For the past fifteen years (or so), I have had the privilege of speaking at camps, conferences, schools, churches, and universities worldwide. People quite frequently ask me what it takes to develop a speaking ministry. While there are certainly people with platforms far beyond mine, here are some personal thoughts that I hope will help those of you desiring to become a public speaker:
1. Ask yourself the tough questions. People can want to become speakers for all sorts of reasons—some good, and some bad. When I was in college, I had lunch with the son of a famous evangelist (yes, we EKs like to get together), and he challenged me to think deeply about why I wanted to become a speaker. He asked me: Do you want to become a speaker because it makes you feel important? Do you think being on stage necessarily equals impact in people’s live? If you want to become a public speaker, please take the time to prayerfully consider these questions. I’ve had to painfully work through them in my own life. Ultimately, if we want to be the kind of communicators that honor and please God, we each need to first find our identities in Christ, and be motivated out of a desire to love people and advance God’s kingdom.
2. Learn how to communicate effectively. Unless you are a rock star, movie star, famous politician, or sports star, you probably won’t get invited to speak unless you can actually communicate effectively. Or if you do get invited, and you don’t perform well, you won’t get invited back! Don’t skip this step. And like anything else, learning the craft of speaking takes time. I have taken years to develop my speaking abilities, and I still look for ways to improve. If you want some tips on speaking well, check out the post “Nine Tips for Public Speaking.” Read books on speaking. Watch good speakers critically. Essentially, the way to become a good speaker is to practice and get feedback. There’s no shortcut.
3. Take every opportunity you can get. As a high school student, my parents sent me to Summit Ministries. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it ended up being one of the most formative experiences of my life. If you’re a student ages 16-22, you seriously need to consider attending. Even though it was over two decades ago, I still remember a point made by one of the speakers, Dr. Jeff Myers, who is now the president and a dear friend of mine: “If you want to become a public speaker, it begins by taking every opportunity you can get, not matter how small or difficult. This is how you improve, and also how you grow your ministry.”
4. Network. Some of my best speaking opportunities have come from networking. In fact, I work to stay in touch with people who I admire and are further down the road professionally than me. As a result, many have invited me to speak at key events. Now that I have been speaking for some time, I am also looking for good speakers to recommend. If you can communicate well, and you build relationships with key people ahead of you, there is a good chance speaking opportunities will come your way. In fact, when I can, I love helping younger speakers find good opportunities.
5. Build a platform. If you develop a platform off stage, then there is a good chance people will want to hear what you have to say on stage. This takes time and effort, but can be done by anyone committed to doing it. You don’t have to be famous today. You just have to be willing to do the difficult and tedious work of content building. Can you write a blog? Start a YouTube channel? Start a podcast? Write a book? Can you start a Twitter account that provides helpful content to people? If you develop an online presence, where you genuinely contribute to the larger discussion, there is a good chance speaking opportunities may eventually come your way. I have recently started blogging regularly, and it has opened up doors for both influence and opportunity that I never dreamed of before.
6. Pray. I put this last not because it’s least important. In fact, I put it last so it will stick in your mind. God is the one who ultimately opens and closes doors. Pray for wisdom. Pray for guidance. Pray that God would prepare your heart for opportunities that may come your way. If we cultivate a life of thanking God, and of relying upon his strength, then (Lord willing) we won’t be tempted to give ourselves the credit when we do have the opportunity to speak. And remember, our ultimate goal is to make God known, not ourselves: “And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted’” (Isaiah 12:4).
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
Resources for Greater Impact:
Free CrossExamined.org Resource
Get the first chapter of "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" in PDF.