"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Teaching Students

Personal Preparation to Speak: Part II

Ken Davis


If we clearly understand the importance of our message, if we understand our audience, and if we know how to make our message heard, then we have to ask what we can do to prepare ourselves for this task. Following are four "musts" for effective communication.

1. We must be committed to practicing what we preach. Our life is the greatest illustration of the message most kids will see. Our life is a living testimony to the truth and power of our message and the very foundation of its effectiveness.

The most effective communicators I know - those who get results - are not necessarily the most eloquent, but instead are those who believe in their message enough to live it and deliver it with passion. I once sat under the ministry of a very eloquent and charismatic youth speaker. He was new to the church and well-liked. He brought many new young people into the church. Unknown to us, his personal life was devoid of the joy and knowledge of the Christ he spoke about. His messages soon sounded hollow. As my friends and I discovered that his words were empty, we were no longer moved by his eloquence.

In contrast, I once was asked to train a couple from a small farming town to work with young people. They were a wonderful couple, but I didn't think they had the flash and slickness that at the time I felt was essential for effective youth ministry. (After all, you gotta be cool to work with teenagers!) I don't think either of these people would have defined themselves as "cool," but they were real. They had a simple faith in Christ that was evidenced in their everyday lives. Their faith was accompanied by an insatiable love for the kids with whom they worked.

The result was a ministry that outshined most of us "cool" city slickers who were training the others. No one will ever pay these people great sums of money to come and speak, but I have met scores of teenagers who will be eternally indebted to them because they cared enough to minister. It was this couple's love and the example of their faith that did what all the training and eloquence in the world can't do. This couple practiced what they preached.

Shortly after I began to be active as a corporate speaker and motivator, I became aware of a large sales convention in our state. Several thousand salespeople attended this convention, and I desperately wanted a chance to speak to this group. I thought the past convention speakers were less than dynamic, and I knew I could do a much better job of motivating these people to even greater sales. When I approached the president, he was very excited about having me speak to his group; however, as a condition I had to join the sales force. This required a commitment of time and money I was unwilling to make. I never was allowed to address this group. For a while I was very bitter; however, after more thought I realized the president was right. How could I possibly motivate people to a commitment I was unwilling to make myself? We must practice what we preach.

2. We must be committed to being ourselves. I remember meeting a young man who had just accepted a position as youth pastor for a large church. As we conversed, I was impressed with his intelligence and his genuine manner. I looked forward to hearing him speak that evening to a large group of teenagers. His program was interesting and varied, and I was impressed with how he took control of the meeting. When he picked up his Bible to deliver his talk, a strange metamorphosis took place. In front of my eyes this young pastor changed into "Billy Graham" - his mannerisms, the way he held his Bible, the tone and inflection of his voice, everything! The talent and control he had demonstrated earlier were gone. Near the beginning of his devotional, he began to lose his audience. They were polite, but it was obvious many were no longer listening. That look of genuine interest and rapport was gone from all but a few. Out of those who still were showing interest, I believe many were missing the message as they concentrated on the excellent impersonation of Billy Graham. My wife broke my thoughts as she leaned over to whisper her amazement at the great likeness. As I listened to the message I found it was good, but the content was lost. It was upstaged by a great Billy Graham impersonation.

This story is extreme, but it illustrates a point. Be yourself. Trying to copy someone else's style or mannerisms only dilutes you. You are the messenger. Teenagers may be amused at your likeness to some great television preacher, but when it comes time to be touched by God's Word or when they need personal help and counsel, kids will want to communicate with someone who is genuine. Even when I was a child I was irritated by the trembling preaching and praying intonation of men who in real life could speak quite normally. As a result, I continually run into young people who say, "I don't know how to pray." They don't know how because they assume that to pray "correctly" one must know how to speak in a trembling voice, arrange the words in prehistoric sentence construction and assume a certain tone. Many of our young people add this to their assumption that Christianity is not relevant for today.

People who try to be like someone else communicate that they are not pleased with themselves. There are times when an illustration or point can be enhanced by a bit of acting. But the you kids see when you are communicating his Word should be the same you they see in everyday life. Use whatever techniques necessary to enhance your message, but be yourself.

The most valuable paintings in the world are originals, not copies of originals.

Often I see a speaker try to act like a kid in a desperate effort to win a hearing. We live in a world where many kids fear growing older. Much of their fear comes from seeing frustrated adults trying to be kids. Be yourself. Teenagers need to see an adult comfortable with being an adult. When young people seek an adult for help, they are not going to confide in someone who is immature. They will go to someone who has demonstrated adult wisdom and confidence.

Some adults try to act like kids, while others try to dress like kids. Fashion is an element of communication which may seem insignificant to us, but it is important to today's socially conscious teenager. I asked my teenage sister, "What makes you listen to a speaker?"

Her response was, "If the guy comes out in a three-piece polyester leisure suit, I won't hear a word he says."

We need not dress in the latest fad style in order to be heard; likewise we should put away our Tory wigs and knickers and at least be contemporary in our dress. We also need to be careful in our grooming. Our message communicates a lack of concern when we appear disheveled. If a speaker has long, dirty fingernails, people will focus only on those fingernails! Adults need to be themselves and model the truth that they are happy to be adults-the truth that life with Christ is worthwhile at any age.

