Khutbah Secrets from 3 Public Speaking World Champions

Anyone involved in delivering an address to the community by way of khutbah, halaqah, or even teaching Sunday School is practicing the craft of public speaking.

One way to improve your speaking skills is by studying what others do well that resonates and connects with audiences. With that in mind, I am sharing 3 videos of first place winners from the Toastmasters Public Speaking World Championship along with a few brief things to look for in each video.

Notice how he begins the speech with a “knowledge gap” (see: Made to Stick). This is the most effective way to gain the audience’s attention. You pose a question that creates a ‘gap’ in the knowledge of the audience. It doesn’t have to be mind boggling, it simply needs to pique their curiosity.

By asking, “Why is this story unbelievable?” you now want to know the answer to this question. It also sets expectations and lets the audience know what to listen for. Many khutbahs are about a general topic (e.g. forgiveness) but lack a clear message or point that the audience can pick up on. A knowledge gap signals to them what to look for, and when the question is answered, they know what the speech was about.

The speaker does a great job of ‘closing the loop’ in this speech by not only answering the question posed, but doing it in a way that is of concern and significance to those listening.

The entire speech is predicated on a personal story. Personal stories are extremely effective as long as you avoid the trap of making yourself the hero. I sat through a speech once where the speaker began reminiscing about a young boy who had all these hopes and dreams and eventually came to America to become a surgeon and now was successful .. and you guessed it, he was talking about himself. Even if well intentioned, it comes across as pretentious.

In this speech he relates the personal story where he is the main character, but the hero is someone else.

Pay close attention to how he repeats the message throughout the speech - when I have a mission, I take it seriously - and uses that message to tie together his story with the conclusion.

Pay special attention to how he utilizes pauses throughout the talk. The pause is an underrated element of public speaking. Many people make the mistake of talking faster, talking louder, or making exaggerated hand gestures to emphasize a point. The pause is a much more calm, collected, and sophisticated way of emphasizing without looking like you’ve lost control of yourself.

He uses different types of examples to reiterate his core message. This is effective because different types of examples resonate with different types of people. This affords the benefit of making your message “stick” in someone’s mind by means of repetition, while avoiding being redundant.

Another technique he uses is lowering his voice to capture attention. When he describes the phone call between his friend and his father, notice how he lowers his voice and the effect it has.

He covers multiple anecdotes and stories in this talk and yet none of them are tangents. This is because they are all tied together by the core theme of what makes you special.

Pay attention to his storytelling. The bullet point version of the stories are not that interesting. It is when he adds small, seemingly insignificant details, that the story comes to life.

He brings high energy and passion to his speech. Compare that to the other speakers. What I want you to notice here is that there isn’t one particular energy style that is more effective than the other. Each speaker is charismatic in their own way by speaking in a way that fits their natural persona.

What did you notice in these speeches that stood out?