In a thought-provoking Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Elements of Sermonizing Style,” J. Perry Smith reminded us of what a good sermon should include: brevity, scripture that comes alive, content that sets the heart on fire, and meaning in peoples’ lives. I believe brevity and content that gives meaning applies also in business situations, and I’ve covered those factors in previous articles.
Having preached over 3,000 sermons in my career, I agree whole-heartedly with the article. From my experience, including all those elements in each homily is challenging to do, although vitally important.
Since I have spent 40 years with the same church, I believe in one significant factor beyond the characteristics mentioned above. That is personal contact with the parishioners who regularly fill the pews. Perhaps in your case it’s personal contact with the people in your audience.
I tell young preachers that to stay located in one church for any length of time you must be around the people you preach to. I try to be with people at major times in their lives: deaths, births, sicknesses, and celebrations. Of course, if you are the preacher for a large church that is not possible and other staff handles those connections.
If the people in the pew know you personally and have seen you visit them in crisis situations, they feel they know you at the personal level. Thus they tend to offer you more grace when you deliver a poor sermon or when the content is less than stimulating.
In addition, at events sponsored by the church I want to mingle with the people who attend and perhaps find someone I do not know well to sit by. All of these personal touches will give more meaning to what you might say from the pulpit.
Even though you may be speaking to an audience only once in a business presentation, I believe the same principle applies. Ask the program chair for names of people who will be in your audience for you to call to learn more about their needs. When you talk to them, ask if they will seek you out and introduce themselves before the speech. Offer a free book to show appreciation for their time when they meet you at the speaking engagement.
Go to the happy hour that often precedes a presentation and introduce yourself to individuals present. Get to the presentation site early enough to meet and greet people as they find their seats. Tell your audience you will remain after the presentation if anyone wants to ask a specific question related to their unique situation.
Whether it is a religious service or a business presentation, audience members will listen better and connect with you more quickly when they have a personal connection with you the speaker.