13 Rules-of-thumb For Giving Better Talks

Here are a few golden rules of thumb for public speaking. These have nothing to do with content or spirituality, but they should help all of us speak more clearly and accessibly. Better speaking means clearer delivery, and clearly delivery means that more people will get it. Winner!

1. Don’t commentate on your talk as you give it.

‘Oh, sorry, that was rubbish wasn’t it…’
‘Ah, it looks like no-one gets what I’m saying…’
‘As you’re all switching off, I’ll end with this..,’
‘Right, so, just like me, I’m going to be really controversial now…’

Commentating on your own talk swings between under-confidence and over-arrogance. It’s rarely helpful, and often distracting. Say what you planned to say, and let’s do the commentating later.

2. Ditch the intro.

If you don’t hook me in the first 30seconds, then to be honest I’m already starting to drift. The introduction is your time to set up the intrigue, grab peoples attention, and bring them into the ride safely.

Talking for five minutes about who you are an why you’re here does none of that! If you really must make an intro, then get the service leader to do it. Ditch the intro and get straight into it.

3. Fit an orange in your mouth.

I’ve been a public speaking voice coach for a number of years and two of the most consistent problems I hear are ‘I speak too fast’ and ‘I’m too nervous.’ A great way to begin to remedy both of these is to open your mouth wider.

Opening your mouth allows more airflow and stretches your facial and neck muscles. This oxygenate your system, gets blood flowing, and releases endorphins, which makes you less nervous. Opening your mouth wider also increases recovery time between words and syllables, so you speak slower.

How wide? Just imagine you need to fit a whole orange in your mouth, then practice in front of a mirror. You won’t look as silly as you think I promise you!

4. Check the mic like a ninja.

‘Check, check… can you all hear me?’ [tap] [tap] [tap]

This screams under-confidence and insecurity. A tip I got from a comedian friend is to just say ‘hello’ into the mic and wait to hear if you get a response.

Use some kind of phrase or breath to check the mic like a ninja, rather than making it obvious.

5. Leave your kids out of it.

So this is a little bit content related. The amount of times that I hear a speaker effectively bad mouth their own kids, or spouse, or parents from the front is terrifying. They are not fair game, and you will lose the respect of people in the room if you do. Even passive mentions should be checked with them first.

Personal stories and experiences are great, but be respectful in how you put them together or the people you’re speaking to will stop trusting what you have to say.

6. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

Using the right amount of empty space makes talks into great talks. Reflection moments, and time for a point to sink in are golden. However, in usual conversation we call these ‘awkward silences’ so we don’t tend to feel comfortable with them publicly, and therefore don’t know how long to do them.

Obviously learn to fit the pause to the point, but for now start with pause-breathe-pause. Say your point and pause for what feels right. Then breathe in deeply, and do the pause again. Then continue (It’ll probably be 3-5 seconds all together).


7. Walk. Stop. Walk.

Some inexperienced speakers are constantly walking around the stage, bobbing around like an excitable terrier, with seemingly little understanding of where they are, where they’re heading, or why. An actor once told me that power and authority comes from standing still and straight, while intrigue and informality comes from slowly walking around. The trick is to use both intentionally.

If you walk from your lectern/music-stand/pulpit to somewhere else on the stage, stop and deliver a line from your talk stood still before walking back. Walk with a line. Stop with a line. Walk with a line.

Again, these are best matched to the point, but its a good place to start and learn body control as your speaking.

8. Learn some technical stuff.

Public speaking is a vocation, an art, and a skill. It has technicality that is worth the time to learn. Technical stuff should never replace the need for solid content, but it is important to make that content heard.

I’ve already mentioned breathing and body awareness, but also think about matching your points to the right volume, pitch, pace, timbre, and register. Find what part of your vocal instrument matches the point to the audience and practice so you can control it.

You can learn some of this stuff online, but vocal coaches and singing teachers can help you best with this. I coach people all around them world through Skype – so there are options available. If speaking is a big part of your ministry, it’s worth some time and money to train specifically as a speaker.

9. Smile properly. Laugh lots.

Unless it really doesn’t match your content, a gentle yet active smile that reaches your eyes will keep people with you. Humans respond to subtle smiling features on a face – we recognise them subliminally and we emulate them. This also increases endorphins and blood flow – and it usually opens your eyes a little wider letting more light in. All of this makes you more comfortable and confident.

Laughing lots before a talk is also a great way of relaxing nerves and getting more oxygen to the brain. It’s well worth traveling down to your talk with some funny people in the car!

10. Get there early.

One of the best tips I was ever given for talks I was worried about was to get there early. This gives you the chance to do two very important things:

First, it allows you to meet the people. Make connections, shake hands, tell stories, and ask questions. If you’ve already made those connections then both delivering and hearing the talk will go much more smoothly. I’ve been known to stand with the welcome team in places I’ve not spoken at before, just to say ‘hi‘ to as many people as possible. It’s always well received and really helpful!

Second, it gives you space to test the mic, adjust the stand, and look up and around at the room to see where the dead spots will be. It dulls the surprise of coming in fresh when you’re about to deliver. Well worth the early wake-up call.