In order to be yourself you must know who you are. Are you generally a happy-go-lucky, witty person who often cracks jokes and is the life of the party? (It's okay to answer yes, you know.) Then that's you, and you're very special. That uniqueness will show through in everything you do. One of my good friends enjoys comedy and humor as much as I do. He is called often to speak in rather formal situations. He responds by being appropriately formal and serious and does very well, but the lightness of his heart beams from everywhere - from the twinkle in his eye to teh wry humor of his illustrations. He teaches and preaches serious messages, but he does not pretend to be a serious person. He allows the real person to show through.

Conversely, one of the saddest (almost pitiful) speakers is the one who has no natural sense of humor but tries to be a comedian. It's okay to be serious. I just can't picture the Apostle Paul saying, "Hey guys, I heard a great one today. Two Jews walked into a bar . . . " Maybe Peter or Andrew could have done this, but not Paul. Although he may have had a sense of humor, it would have been expressed as part of his serious nature. He was so intense; however, I think when he did laugh, it was a great laugh. As we will discuss later in this book, it is possible to develop humor in your message without pretending to be a witty comedic person. Some of the greatest youth ministers I know are over 50 and are not especially funny people. But all of them know who they are - they don't try to be someone else. 

So many times youth leaders, pastors, and others who are required to speak as a part of their vocation have said, "Ken, I wish I had your sense of humor. I would love to hold the attention of an audience as you do." The irony of this is that I often have wished I had the skills of the great Bible teachers. At one time I wanted desperately to be known for my serious, intellectual approach to the scripture. I have come to realize I will never be known as a serious theologian even though I am a student of theology. I know who I am. I will be as intense in my quest to communicate solid theological truth as I possibly can be, but the real me always will show through. Be yourself.

3. We must be committed to glorifying God. One of the most beautiful gems in the world is a diamond. Its value stems from its brilliance. Every color of the rainbow can be seen in its sparkle. The reason for a diamond's beautiful brilliance is that it reflects almost all the light that comes to it. On the other hand, black absorbs almost all light. It isn't often you find people standing around oohing and ahing over a black rock.

As a communicator, it can be very easy to absorb all the light. Effective communication is a very powerful tool. Holding an audience in the palm of your hand is an exhilarating and heady experience. It is easy to absorb attention and praise in the mistaken belief that it makes one more powerful and brilliant. In truth, our message is one of life and light. We are lifted from the pettiness of egotism when we reflect back adoration and praise to Jesus Christ, while at the same time reflecting his love to our audience. When we do this, we shine with the brilliance of a diamond!

This contrast was observed with clarity at an event that featured several Christian music groups. These groups had received celebrity status in some Christian circles. When the event was over, the adoring crowd of teenagers rushed the stage for autographs. One young performer, by his actions and words, made it plain that he felt he was worthy of the kids' praise. He told them he was tired from the "gig" and could only grant a short time for autographs. This young man's ego was so outrageous he succeeded in turning off some of his own admirers. I heard one teenager comment, "I guess he's his own best fan."

On the opposite side of the stage was another group signing autographs. Rather than promoting the "aren't we great" attitude, they were using their popularity to minister to kids. One group member sat for 15 minutes with a paraplegic teenager who had been wheeled up to get an autograph. Another group member sat cross-legged on the floor dealing with the spiritual struggles of a searching teenager. These performers were vulnerable and caring; the contrast between the two groups was obvious to many who attended. Reflect the light.

4. We must be committed to excellence. If we truly believe ours is the greatest message in the world, and if we are convinced that the young people to whom we minister need to hear that message, then we must strive for excellence in all we do. If we are representatives of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and if we believe our audience is in need of his redemptive love and grace, then we must strive for perfection.

I'm reminded that youth work is more of a calling than it is a profession. Even though we are responsible for being the best we can be, it is God's blessing that brings fruit from our ministry. Moses stuttered and spoke poorly; Paul admitted he was not eloquent. In fact, Paul was so boring his speaking once killed a man. A young person named Eutychus was sitting on a windowsill listening to Paul speak. Eutychus "sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead" (Acts 20:9). Now that is boring! But God bypassed eloquent speakers and chose Moses (instead of silver-tongued Aaron) to lead his people from bondage, and he chose Paul to be one of his greatest apostles.

I am always amazed on those nights when I feel I have blundered through the evening with snowmobile boots in my mouth, and God chooses those very evenings to do his greatest work. Perhaps one of the steps to success as a communicator is to never forget: It is God's work.

Other than your good taste in authors, I only can assume you purchased this book because you want to strive for excellence in the proclamation of God's Word. In that endeavor, we are of kindred heart. Over the past 20 years, God has blessed me with a fruitful ministry to thousands of youth and adults. I also have been privileged to observe and train hundreds of youth workers from around the world. I want to pass on to you whatever insight and knowledge has come from my experience, that together we might continue in excellence toward our common goal of bringing the transforming power of Christ's love to the receptive hearts of young people everywhere.


Ken Davis is one of the nation's top motivational and inspirational speakers. In his book, entitled How to Speak to Youth...and keep them awake at the same time, from which this article was taken, Ken share secrets learned from 15 years' experience speaking to over a million teenagers nationwide. Ken is a popular speaker at high schools, conferences and communication workshops. Check out his videos, audio tapes and books at www.kendavis.com/ . Although How to Speak to Youth is now out of print, get his Secrets of Dynamic Communication: Preparing & Delivering Powerful Speeches.


Copyright owned by Ken Davis and used with his permission.