Engage minds, refresh souls, make it a win for your audience
It’s five minutes to start time, as they file into the church hall and take their seats. Nobody ever trained you to do this, but you love the Church, and you’ve poured your heart and soul into creating a presentation that will help heal and strengthen the faithful. Yet, on a weeknight at the parish, attendees may struggle to stay awake, never mind remember what they hear. Fortunately, seven simple techniques will help you engage their minds, refresh their souls, and make this presentation stick.
1. Energize content and delivery. Choose a topic that ignites your passion, and you will communicate joy in the way you speak, gesture, and make eye contact. Learners love an animated, conversational style that makes them feel included and cared about, so come out from behind the podium and be real with them.
This is your chance to connect and build relationships. If you need notes, keep them to
bullet points. Good preparation will result in the confidence to use them as a road map, not a script. Avoid jargon or any unnecessary complexity; that’s what handouts are for. Don’t
waste a second boring them with anything they can read on their own.
2. Make it about them. Pray for the people who will hear your talk. Ask yourself, How can
I focus my presentation for maximum value to this particular audience? What specific skills or information do I want them to take home?
Considering possible cultural barriers, craft your talk around a central idea that will speak to their hearts, and then break your topic down into three to five main subtopics that can all be tied together. The more you connect your points with each other, the easier it is for your audience to remember them.
3. Sequence your message. It’s true that the first and last ideas presented are remembered best, so follow the old rule:
1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
2. Tell them.
3. Then tell them what you’ve told them.
Blast off by declaring the importance of your message so it will make a strong impression
from the start. For instance, make it clear how the new skills they are about to acquire will
be a big win for them and their ministry. A good basic formula is to state that in order to achieve A and B, they will need to do 1, 2, 3 …
4. Provide emotional value. It’s not just about information. Every audience needs to be
touched emotionally, too. Down deep, when we take time to listen to someone, we’re hungry for content that will change our lives. Briefly share vivid and engaging stories listeners can connect to their own experiences.
When you’re creating your speech, use word choices that evoke emotional responses. For
example, the story of salvation is full of drama, suffering, second chances, and confident hope. Think of making an impact, telling a secret, revealing a mystery, or sharing a miracle. Make them laugh, alarm them with a strong statement, or use silence to sharpen their attention.
Practice at home, using variations in your voice, pacing, tone, and volume. No one goes out on a work night to be bored. Thrill them.
5. Use powerful images. Relevant and compelling images — photos, sacred art, graphics,
charts — dramatically increase retention and can be crafted on your computer, created using your smartphone, or found online. If you use online images, choose a source that is free. Some websites offer photos that are free for private and commercial use; many are
available without attribution (i.e., Pixabay, Unsplash, Wikipedia Commons). Be sure to follow instructions so you avoid infringing on another’s intellectual property rights. Learn about Canva at CATmag.us/30CjkY2 to easily create graphics.
If you employ a guiding metaphor to tie your ideas and images together (i.e., Mother Church or All Boats Rise Together), stay with just one. Too many metaphors in your talk weaken the connection between your ideas and your audience, while one predominating
image boosts memory.
Warning: To avoid putting the audience to sleep with your PowerPoint, keep accompanying text to a strict bare minimum of no more than 40 words per slide. Less is definitely more.
6. Put them to work. Get your audience to engage with what they’ve learned right away,
and they’ll take more value home.
Ask them an open-ended question, such as, “What resonated for you?” and then let your silence prompt them to share.
Have them fill out a short poll or questionnaire before your talk and then, at the end, ask them to reflect on what they have gained.
Charge them with a mission and a specific timeline, soliciting a commitment from them to
follow through. Motivate them with action words: tell, write, create, join, contact, share, teach, discover, learn.
7. Wrap it up. Finally, summarize your main points at the end, as you respectfully finish on time or — better yet — early. Linger to chat with them and listen to what they have
gleaned. The more they can reiterate the new information, the more it will stick.
Lisa Mladinich is a television host, author, speaker, and life coach dedicated to helping Catholics unleash their unique gifts for God’s greater glory. Her new podcast can be found at HomeschoolConnectionsOnline.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, September 2019