"If you don't know anything about it," he added, "why are you up there? Why am I being asked to waste my time listening to you?"

Good point. In fact, it's a great point.

If asked to speak about something I know zero about, I should do one of two things: decline, or accept the invitation and set out to learning the subject. In either case, then, I would not be telling the audience "I know nothing about this." However....

In the last two seminary classes I have taught--on Worship Leadership and Interpersonal Relationship Skills--I began the opening session by saying: "The seminary did not ask me to teach this because I know a lot about it. They asked me because I have a great burden for it." I hope I was not undermining my effectiveness.

So, what's the beginning speaker/preacher to do? I'm glad you asked.

1. Practice, practice, practice.

While driving or walking, go over what you plan to say. Get it so clear in your mind that you will be able to go straight into the message, stay on point, clear out the clutter, and end effectively.

2. Ask your wife or another close friend.

You can benefit from having someone who loves you listen closely to what you plan to say and give you their honest appraisal. If your insecurities do not allow you to receive honest feedback, you should decline the opportunity to speak because your assignment is an accident waiting to happen.

As we said above, no matter what your friend or your spouse says, take it seriously. If you question it, talk to the Lord about it. Also, enlist another friend to listen and give you feedback without telling them about the earlier advice you received.

3. Try rearranging your message.

Unless you are delivering that talk in the next 24 hours, you have time to try different ways of approaching the subject. Try telling a story up front, try going straight to your text, try the confessional approach. Try telling your illustration in different ways. Go for brevity and see if that works.

See if you can deliver this talk and come in several minutes under the time limit assigned to you. Do this and you will make several friends for life.

Pastor Mike told me of the time he gave a man five minutes to deliver a talk in church. "We practiced it," he said, "and it still didn't work."

"He stood at the pulpit and talked for 37 minutes!"

"Afterward, he had no clue. He actually asked me, 'How did I do timewise?' I said, 'You took 37 minutes, my friend. You probably noticed that I didn't preach today.'"

Mike added, "I was a young pastor then. And didn't know how to handle it."

I said, "Now, you would interrupt and cut him off."

"No," he said. "I interview them. It allows me to keep control of the time element."

Good point. As with most lessons in the Lord's work, we learn them through failure and difficulty.

It's a good thing to encourage laymen to speak publicly. But they should never have the pulpit turned over to them without guidance and assistance.

This is my attempt to help. Feel free to pass it along to your favorite beginning speakers/preachers.