Every preacher has physical tendencies that unintentionally distract the audience. Sometimes these are known by the preacher and other times they are ticks and habits that must be pointed out to be changed. Public speaking in any context, and especially in a church setting, engages your whole mind and body. This means speakers can easily find themselves neglecting to pay attention to their body language and physical habits because they have to remember what to say … and everyone is watching.
All of us could use some coaching in this area. When I look back through videos of my sermons I notice more distracting physical tendencies than I care to admit! But there is hope and we can all overcome these by knowing what they are and working to eliminate them.
I want to offer five common physical distractions I’ve observed in preachers over the years. I’ve also seen a good amount of these in my own preaching over the years and have sought to correct and eliminate them. This is why watching your game film is so important. I watch the video of every sermon I preach. This helps me see what others see when I preach and has proven invaluable to me as it helps me know what to improve.
What are five distracting physical habits of preachers?
In this article we will deal with the first two distractions and in part two we’ll look at three more.
1. Turning your back to the audience to read from the screen.
I love when a preacher decides to ditch the notes. In fact, I wrote a two-part series of posts on how to free yourself of your dependency on notes when you preach. However, one unintended consequence of such a departure from the traditional notes-on-the-podium model is that preachers go from staring down at a page, to turning their backs to the audience to read from a screen behind them.
This is a common rule of any stage presentation: Never turn your back to the audience.
Turning your back to your listeners can make them uncomfortable and cause them to disengage with you. Unless, in the rare case, that you’re making a point that is illustrated by turning your back. But for the purposes of reading from the screen, don’t turn your back to your audience and stare up at the screen and read from it. The audience does not want to see the back of your head.
A great alternative is to use a TV-on-a-stick right next to you on stage. This way you can point to it as you are speaking and not draw your attention away from your audience.
2. Using filler words and vocal pauses
If you want to dramatically improve the delivery of your sermons overnight, do this one thing: eliminate filler words and vocal pauses from your sermon delivery.
What are filler words and vocal pauses? You can read more about them in this Preaching Donkey post from a few years ago: How to Stop Using Throw Away Words In Sermons. In short, we use these words when we fill in the gaps of our speech with throw away words like “um” “uh” “you know” “like” and others. They are a huge distraction because they don’t allow people the opportunity to soak in what you’ve said. Instead, they fill the silence with what essentially becomes noise to your listeners and causes them to tune you out entirely.
Don’t believe me? Try this next time you preach: Find a good place in your sermon to go completely silent for three seconds. Maybe after you make a point, or read a verse. Whatever the place in the sermon, pause for just three seconds without warning. Don’t fill the silence and don’t explain what you’re doing. Here’s what you’ll notice: Everyone will look up. They will momentarily attend to what you’re saying. For that instance, you have them. What you say next is vitally important because all eyes and ears are on you.
But if instead of pausing, you were to say, “Um, uh, uh,” and then give your next thought, you would have way less people paying attention in that moment. Give it a try and experiment with it. It will motivate you to do what it takes to stop using those words. Check out this post to help you overcome the habit of filler words and audible pauses.
In Part 2 of this post we will examine the next three distracting physical habits. For now, which of these two habits is the one you are most prone to? What can you do about it this week? Hint: You may need to watch your last sermon video to know if these two are a problem. These habits, especially the usage of filler words, are often unknown to the communicator.
Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments!