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3 Ways to Avoid Preaching when you Speak

Reach don't preach

Most audiences do not want to be preached to outside of the church. However, it is sometimes easy to fall into preaching especially when you are very passionate about your message. Below are three guidelines you can follow to prevent destroying your speech due to preaching.

Guideline #1 – The soft “you”

The word “you” is the most important word in speaking and, frankly, speakers do not use it enough. However, some speakers do use it quite often but there’s one big problem. They use the hard “you” rather than the soft “you.” What’s the difference? Listen to the quick audio below to see the difference.

[audio:|titles=Soft You]

Did you hear the difference? The hard “you” sounds like you’re commanding your audience and forcing them to listen to you. The soft “you” is much more inviting. In fact, you should listen to the very beginning of this story and count the number of “you/your” words that I use in only 57 seconds. You will need to pay close attention because some of these “you/your” words can pass by in a barely noticeable way.


Welcome back. How many “you/your” words did you hear? I counted 15 in 57 seconds. With all those “you/your” statements, did it make my speech sound “preachy?” No. Why? Because each was a soft “you” rather than a hard one. But, rest assured, it’s very important to use many more “you/your” statements than “I” statements. In the audio you just heard, I used “you” or “your” once every 3.8 seconds. You don’t have to keep up that rate throughout the entire speech but I just wanted you to see that it’s possible (and effective) to use many “you/your” words without preaching. Use that soft “you.”

Guideline #2 – Let the story make the point

Too many speakers tell their story and then spend far too much time driving home their point. If you tell the story with the most effective structure, then your audience will be 80% across the bridge to understanding and buying into your point. Then it only takes a Foundational Phrase and perhaps another line or two to drive that point home and get your audience 100% across the bridge.

Top Line      O.     O.     O.

Bottom Line      O. . . . .

Look at the Top Line and Bottom Line above, because this is the mistake that speakers make. Look at the circle as the story and the dot as the point. The Top Line is great because you can see a story (circle) and the attached point (dot), then another story and the attached point and then another story and the attached point. That’s fine because each point is made by (and anchored to) the story.

What many speakers do is represented by the Bottom Line. They tell their story (circle) and then keep driving home several points (multiple dots). The problem here is that only the first point is attached to the story. The extra points (that are not anchored by the story) will all come across as preaching. Each point deserves its own story (or other anchor such as an Activity or Analogy) and that way each point can be uncovered within the story and prevent you from preaching. Keep those images in mind.

Guideline #3 – Don’t tell; ask

So often I hear speakers make statements like, “We all have tough challenges in our lives…” and this sparks people in the audience to think, “What makes you think you know about me? Why do you say I have challenges?”

That’s the problem with “telling” your audience members about themselves. The solution is to ask. For example, instead of saying, “We all have challenges…,”prequalify your statement by asking, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever faced a challenge?”  Most hands will go up.

Secret Key: When you’re asking a question in which you want to get a “yes,” then it’s a great idea to include the past rather than just the future. For example, you will get many more hands raised if you say, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever faced a challenge.” You will get fewer hands if you say, “Raise your hand if you are facing a challenge.”

That’s why I love to use the following stems:

“Have you ever…”

“Raise your hand if you have ever…”

Those phrases are much more inclusive and will get almost all hands to go up. Then, once you qualify them with that question, you can continue with something like, “That’s what I thought. Well, wouldn’t it be nice to have a system of turning each challenge into an opportunity? Well, guess what? There is a system. It’s called…”

There is nothing “preachy” about that because you did not tell them about themselves, you asked them about themselves.

Final Thoughts:

If you have a conversation with your audience instead of preaching to your audience, you will connect and they will want you back time and time again. See…even that previous sentence had five more “yous and yours!”

38 Responses to “3 Ways to Avoid Preaching when you Speak”

  • Scott Turransky:


    Good stuff as always. Thanks for sharing!


  • Bill Bute:

    Thanks Craig:
    I felt I have been a bit preachy in the past, but implementing these tips is going to cement the audience connection I’m seeking.

  • David:

    Hello Craig, as usual you’ve given us the ULTIMATE LESSON. I really thank you for this one because this was something I needed. Take care and God bless.

  • Mark Morden:

    Thanks again Craig for the tips.

    When I started public speaking, I would try to avoid saying “you” because I didn’t want to be preachy. I would try to talk in generalities. Not very personal. After listening to your lessons, I learned the difference between hard and soft you. And it IS quite a difference. The phrase that drove it home with me was “Speak to one, look to all.” Now I incorporate the soft you with abandon in my speeches. 😉

    • craig:

      Thanks Mark. I used to do a lot of “Ladies and Gentlemen,” etc. until I realized the power of being able to speak to one and look to all. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  • Anna:

    Hi Craig, thanks very much for this tip!

