Sean McDowell | September 11, 2015

Three Important Lessons for Public Speaking

Lessons from My Father: Speaking

SEAN: Dad, how do you prepare for a talk?

JOSH: First, I take an 8 x 11” legal pad and write down everything I can think of about the subject. This includes every story, illustration, scriptural verse, statistic, documentation, and anything else I can think of related to the topic. And I do that so it starts out as mine; it’s not what I’ve gotten from someone else. Then second, I go to the Scriptures and I dig out everything I can about that subject. I also read books, commentaries, and other resources to gather as much relevant documentation as I can. Then I outline the talk. Finally, I take down everything I’ve written down from the stories, illustrations, scriptures, everything and I fill in the outline and then I’m ready for the talk.

SEAN: What mistakes have you made as a communicator?

JOSH: So many! Probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made over the years is going too long. One time they forgot to start the timing clock and when they finally started it, it was at the wrong time, and so I went about thirty minutes over. Timing is a challenge for many speakers. Second, one time I didn’t study carefully what the theme was of the conference, and what they wanted me to speak on. It was like I was someone from another planet speaking on another subject.

SEAN: What advice would you give for young speakers who want to develop a speaking ministry?

JOSH: Become an intern and travel with someone you respect who’s an effective speaker. And travel at least six months with them. Do their laundry, sell their books, and work hard just be with them. Learn and listen and ask a lot of questions. Also, take advantage of the good seminars that are out there on public communication. They may cost a lot, but it’s worth every investment. If you just get one idea that enhances you as a speaker, it is worth it. And then the other is practice. It’s not practice, practice, practice, as some claim. I do not think that makes perfect. It’s practice with critique. Always be willing to listen to critiques of your talks by critics. If you’re married listen to your wife.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell. He blogs regularly at

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: