Connecting with an Audience

The first time I had to preach a homily on a Sunday morning, I thought I was going to puke.  I was an ordained Catholic priest who had been through all the mandatory public speaking courses my master’s degree required.  I had studied the scriptures; I had consulted various homiletic services that point out interesting stuff about the scriptures -- but looking out on the congregation that first Sunday morning, I felt woefully underprepared.  And after I presented the product of all my slavish work, the verdict was clear:  Quite frankly, I sucked. 

I realized quickly no matter how much exegetical crap I threw out at the congregation, they still looked bored as hell.  Somehow, I don’t remember exactly why, I shared my struggles with my shoot straight from the hip Grandma Margie.  She boiled it down best and gave me great advice – “We’ve heard it all before.  Tell us a good story!” 

That’s when I realized that if I was going to be a communicator, I had to think in terms of what makes a good story.  I had to think about what takeaway I wanted to leave with an audience – did I want them uplifted or challenged?  Was I appealing to their hearts and their heads? 

I thought about favorite movies and books – how did they open?  With a conflict! – Something big happens and it propels the story forward.   My homilies would do the same.  I learned I had to keep the story moving, keeping the conflict central and pushing the homily through acts.  I decided since movies and plays were generally five acts, my homilies would be the same.  And I learned the more authentically I could connect with my own feelings about the central conflict, I could engage the congregation at a gut level as well.

Now that I write books and articles, I think about the lessons I learned as a preacher.  You need to take take your reader on a journey of emotion and discovery.  They are your partner as you reveal the mysteries of your story.  If you are to move them in any way, tell them a good story.

Guest post by Alan Oakes. Alan Oakes is a Graduation Coach and Counselor at a Texas High School.  He is a featured writer for Green Building and Design magazine and a contributor to other magazines including Texas Architect and New American Luxury.  In the past, he served as Associate Pastor of Saint Austin Catholic Church and Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at UCLA.  

Alan holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts degree from the Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about the author, feel free to go to his website: 


  1. Good morning! Thank you so much for hosting! I will be by to answer any questions you may have when I get back from work later in the day -- Alan

  2. Interesting, who is the first to read your drafts?

    lyra.lucky7 at gmail dot com

  3. Hm, I agree about the good story, who wants to listen to something one heard before :)

    moonsurfer123 AT gmail DOT com

  4. What a fascinating background. You must have gotten to know a few young people like those you have written about.

  5. I hadn't thought of the similarities, but of course both the pastor and the author do need to impress an audience.


  6. Hi Everyone -- back from my day job! Lyra -- My friend Doug has read all of my books as I write them. When I am writing, after I lay down a chapter, it is about 90% there if not more. He points out all sorts of things for me.

  7. I would be terrified to have to stand up each week & deliver. Very interesting thank you.


  8. All this time and I didn't know you were a preacher? Fail on my part...must have been crazy intimidating! Kudos man.

  9. Wonderful thoughts! I like the sounds of this one! Thanks for the chance to win!


    hense1kk AT cmich DOT edu


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