3 public-speaking secrets from Joel Osteen

By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

Being a talented public speaker can earn you a tremendous income or inspire profound conversations – or do both, if you’re Joel Osteen.

As pastor of the largest church in the United States and the author of bestselling books, Osteen has a reported net worth of $60 million. The 52-year-old Texan draws a crowd of some 16,000 people to each Sunday sermon at Lakewood Church in Houston. In fact, the turnout became so large that Osteen relocated the church – originally founded in an abandoned feed store by his father – to the Houston Rockets’ former arena.

But his reach extends far beyond Texas. Osteen’s televised sermons air in more than 10 million U.S. households and are seen in more than 100 nations across the globe – impressive stats for someone who was once terrified of public speaking.

For years Osteen’s father had encouraged him to preach, but he had always resisted, pointing to his “quiet and reserved” nature, and insisting that he preferred to serve the church in a behind-the-scenes capacity. “I just didn’t think it was in me,” Osteen told Forbes.

He finally decided to give it a shot in 1999, preaching his first sermon on the third Sunday in January. Six days later his father died of a heart attack and Osteen became Lakewood’s new pastor.

Osteen didn’t become a sought-after preacher overnight. He battled nerves before each sermon for several years. Eventually things started to gel. He relaxed, honed his message and embraced his speaking style, which was markedly different from his father.

He demonstrates a reality that I witness daily in my business: Public speaking is eminently coachable. No matter how good you are (or aren’t), you will improve with the right training. With that in mind, we can glean three insights on public speaking from Osteen’s enormous success.

The first is the power of preparation. Even as Osteen’s preaching skills developed and the size of his crowds grew, he never reached a point where he could wing it. If anything, he became more diligent about his weekly preparation because he saw how effective it was.

Osteen spends Thursday and Friday writing a 28-minute sermon. He makes a point to fill it with stories, referring to a list of human-interest accounts and anecdotes that he continually updates. Every business executive should do the same: File away success stories and case studies as you encounter them, so you can draw from them the next time you’re in front of a microphone. Develop a solid list and then pluck out the relevant ones that reinforce whatever your point is.

Once Osteen has crafted his sermon, he spends three hours on Saturday reviewing it page by page. He then delivers it on Saturday night and twice on Sunday. The one people see televised is his third delivery, which, by that point, is the result of hours and hours of practice.

The second key to Osteen’s success is his dynamic delivery. An engaging presentation is dynamic like a Mozart symphony, full of crescendos and decrescendos, and marked by the alternating Italian prompts of piano (quiet) and forte (loud). Osteen has this down pat.

In the executive training offered by Dardis Inc., we break down the key elements of dynamic speaking and provide video playback for clients to watch themselves. We coach clients on volume and score their inflection: Are you flat like Nebraska? Is your delivery too jerky, like the Rockies? Or are you at a perfect mid-level, like Virginia?

We also zero in on pace: Are you too fast, too slow or at a comfortable pace? Osteen ably demonstrates his ease in speaking slowly. The majority of our new clients speak too quickly. A hasty delivery shows a lack of confidence, almost as if you’re embarrassed to be taking up your audience’s time. It also makes it harder for them to absorb your material.

A third key to Osteen’s success is his countenance. He has been dubbed the Smiling Preacher because he looks happy when he is speaking. A smile goes a long way to engage and charm an audience. What kind of mood do you project through non-verbals? Does giving a presentation look like torture or pleasure?

You may never speak to a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium, as Osteen did one year ago, but you can nail your next presentation by borrowing his techniques.



Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardisinc.com.