When you’re teaching, whether it’s apologetics or any other topic, it’s not just the information but also the presentation that counts. You may be able to dump theological knowledge on your audience, but that doesn’t mean it will stick and have the impact you’re hoping for, so you’ve got to work on your presentation skills too. This is especially important with youth audiences.
When I’m asked for advice on teaching youth, here are some of my suggestions:
- Have a strong opener for your talk: Use stories, object lessons, and illustrations to draw them in, gain their attention, and earn their trust. And get into it quickly. Don’t waste time with filler (e.g. “Glad to be here with all of you...”).
- Cut content to the most essential elements: Often you have such limited teaching time (30-40 minutes), so make sure you’re focusing on the most essential material for each topic. Avoid an “information dump” where you regurgitate every single aspect you’ve studied. You may study hours upon hours for a single talk, but you’ll need to boil it down to the key ideas and arguments for your audience.
- Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate: As you explain spiritual truths and abstract concepts, you will need to illustrate these for your audience. For example, we use the ice cream/medicine illustration to explain objective/subjective truth. In addition, I created a “Truth Test” years ago to further illustrate the distinction between the two.
- Close your talks with ways that hit home: Show your audience how ideas have consequences. Illustrate how what you’ve taught plays out in real life. Use powerful stories to close. Help them see the relevance of your teaching to life. This will help give your talks a strong finish.
- Hang out with your audience: If I’m speaking to a group I don’t know, I will take the initiative to get to know my audience (as much as possible) beforehand. Greet people as they come in, walk around, introduce yourself, ask questions and mingle with them as they wait for the event to begin. If I’m at a camp or conference, I’ll try to have meals with them and even participate in some of the camp activities with them. And afterwards, make yourself available for further questions and interactions. I typically try to be one of the last to leave the event. All of this will help the audience connect with you personally and, therefore, help them connect with your teaching at a deeper level.
If you do a lot of teaching, I suggest you get a copy of Timothy Koegel’s book, The Exceptional Presenter. You’ll benefit from it tremendously and so will your audience.