11. Pick out your players.

When I’m nervous (which is still – after 18 years speaking – all the time), I tend to just look at one spot and keep talking to it.

To remedy this, pick out four to six people in different parts of the room and go back and forth looking at them. I think of this like football; I pick out some players on the wings, and people in the centre and keep passing my talk to them.

Realistically, this keeps me speaking to the whole room, and not just a small cluster in it.

12. Ignore mistakes.

You may need to occasionally correct a sentence, but don’t linger on it. Correct and move on.

Drawing attention to your mistakes makes an audience loose interest, and it makes you feel less confident and competent. Move through it and move past it.

13. Ignore numbers 1-12.

These ‘golden rules of thumb’ are there to help you deliver a clearer message and to be a support for your point. If they become the main thing, however, then throw them out. Some of the best speakers regularly break these rules because their own character can make it work.

If these are helpful – great. Use them and enjoy. If they breakup your flow, however, or make you panic, or get in the way of personality, then get rid of them!

Have fun. Speak well.

If you want more on this, check out ‘Bizesize Messages: Nailing the one point.’

How to read people’s faces during a talk

Bottom line – don’t do it.

It’s very easy to be unnerved by a twitching lip, a quirky grin, a shaking head, or a deadpan stare. I’ve had people fall asleep during my talks and yesterday I gave a talk with a disabled gentleman blowing loud raspberries at me. Awesome! It’s easy to get distracted – or even change what you’re saying – because you pop-psychoanalysed the audience and decided they were going to assassinate you by your conclusion.

Again – don’t do it. It’s not worth it!

Looks of furry, boredom, confusion, sadness, or even ‘a look of particular theological disagreement’ mean nothing. Genuinely. Why?

First, we are not Freudian psychiatrists with internal crystal balls that tell us exactly what individual facial expressions mean.
Second, people make all kinds of ugly looks for no discernible reason at all.
Third, facial expressions may have nothing to do with you! Maybe their cat died that morning, or they’re worried how they’ll get out of their parking space. Maybe they just broke wind.
Forth, it just won’t help you.
Fifth, it really won’t help you. Even if you’re right about what you see!

It’s important to stay discerning, and to know the people you’re speaking too; and it’s even important to make on-the-fly changes in reaction to what you think the Holy Spirit might be saying. That’s the key though – you make changes because God tells you to, not because people’s faces freaked you out. No mid-talk change should be prompted by fear – which is what were left with by trying to read people’s quirk-expressions.

Don’t give in to the temptation. Trust the words God has given you, and trust His knowledge of each person in the room.

Read peoples faces? Just don’t.

Public Speaking 101: How fast should you speak

A short video on how to speak more slowly and clearly when giving talks. This is something I’m naturally not very good at. However, it’s well worth the learning time!

Bitesize Messages: Nailing the one point.

One of the pivotal rules to communicating any type of message clearly is the ability to reduce it down to a single motif.

I should come away from your sales pitch, event flyer, email, Sunday sermon, or training seminar able to distill it into a simple sentence and then recognisably say it back to you. If I can’t, then something was probably missing from your preparation or design.

The one-liner is to a message as blood is to the body, without it nothing else works. In an essay, every paragraph should in some way serve the thesis. If it doesn’t then you’ve wasted words and lost the reader. My wife is an editor, and awesome at it! She talks about leading the reader by the hand and pointing things out along the way. She makes sure nothing is missed and that everything serves the whole. This is true in any communication that you want to be clearly understood by a varied audience.

The point of a one-liner isn’t to simplify your message to the spoon-feeding level, and it’s not supposed to remove complex ideas or deep explanations from your messages either. The reason you want a clear one-liner is the same reason an academic essay needs a thesis, or a research paper a hypothesis. A message needs to translate throughout with clear transitional flow between all the auxiliary pieces so that it will deliver a working application to a varied audience. Basically, to the best of your ability, you need to be sure that we got what you wanted us to!

Arguably, if you can’t tell me what your message is about in one sentence, then you just haven’t got your message yet. Once you have your one-liner – that’s the motif you want everyone in the room to come away with – then your message (however funny and confidently delivered) will be fractured, disjointed and ultimately ineffective. If you can’t clearly point to your one-liner, then your audience will tend to take away only one point anyway, and without a clear lead from a purposely defined message, it might not be the one you wanted!

The 3 Point Sermon Myth.

I started public speaking when I was about 14 years old, and man was I bad at it. I would just plagiarise everything I’d ever heard from real speakers and thread it all together randomly. I fell quickly into the ‘three-point-sermon’ trap, making sure I always had an ‘abc’, ‘123’ or ‘3 Cs’ structure for each message.

The classic three-point sermon, however, doesn’t really exist; or at least, not like you’d think. There are actually 3 types of three-point sermon, and I believe that only one of them is effective:

1. The 3-but-really-5 point sermon.
This is where the speaker throws in three points, but also an absurdly long introduction and conclusion which, rather than setting up the points, adds to the body with new points. We end up with a huge, misweighted, grab bag of facts, stories, applications and ideas in the hope that one or two might stick.

