Have you ever struggled, when asked to speak, wondering, “What should I say?”

I always look forward to conversations with my friend Mary. She is educated, well-traveled, bright, articulate on a wide variety of topics, a wonderful storyteller, quick-witted, passionate, and ridiculously funny. When I asked her if she would be a guest on my podcast, she panicked. “I wouldn’t know what to say!” she stammered, and then fell uncharacteristically quiet. Her response surprised me until I remembered that I had a similar response when a church group contacted me to see if I would be interested in being the speaker at their weekend retreat.

The Apostle Paul settled this issue for himself a long time ago. Although he wrote thirteen letters of the New Testament on topics like doctrine, church polity, and discipline, spiritual gifts, morality and ethics, history, and prophecy, he purposed to have only one message: to know Christ (I Corinthians 2:2). He spoke the one message to thousands of people, in hundreds of locations, in venues big and small, in scores of different ways. Whether he was asked to speak to kings, scholars, soldiers, business or religious leaders, prisoners, slaves, or rioting mobs, he was ready when given the opportunity to speak.

These are key components of Paul’s success as a speaker and writer:

  1. He knew himself. He knew his background, his story, his purpose, and his giftedness.  
  2. He knew his audience. He knew their culture, what they were talking about, and what lies at the core of every human heart.
  3. He knew his Savior. He knew how nature and all of the sacred texts pointed to Messiah, he had witnessed and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, he received divine revelations through prayer and was confident of God’s promises and his future in Christ.

These are the things I ask myself, and I ask my guests to draw on when we prepare to speak: Who and what are the things that shaped you, your story, and the values you cherish? What are the challenges you’ve faced and overcome? What did you learn about yourself in the process? What encouragement would you give others who are facing their challenges? What would you like others to see or do as a result of our conversation?”

Speakers sizzle when they talk about things that excite them. Their eyes light up, there is energy in their vocal, facial and physical expressions. They know a lot about their topic, intellectually and experientially. They are quick to share stories and illustrations. Even the dullest person can draw a crowd when they are on fire with excitement. Everyone stops what they’re doing to watch a fire!

What’s your story?  What are you passionate about?  If you could only spark one idea, what would that be? 

I have watched and listened to a lot of speakers and have found this formula works for them as well. Know yourself, know what you believe, and know your audience. The Apostle Paul echoed a voice of his times when he said, “It is written: ‘I believed, therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.” (2 Corinthians 2: 13). It is belief, knowledge, and passion that will not only inform the speaker of the topic but the listener of wisdom to be shared. By knowing what to say, you can ignite your audience as well.