17 Ways to Improve Your Speaking Skills for Student Ministry

In my recent post, 12 Steps to Making You a Better Speaker or Teacher, I provide a simple pathway for how to develop a student ministry talk that will connect with your audience and communicate the Gospel in a language that they can understand. When you speak to a group of college, high school, or middle school students, you want to get them excited about Jesus and curious about how the Bible will radically impact their life. You want them to see how they can turn the world upside down by following Jesus. This is our goal, but it also takes some work to grow in your speaking skills.

Felix speaking in the Philippines

There are some “givens” on the path to become a relevant speaker to your audience. First there are some character issues. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Relationships with at least some of those who you are speaking to is really important. Even if you are speaking to a group you don’t know very well, take 30 minutes or so to learn some names and get to know some stories of those in the audience
  • You can’t take people further than you have been in your relationship with Christ
  • Faithfulness to God and the centrality of Jesus and the Scriptures in your talks
  • Pray for God’s help to align you with the truth and the heart of the passage to be taught
  • Memorize the passage you are teaching so it flows from personal transformation
  • Use a Bible and hold it while you teach. This communicates that you value it highly
  • Keep the Scripture central not your personal story…. If I’m excited about a story I’m telling, and I’m not as excited about the passage I’m teaching and don’t make it come alive… then they’ll remember the story, not the passage
  • Is your personal story central to the talk or the Scripture central? Make sure that your passage is central to the talk. You don’t want folks to think the Scripture is an add-on
  • If anything be self-deprecating, but at the least not prideful or self interested

RELATED: 21 Reasons Why People Don’t Listen When You Speak


1 – Start off with points of agreement (don’t lead off with the opponents argument against what you are going to teach)

2 – You want to get people to say “yes” from the get go of your talk

3 – Teach a passage that has an entire plot whenever possible:

  • A clear conflict
  • Rising Action
  • Climax

4 – Monroe’s “Motivated Sequence”: This a technique for organizing persuasive speeches that cause people to take want to take action. It was developed in the mid-1930s by Alan Monroe at Purdue University:

  • ATTENTION: Focus attention on your idea
  • NEED: Surface a felt need for the same idea
  • VISUALIZATION: After explaining your idea, heighten desire by projecting future consequences or spinoffs. For example, you want to say to them, “if you accept this, the Scripture says this or that will happen… and if you reject this, the Scriptures say that this or that will happen…”
  • ACTION: This is how you close the talk… you call them to action. State very clearly what it is that you want each of the hearers to do with this information/idea…

5 – Speaking Style:

  • Conversational approach
  • Confident
  • Imaginative

6 – Use the Bible (hold it and refer to it)

7 – Non-Verbal communication

8 – People believe your non-verbals over your verbal communication

9 – Enthusiasm: Be upbeat and inspiring toward action

10 – How you dress: Dress in way that relates with your audience but also lets them know that you are not a slob and value their attention.

11 – Non-preachy language: use words and phrases that are completely familiar to your audience. Come of up with metaphors or word-pictures that related to what is familiar to most people. Several of the main categories of familiarity I think people have in common are experiences or things we’ve been taught related to:

  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Education
  • Social concerns
  • Recreation & Leisure time activities
  • Situations that require sympathy and understanding
  • Concern for the environment
  • Health and staying fit
  • Religion or philosophy
  • Wanting to succeed or make progress
  • Death
  • Your Future/Hopes/Dreams

12 – How to use stories:

  • Don’t teach something you haven’t learned (learn it, live it, teach it)… be sure to share stories from your own life how you have experienced that aspect of relationship with Jesus… or that principle… 

13 –  Vulnerability:

  • Vulnerability is essential… help them connect the truth to their own story (young people sometimes have a hard time drawing connections… I can tell a story, but if I don’t draw a connection to their life… they might miss how my story might be a window to their own personal transformation by listening to God)…

RELATED: 15 Ways to Help Students Find Peace they are Longing for through the Gospel…

14 – Give them ideas how to process this information ask yourself, “Did they go where I wanted them to go, and learn what I wanted them to learn? (You have to know where you want them to go with your talk in order to accomplish this)

15 – Conclusion: Write out the conclusion verbatim and then give them a couple questions to think about…

16 – Timing your talk

  • Middle School (7-10 minutes)
  • H.S. 20 minute limit (15-18 min. ideal)… and 10 minute talk is fine if you are that concise
  • College 15-25 min., unless you are really engaging… but 30 minutes max

17 – Practice!

  • You’ve gotta do it to get good at it. And you have to be willing to accept constructive criticism to get better… critique yourself and get others’ feedback.

RELATED: If Jesus isn’t Who He said He was, the World has No Hope | 10 Reasons