Pastor Joel Osteen book signing

As a presentation skills coach I love to talk, although I made a very personal decision many years ago that there are two things I would try my very hardest to avoid speaking about in public.

Those two things are religion and politics.

Given that I’m neither a theologian nor a politician most people respect my decision but occasionally I’m challenged and asked why; my perspective is as simple as it is personal.

In my experience, many people hold such strongly held personal views and beliefs on both topics that when they do, it often results in either an exhaustive and arguably pointless debate or an equally meaningless argument.

If I were a theologian or a politician where it was my job and purpose to speak on either matter that would be different of course, but as I’m neither, I prefer to reserve my beliefs and opinions for where I believe they may offer an opportunity to serve.

In my role as a presentation skills coach that stance does not however stop me from commenting on and offering my personal and professional opinion of the presentation skills of politicians or religious leaders. My passion for helping people to connect with each other through the way they speak in public leads me to share what I believe we can learn from when great orators speak, regardless of their occupation.

Having recently written about Earl Nightingale, Wayne Dyer, Zig Ziglar and even Bruce Lee, another speaker I like to pay attention to is the American preacher, televangelist, author, and Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston Texas, Joel Osteen.

Do the tens of thousands of people gathering to listen to him each time he speaks and over 4.4M twitter followers, admire and respect him so much purely because of his religious and spiritual beliefs; or could there be something else?

The fact that his weekly sermon is viewed by seven million Americans each week and seen in almost 100 nations around the world suggests to me that whilst many of his followers like and agree with his content, he must be quite an engaging speaker too don’t you think?

If you are interested in either brilliant public speaking, happiness or simply a timeless truth, then regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs I would urge you to watch Joel Osteen’s video below:

The lessons

Here are my thoughts on what I believe we can all take from this sermon purely in terms of learning to be a high impact public speaker and presenter.

1. Serious doesn’t have to be boring

Despite being the largest congregation in the United States with over 43,000 in attendance each week, Joel Osteen talks about the very serious subject of ‘life’ with an undaunted sense of humour from start to finish.

The last time I went to my church I believe there were probably fewer than 200 people there, and not only do I not recall raising a smile, I can’t actually remember anything.

I believe that Joel often starts a sermon with a joke or a humorous anecdote which some may think is inappropriate and risky in such a setting.

I certainly don’t think it’s inappropriate given that he clearly understands and respects his audience and uses humour in a way that helps him to relax and engage them.

I’m not suggesting that telling jokes is something every speaker should do, because it is definitely risky, but I do like and encourage the idea of taking yourself a little more lightly and helping your audience to smile and relax.

2. If stories can work in church, what power do they have in business?

At Mindful Presenter we are constantly talking about, teaching and promoting the impact of storytelling in presenting. The challenge behind telling a great story and telling a great story really well is finding one that will mean something to the audience.

As Joel demonstrates, once you have the relevance it’s about where you place the story and telling it as though it’s happening in the moment so it feels real to the audience.

3. You really don’t need the lectern

Speaking continuously for a full 30 minutes without frequently referring to your notes or ‘slides’ is not the easiest of tasks. When speakers have notes on top of a lectern you will more often than not see them ‘clinging’ to the lectern in fear of straying from their notes. In this sermon, you will see that Joel stands either in front of the lectern, next to it or completely away from it.

His effectiveness would have been significantly diminished had he stood behind the lectern and read his notes.

The solution is knowing your content inside out, rehearsing and practicing it without a lectern or notes and not being afraid to make a mistake.

4. Make people feel good

This sermon just like every other one of his sermons and speeches I’ve listened to is crafted and delivered in a way to make people feel good. In this case, it is positive and inspiring yet at the same time challenging people to look at ‘happiness’ from a different perspective.

It’s every presenter’s job to make their audience feel something, and that doesn’t necessarily mean making them feel good. I have given many business presentations where my intention has been to make my audience feel uncomfortable to enable me to lead change or action. It is relatively easy however, to make people feel uncomfortable or uncertain but the highly effective speakers know how to also offer hope.

I believe that far too many people are walking around feeling uninspired, demotivated or even unduly complacent so we have an enormous opportunity to help them feel more positive; that would always be my initial preference and starting point.

The point is, a presentation has to make them feel something.

If you are going to take them down first, that’s fine, but be sure to build into your strategy a way of lifting them up again and offering hope.

5. Don’t make it complicated

In this seminar, Joel makes it clear right from the very start what he is going to talk about; “I want to talk to you today about living life happy”.

Having set the theme for the next 30 minutes everyone knows why they are there and whether he then proceeds to tell a story, a joke or quotes scripture everything he says revolves around ‘living life happy’ and being happy.

He is clear, he is consistent and speaks using words, terms and phrases everyone can understand.

No one has to work hard to get his message.

6. Talk about what people can relate to

Happiness is a timeless, universal goal!

It’s one of the few things we all have in common so you can be certain that its something everyone in the audience wants to hear and talk about.

The best presentations are always about the audience, not the speaker.

I recognise that Joel Osteen often triggers a great deal of controversy when he speaks, with some people regarding him as more of a motivational speaker, than a pastor.

Whatever you choose to call him and whether you share his beliefs and sentiments or not It would be hard to dispute that he is an extremely powerful speaker.

I’ve highlighted just 6 of the many lessons we can learn from this speech:

Serious doesn’t have to be boring

– If stories can work in church, what power do they have in business?

– You really don’t need the lectern

– Make people feel good

– Don’t make it complicated

– Talk about what people can relate to

Each of these in their own right carry incredible value in helping you to connect with your audience in a memorable and engaging way.

I believe It is also worth listening to the speech for an entirely different reason; it holds some very simple but powerful wisdom.

You don’t have to share Joel Osteen’s religious beliefs to understand and be inspired by his message.

It’s definitely worth the 30 minutes.

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