are they experiencing right now? How is this meeting helping them solve the pressing needs of their department or team? My assumption is that they are working hard, and if your meeting isn’t helping them move closer to your common goal, it’s probably hurting. 

 Next, decide whether or not the meeting needs to be retooled or canceled moving forward. 

What do you do if a ministry event has become mandatory? 

Kill it and start over. It’s one thing when you tell people you pay that they must attend something. It’s a whole other thing when you are telling your community it’s mandatory. Even if you recognize the value of the event, it’s very likely your audience does not. 

Start over and re-evaluate why you started the event in the first place (seeing a theme here?). While you may be right in seeing the need for a particular event or ministry, you many not be approaching it in an accessible way. Your people need to buy in. They need to see the need before you tell them about what you have planned. 

We need to lead people to heights they may have not seen before, be we can’t just put on the leash and start pulling. 

Question of the day: What mandatory ministry or event do you need to cancel or retool? Why haven’t you done it yet?