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Preparing Myself to Speak

Let’s continue this public speaking conversation we started yesterday, and talk about how I prepare myself.  I have a tremendous advantage over those that speak every week.  If I’m traveling to speak somewhere; then I what I bring is new into a new place.  Second, when I’m asked to speak somewhere; it’s so often rare enough in my home location that I get to speak around my passions.  This is a great advantage I have over many that speak more often and more frequently in the same place.

So What’s my Method?

Narrow it Down

When I’m asked to speak I first have to narrow down what I’m gonna talk about.  Sometimes it’s assigned, like in the case of the Illuminate Conference (Coming to Birmingham, AL in August and Austin,TX in November.); but sometimes I get to just pick based on whatever I want.  So how do I decide?  This is going to sound very unspiritual, but I usually can figure out what I want to talk about by answering this question: “What have I been learning lately?”  If I’m learning about it, it helps me feel confident to teach others.  That my friend, is TRUTH.

Hash is Out

Then when I know that I have a general idea of what I want to talk about, I then talk about it.  Seriously.  I’ll setup blank paper in my office, and of course have my Bible open and ready.  I’ll then give myself 3-4 hours to just talk out loud and take notes on where I’m going.  The down-side is that this often gives me about 3 months of material.  But that’s allright.

Think About It

After I’ve narrowed down my topic, and talked it out to myself; I then need to let it sit for a while.  The key here is that I have to give myself time.  This forces me to narrow it down and talk it out weeks and sometimes months, before I need to speak.  It always proves worth it, as the days pass from my “talking it out”, I begin to narrow it down even more.  After prayer, study, and talking with my wife and friends; I’ll discover where I want my time to be used for.  This is when I feel the most led by the Spirit, whether my talk is spiritual or not!

Organize it Out

At this point I have pages and pages of notes, and I’ve thought about what I really want to say.  Here is where I get out the computer, and create a simple one-page (sometimes two-pages) outline.  I stick to the old-fashioned Numerals, bullet points, and use special notations for where I’ll need to input an illustration and/or story to help teach the point.


It’s simple really.  I practice.  I prefer to stay away from mirrors, but I need to speak it out loud using my one-page of notes.  It’s here that I often come up with real-life illustrations that help me stay relevant and make my message sincere.  It’s here where I can adjust and tweak to fit my time allotment.  I’ve skipped this step before because I failed to give myself time.  It did not work out well.  Practice matters!  This is also where I often memorize what I’m going to say.  Often times I can lose my notes at this time, and it adds to my speaking style and gives me confidence.

So that’s the bare-bones of it all.  I’m dying to know this from you: Where do you do it differently?  Are you a person that writes out every single word on a paper and attempts to read it?  Do you wait til the last minute to prepare?  What do you do?

Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.