2. The literally 3 point sermon.
Here, there really are three points; completely different points with little if anything to connect or consolidate them. Time being a factor, each point is represented only one way, so are usually only grasped by a few people in the room that connected with that particular teaching style or story.

3. The 1-point-3-ways sermon.
This is the one that I think works! Coming at one idea from three perspectives broadens your teaching scope meaning almost everyone will leave with the same key teaching understood in their own way. This respects the variety of the room, allows ideas to percolate and cement, and moves the whole congregation on together.

Find your message!

If we as youth workers can work on making all of our communication revolve around single clear ideas, and make sure everything else supports them, we will be so much more effective and memorable! This is true for talks, studies, posters, websites, letters to parents and evangelism too. If we don’t do this, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are misunderstood or taken out of context.

For an interesting thought experiment, think about these questions:

  • What one-liner would the young people you know associate with your teaching?
  • What one-liner would the young people you know associate with your teaching?What one-liner do you try to make the clearest when talking to non-Christians?
  • What one-liner do you try to make the clearest when talking to non-Christians?What one-liner would young people use to describe you?
  • What one-liner would young people use to describe you?What one-liner would young people use to describe the God you represent?
  • What one-liner would young people use to describe the God you represent?Looking back at your last three talks, what was the one-liner you wanted to get across? Did you have one?
  • Looking back at your last three talks, what was the one-liner you wanted to get across? Did you have one?Asking young people and leaders (who were present at those talks), ask them to write down what they thought your one-liner was.
  • Asking young people and leaders (who were present at those talks), ask them to write down what they thought your one-liner was.Look back over your last bulk communications (letters/emails/blogs), and ask a few of the recipients to email you back a one-line summary of what they felt the most important thing you were trying to communicate was.
  • Look back over your last bulk communications (letters/emails/blogs), and ask a few of the recipients to email you back a one-line summary of what they felt the most important thing you were trying to communicate was.
  • Show a bunch of people in your target audience your last few flyers; ask them to tell you in one-line what the key piece of information was.

Youth Work Hacks at the Premier Digital Awards

Wow – 15016408_1189056691181334_7533730845260800862_owhat a ride! Two weeks ago, Youth Work Hacks won the Premier Digital Award in the category of Most Inspiring Leadership Blog. This was an epic honour – especially in the midst of other fantastic finalists!

[[Check out the runner up, Apples of Gold, and the finalists, Included By Grace and Matt McChlery.]]

It was a belting night which included an impressive meal, a champagne reception, polished hosts and a simply incredible house band. I was blown away by the professionalism of the whole night. I can be very critical of how badly Christian organisations do at putting on events, but this blew me away.

I’m very grateful to the Premier Judges for choosing Youth Work Hacks – and we will do all we can here to produce resources and articles worthy of them.

You can see the video of the award presentation below … and our comics version of what that looked like at the bottom of this post.

ps. Sorry about the two week break from writing. After a the awards came a week in London, and a week at Seminary. But here we are again!



Capturing God’s Heart For Young People

Capturing God’s Heart For Young People. A talk I gave at Antioch Church in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. This is a version of a relatively standard talk that I give regularly on young people across North Wales.

Two passages:

Luke 18:1-17

Acts 20:7-12

The Idol Of Religious Activity. Jeremiah 7:1-29

A dodgy recording of a talk I gave to the 14s-18s at Word Alive this year on turning to the Idol Of Religious Activity. Sorry about the quality.

Passage: Jeremiah 7:1-29

Idol of Religion *** Download for free here.

Talk: ‘Who Is The Greatest?’ Mark 9:33-37

Hi folks.

Here’s a wee talk I gave a few weeks ago on Mark 9 at Prince’s Drive Baptist Church. As always I hope it’s useful and I’m open to helpful, constructive, love-driven feedback. 🙂  Cheers!


I’m Back!!!!!!

Hi Folks!

After 6 weeks conflict with iclickster (my hosting company) – timgough.co is finally back up and running!

In the last few weeks I’ve driven about 2500 miles around the UK for various things – including the Youthwork Summit, Transforming Youth Ministry and some YFC training days – so expect some write ups and reviews soon.

Quick update on me: I’m still directing Youth For Christ, Llandudno and we’ve just hired an administrator which is fab. I’ve been thinking about writing again, mainly focusing on some simple ebook topics like effective games, small group youth communities or young people apologetics. I may do something more practical on making first contact with schools, but we shall see where the whims may take us. I’m also trying some fun stuff out with my music, trying to bridge the gaps in my songwriting between jazz, funk and folk all with a healthy dose of melancholy.

My speaking schedule for the next wee while is pretty simple; this Sunday I’ll be at Princes Drive Baptist Church, 3rd August I’ll be at i61 and 4th-8th August I’ll be speaking in the evenings at Middleton Park.

If you’re interested in recent stuff from the last few weeks there’s two talks below:

God Fearers In The 1st Century @ Bible Unzipped, North Wales Bible Training Event:


Young People Are Not The Church Of Tomorrow @ Penrallt Baptist Church, Bangor