2013 Conference Reflection by Jan Symonds: “Public Speaking Start to Finish” taught by Michelle Hollomon and Laura Smith

Jan Symonds shares her NCWA Renewal conference experience.


Jan Symonds picI leaned forward eagerly at the recent Northwest Christian Writers Renewal at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, WA.  My striped yellow notepad lay open and ready for note taking action. I won’t say I was desperate to hear what the tag team of Laura Smith and Michelle Hollomon had to say on the subject of public speaking, but I was certainly invested. A rookie speaker myself, I had a speaking engagement the next morning and a niggling suspicion my prepared talk was missing a key ingredient.

Okay—maybe I was desperate.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Michelle Hollomon introduced herself first. A licensed counselor and host of “Relationship Coach Radio” on Alive in Christ Radio Network, she set the audience at ease with her slightly self-deprecating humor and gentle empathy. She set the tone for the workshop— a “crash course in public speaking.”  Her outline included how to get gigs, prepare for speaking, develop a “signature message,” give God the glory, not freak out, and evaluate presentations.

Then she handed the speaking baton to Laura Smith, NCWA’s Speakers’ Connection Coordinator, author, corporate presenter, and retreat speaker.  Smith’s style is reserved, mission focused, and information-wealthy. Her nuggets included telling who you are, speaking to the audience as though you’re speaking to one person, and seeking volunteer opportunities in preparation for paid ones—“Nothing is below me if I’m in God’s service.” She reminded us whatever the audience size, God may have sent us to the one person who desperately needs to hear our message. She cautioned us never to apologize for our lack of speaking expertise and to practice, practice, practice.

Hollomon spoke about how to handle our inner critic and find our personal style, recognizing God made each of us for His unique purposes.  She encouraged us to seek loving critics who will tell us the truth about our speaking brilliance as well as our foibles, to cherish encouraging comments, filter out the not-useful, and refuse to brood on things that are out of our control.

Smith said being a speaker begins with telling people we are one and marketing ourselves using business cards, websites, blogs, and info sheets. Every speaking opportunity begins with prayer—knowing God’s will regarding our participation is crucial to accepting engagements. A prayer team is a recommended and valuable component.

Hollomon’s magic formula is to begin speeches with a funny story about herself.  She digs into Scripture for the bulk of her talk and finishes with an inspirational story she hopes will move her audience to action.

Tips from both women about dress, event planning, expectations, anxiety, and feedback concluded the presentation—all in all, a mother lode of speaker’s tools and tips.

By the end, I knew exactly what was missing in my own talk scheduled less than 24 hours later: I needed to address my audience’s real needs as well as their felt needs.  Thanks to Hollomon and Smith, my speech had more audience take-away—and I didn’t put anyone to sleep.


Jan Symonds is a writer, artist, speaker, former shepherdess and college English instructor. She lives and works beside a saltwater creek in Kitsap County where she and her husband tend gardens, grandchildren, and guests. Her mission and joy is to share the healing and transformational love of Jesus.


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