Joel Osteen: 7 Keys to Successful Speaking

by Carmine Gallo, Contributor | January 9, 2011

As the second subject forOprah’s Next Chapter on OWN, she chose mega-church pastor, Joel Osteen.  Few people give weekly talks or “presentations” to as many people as Osteen.  His Lakewood Church in Houston attracts 16,000 for each sermon on Sundays.  He reaches millions more on television in more than one hundred countries and he has written six New York Times bestsellers.  His live appearances at places like Yankee Stadium are sold out and he has been called America’s most influential speaker.

Whether you are a religious person or not, there is no denying that Osteen is an influential speaker and that he has something to teach anyone who wants to improve his or her public speaking skills.  Here are the 7 keys that make Osteen a popular communicator.

Introduce a theme. Osteen always introduces a theme at the beginning of his presentation.  He will begin his remarks by saying, “I want to talk to you today about staying passionate about life,” or “I want to talk you to about having a big vision for your life.”  Introducing a theme gives your audience a roadmap.  Make sure your stories, anecdotes or examples tie back to your main theme.

Tell stories. Osteen fills his sermons with personal stories.  Some are simple anecdotes about something that happened to him, his wife or his kids.  Many are stories of friends, people he’s met, or churchgoers in the congregation.  Our brains are not programmed for abstract thoughts.  Tell personal stories to connect with your audience.

Use humor, sparingly. Osteen starts each sermon with a joke or a humorous observation.  I never recommend starting a sales presentation with a joke because it will often land flat.  Osteen has years of practice and his congregation expects him to start with a joke but I don’t recommend it for everyone.  However, humor is important.  It’s perfectly acceptable and even welcome to take yourself lightly during a presentation.  Osteen’s sermons are delivered live and edited before broadcast.  I once saw a live sermon and, as every speaker does, Osteen make mistakes.  But he doesn’t let those mistakes derail the rest of his presentation.  In fact he makes light of it.  “As it says in Corinthians…” he once started a sentence before pausing. “Well, you know what it says in Corinithians,” he quipped when he forgot what he was going to say next.  The audience laughed, Osteen smiled and just kept going.  It’s okay to make mistakes.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Use parallel sentence structure. Writing or speaking in parallel sentences is a rhetorical device that you will hear in most great speeches or presentations.  For example, Osteen recently said, “Once you know you’re a ‘no lack’ person, you won’t run from your enemies, you’ll run to your enemies. You won’t run away from college, thinking it’s too hard, you’ll run to it knowing that you’re well able.  You won’t run away from that management position, thinking that you’re not qualified, you’ll run to it knowing that you’re well equipped.”  Consider using parallel construction somewhere in your presentation.  It’s a memorable way to get your message across.

Practice well ahead of time. I’ve heard Osteen say that he prepares for five days ahead of each sermon.  That means he begins to prepare, write, and rehearse on a Wednesday for the following Sunday’s sermon.  He’ll spend hours for each 30-minute presentation and he starts fresh every week.  Whenever you see a leader who communicates so well it looks “effortless,” know that there’s a lot of practice that went into it.

Avoid notes. Osteen’s preparation shows because he rarely speaks from notes, although he does have notes.  The notes are placed discreetly on his lectern.  He always speaks in front of the lectern or next to it.  As he moves to another part of the stage, Osteen glances at his notes, makes eye contact and continues talking.  Don’t break eye contact with the audience by speaking from notes.  Give yourself enough time to practice so you can deliver your message with confidence.

Inspire your audience. Osteen’s message is always positive and inspiring (to the dismay of some of his critics).  I think whether you’re a religious person or not, inspiration is very important in presentations and communications.  Many people are uninspired, demoralized, and discouraged.  They are looking for someone to believe in.  As a leader of a congregation or of a business, people are looking to you for inspiration.  Leave them on a positive note.

Osteen didn’t start out as a confident speaker.  In fact he didn’t want anything to do with preaching and was perfectly content behind the scenes at his father’s church.  Once he decided to preach he was a nervous wreck, telling Oprah Winfrey that the week before his first sermon was the worst week of his life.  He got through the first sermon and has worked on his skill every week since.  Becoming a great communicator is no longer a skill that’s just nice to have.  It’s essential for success in any field.


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