Rhetoric & Homiletics: What Encourages An Audience To Listen? But It’s Not Enough!

audience-listeningI have spend a great deal of time listening to “speakers” on different levels.  After  years of teaching “Speech 101” in colleges and universities, teaching pulpit speech and homiletics at various Christian colleges, listening to preachers-teachers in the local church setting, tuning into a variety of TV preachers, listening to and reading “Vital Speeches” of the day, and hours of listening to podcast Bible messages most every day during my early morning walk, like many of you, I am a seasoned listener!

Many a time, as a professor in a college or university setting, I said this to a student — “You have great stage presence.” Their style, mannerisms, ease — their “stage” presence set the audience at ease and held their attention. They commanded the attention of the audience. They were focused on the audience, had great eye contact, were at ease and therefore, they set the audience at ease. There was no tripping over words. Any nervousness was unseen. He or she had a pleasing voice. They were facially expressive — bright-eyed / a smile. There was a conversational, not practiced tone. And even “good-looking” in person and dress contributed!

All these encouraged the audience to listen to them.

However, as you know, that is not the sum of being effective in public speaking or preacher. Such students did not get an “A” because of “GREAT STAGE PRESENCE.”  Yes, stage presence did and does carry a lot of weight!  Make no mistake about it, great content, and terrible stage presence will exact a terrible toll on the attention, interest, and effectiveness of a speaker or preacher!

While “presence” did and does carry a lot of weight and portended being an effective speaker beyond that classroom experience, content matters. Great “stage presence” doesn’t make mediocre-to-bad-to-terrible content better.  It will lead the audience to believe, and even state, that they liked, appreciated, or enjoyed the listening experience. The impact and influence of the message might be minimal because the content was paltry-to-inconsequential.  But, the speaker-preacher maintained the audience’s attention.  The audience kept waiting for something meaningful, because the speaker continued to give visual and verbal clues that something worthwhile was going to be said — clues that emanate from a good stage presence.

Great Stage Presence
Doesn’t Make Bad Content Better.

Do not equate holding an audience with affecting the thinking of an audience. Holding an audience is what good-to-great stage presence can accomplish.  The speaker-preacher’s presence is giving reason to want to listen.  However, in the end, the content may be shallow-to-meaningless.  It really isn’t saying anything.  Stage presence promises, but may never deliver.

Is There A Test: Is there a test to determine if a speaker has good stage presence, or if there is more than stage presence?  While few tests are designed to reveal all the variables operating in a situation, I think this test might be the most revealing.

Has this been your experience? After only listening to a speaker or preachers’ audio message, you sought out a video version of that individual. I would suggest that many times that made a meaningful difference — in both directions. Why?

Recently, I came across Pastor Smith’s ministry. At first I began listening to only the audio, and quickly became drawn into his preaching and teaching ministry — “WOW — he is good! Let me go online and see if there are more messages and if there is a video of him preaching!” When I watched and heard his message it was obvious! Not only did he have terrific content (audio), but he had terrific “stage presence.” His mannerisms, eye contact, facial expressions, vocal variety, etc. held your attention — and the more!

The Test? Listen to only the audio of a speaker-preacher. Is what they are saying consequential, meaningful, and/or impacting in and of itself. Or is it — Let me try another audio message, how about another one, another one — until one finally concludes that there really seems to be little substance — to keep listening.

AGAIN — Make no mistake about it, great content and terrible stage presence will exact a terrible toll on the attention, interest, and effectiveness of a speaker or preacher!

Over time, stage presence has the strong potential of smoothing out with experience.

  Inconsequential and bland content does not improve by experience and repetition.

  Great stage presence, and poor content, deepen the homiletical ruts as listeners compliment it “at the door on the way out.”

  A running commentary on the obvious never reaches the promise of spiritual effectiveness, no matter how great the listening experience.

√ Combine good-to-great content WITH good-to-great presence, and you have an effective “tag-team.” 



What Is Expository Preaching

What Is Called Expository & Is Not

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