    This would have to be one of the best tips I have come across… I have realised that incorrect use of the word “you” in a speech is a public speaking ‘turn-off’…the equivalent of being on a first date and have someone ask, say, how much you earn, lol…unless you are in a profession that it is appropriate, it’s just not speaking etiquette!

    • craig:

      Thanks Anna. As always, it’s great to hear from you. Thanks for the adding value to the post (and to the class).

  • Great advice as always, Craig. Thanks for such useful and transformative suggestions!

  • Very useful. Whether trying to motivate people to lose weight, or to influence them in a political campaign or conversation, it’s important to get your audience to see themselves as the actor who will take subsequent action. As opposed to be the receptor repealing your dumped upon advice.

  • Tom Huling:

    Hi Craig,

    Anywhere I can download or purchase all 52 tips (not to be greedy) now? If not, nice job on keeping us (your audience) wanting more. Also, have been listening and enjoying immensely your cd’s I bought at your Story Telling Seminar and am looking forward to Las Vegas. Have incorporated several tips from last seminar into my most recent talk and got some very encouraging feedback specific to those new techniques. Thanks.

    • craig:

      Thank you Tom. It’s great to hear from you. Keep using those tools because they will pay off.

      As for the 52 Speaking Tips, the answer is no. They are designed to be focused on one week at a time. Thanks for the question though. Stay in touch.

  • Jose:

    Thanks Craig. Outstanding as usual. I will make sure to incorporate these guidelines.

  • Sridhar Ranganathan:

    Thank you so much Craig for giving such a detailed answer. You are awesome. I have a script that I am preparing for the contest. I will now make changes and incorporate these 3 guidelines as well.

    Thank you again.

  • Issa:

    thanks a lot Craig, your lessons were really of a good use to me. i am over debited to you, god bless you.

  • my hero, Craig Valentine:)

  • Jacqui Alexis:

    Thank you, Craig. Three valuable speaking guidelines. I will definitely apply them, especially the soft “you”.

  • Sridhar Ranganathan:

    Hi Craig,
    This is wonderful. Another stunning point. Each of the 3 guidelines is so valuable and I am sure it will make it so powerful.

    I have a small doubt. In case – After telling a story about myself and making a point if I intend to call them for action. For example if I give my story on how I did not give up and became successful and if I have to tell them Dont give up, or keep persisting; how do i do that without sounding preaching.

    Kindly advise.

    • craig:

      Great question Sridhar and it’s good to hear from you. What you asked is actually a deeper question that requires a bit of explanation about how to tell your story. I always suggest that you tell stories where someone else (what I call a Guru or hero) gives you a lesson (i.e. don’t give up). So, if you tell the story with that kind of structure, you can finish the story and show how it has benefited you to follow that Guru’s advice and not give up. Then, when you use your Foundational Phrase to drive home the message, you can call-back to your Guru by saying something like, “And remember the words of Mr. H. ‘Don’t give up.'” That way you are not preaching, you are just passing on the lesson that was passed on to you. So a lot has to do with setting up the story so that you are not the hero.

      Another idea is to use questions after your story such as, “What about you? Is there anything you’re planning to give up on? What if you stuck with it?” In other words, ask some questions that get to the point about not giving up. However, if you tell the story the right way, there’s not much need to keep harping on the message. It should be very clear.

  • Very informative. It reinforces what you taught us in Speaker & Prosper 1. I am extremely glad that I got in that first group.

    • craig:

      Thanks Genero. Likewise, I am thrilled that you were in the first group, because you brought so much value to it.

  • Bobbie Johnson:

    Craig, you are a life-saver. I have been looking for this information for over ten years. Thank you so much. Now I can enhance my teaching and reaching and not have to preach. This is priceless information.

  • Thanks Mr Valentine,

    I really get a lot out of the tips you share. I could have used this one before the 2011 World Championship of Public Speaking. Keep them coming I’ve learned a lot.


    Jamel Thomas
    2011 Finalist World Championship of Public Speaking

  • Thanks Criag, that’s an excellent little addition to my growing repertoire. BTW, after listening to your 52 speaking tips I joined a local group of Toastmasters and have now given my Icebreaker speech. 🙂

    • craig:

      Congratulations Roz on joining TI and giving your icebreaker. It was definitely one of the best decisions I ever made and I’m sure it will turn out great for you too.

  • Hey Craig,
    This is the lesson i’ve been looking for. I’ve heard and have given speaches lately that were preachy but couldn’t figure it out. This lesson really helps..
    Take care

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