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What REALLY Makes Joel Osteen An Effective Speaker

19 Jan Posted by in Motivational Speaker | 8 comments

There’s an article in Forbes magazine about why Joel Osteen is such an effective speaker. I’m putting a link to the article at the bottom of this post so you can go read it after you read this if you want. But for now, I will just tell you the reasons the author gave for Joel Osteen’s success on the platform. Why? Because I disagree. In fact, I’m not sure I would list one of these points as the reason for Joel Osteen’s success and impact. You can disagree with me. I’ve certainly been wrong before. But here goes MY take on why Joel Osteen gets the crowds that he does.

Here’s what the article said, and my thoughts on each:

Introduce a theme.   Sorry, but having a theme doesn’t make you a speaker with impact. It makes you a professional speaker – or a teacher. Speaking 101. I’ve heard many speakers who had a theme and still made me want to fake a heart attack to get out of the room.

Tell stories. Being a professional storyteller myself before becoming a motivational speaker, I can not stress enough the value and importance of stories in a speech. But just telling stories doesn’t fit the bill. Again, most speakers are telling stories and their audiences don’t remember them past lunch.

Use humor, sparingly. So you’ll have impact if you use humor in small doses? What does that even mean? Being a comedian, I will sing the praises of humor all day long. Funny sells. Period. No matter what your message. But I don’t think just using humor sparingly is the right answer. It’s about using humor effectively. I’ve seen speakers tell bad jokes that make the audience want to smother them with a pillow. And when a speaker is truly funny, the audience does not want them to stop. Effective humor can be used all the way throughout the speech, even when the topic is serious.

Use parallel sentence structure.  I don’t mean to be mean, but this is just speech writing 101. There are not 16,000 people flocking to see Joel Osteen because he’s got good parallel structure. This is simply a tool used to help the audience remember the points. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I’ve met a lot of speakers with GREAT parallel sentence structure, who should not be in the business of speaking. I’m just saying.

Practice well ahead of time. Practicing a bad speech will not make it a good speech. No matter how hard you practice. I am a FIRM believer in practicing. And we’re back to Public Speaking 101. But Joel has not risen to the top just because he practices – or the top would be a lot more crowded.

Avoid notes. The best speaker I ever saw used notes. the worst I ever saw didn’t. I rest my case.

Inspire your audience. I don’t dispute his point here. Joel does inspire the audience. But if anybody is going to use these points to help them be a more effective communicator, they will have no idea what to do with this one. “Go out! Inspire!” Is like saying “Go Out! Change the world!” It’s broad and doesn’t really mean anything if you look at it closely. As motivational speakers, we all say we want to inspire and motivate people and don’t really have any idea what that looks like – how to use our motives, our words, our actions, and our body language to effectively inspire that audience. If we want to be the kind of motivational/inspirational speaker that draws crowds like Joel Osteen, then we’d better take a deeper look and define “inspiring” an audience.

Now…..Here’s my list of what makes Joel Osteen not just an effective communicator – but the kind of communicator that impacts a tremendous amount of people on a weekly basis – the kind of communicator that changes lives instead of delivering a good speech.

1. The IT Factor (to borrow a term from my friend and speaker, Linda Larsen) – There are some people who just have “IT” – that something extra – that talent that transcends all others – that we notice even when it is new, raw, and unpolished. When you hear that woman sing and just know that she is doing what she was born to do. We can’t go out there and learn or buy an IT factor for ourselves. But I do believe that with a tremendous amount of work and energy, we can get close. Take Michael Jackson for example. He had the IT factor. But he also worked like a fiend – spending hours on just one moment, one dance step, one beat. Watch the movie “This Is It” and you will see what I mean. You don’t have to have the IT factor to be an effective communicator. But you do need it to be in the category of Joel Osteen.

2.   Humor Used Effectively. Joel makes his audience laugh, and that engages them, lowers their defenses, and makes them receptive to the serious message to follow. Joel doesn’t have a list of one-liners or funny Power Point slides. His humor is his personality. He has found what works for him. And work it does.

3.   Humility – From Feeling It to Communicating It.  Joel Osteen is humble. No doubt about it. And it is a sincere humility – or at least the audience perceives it to be sincere. Audiences are smart. They can sniff out someone who is not genuine. Joel isn’t there to make people think he’s perfect – to boast his accomplishments – to give a book report of what he’s done – or to show off his new three-piece suit and diamond cufflinks. Joel makes his audience think that he is just one of them – that they are as good as he is. It is my opinion that a powerful speaker/leader/communicator is humble – that it’s part of his motive, his walk and his talk. But being humble is not the same thing as communicating that humility to an audience. I’m sure there are humble speakers out there with a genuine humble spirit, who have been coached to memorize a speech that is void of humility. Is Joel really humble when the lights are turned off and the stadium is empty? Who knows. The point is that the audience perceives him to be humble. And they can’t see his heart. They can only see what he shows them.

4. Humanity – Everything is about the audience, not the speaker.  I see so many speakers whose entire speech is about them, and never about the audience.  Of course, the speaker talks about himself, he doesn’t know the audience. I get it. All my shows are about me – I’m the only one up there. Who else would I talk about? But there must be something more. A speaker must go beyond talking about themselves – to serving the audience. What does this mean for them? What’s in it for them? How does this apply to them? The turning point of my career came when I stopped focusing on my performance, and started focusing on how I made them feel – about themselves. Serving others – constantly focusing on what’s in it for them – makes us better communicators, speakers, sales people, leaders, CEO’s, and even parents. And like I said before – just feeling it isn’t enough. You must craft your words and your presentation so that your language (verbal and body) reflects that motive to the audience. Again, I know many speakers who really do care about serving their audience – in fact, it’s why they’re doing this – but they wrote a speech that didn’t reflect that. I know, this sounds hard, and like it will take a lot of work. Which  is exactly why it’s not very crowded at the top – but extremely crowded at the bottom.

5.  Stories Crafted, Placed, and Told Effectively.  I was a professional storyteller before I turned into a motivational speaker. Professional storytelling is the art of taking a story and breathing life into it for an audience. It’s not reading. It’s not reciting. It’s the art of taking your audience into that story – of making them get lost in it. Some people are naturally good at this – I can probably count them on one hand. Most of us need to work at it. If you think just telling a story will make you the kind of speaker Joel Osteen is – think again. There are lot of speakers out there telling stories that do nothing to give their speech impact. You must find the story that will mean something to the audience – craft it so that it is tight and powerful – place it in the right moment of the speech – and tell it like it is real and happening in that moment.  Some speakers just aren’t going to work that hard – and they will still be good speakers, maybe even great speakers. But if they polished those stories to have more impact, it will only work to their advantage.

6. Passion. Joel Osteen is passionate about his message. This one is tricky. And I’m not sure I can define passion, or tell you how to craft your words to reflect it. Maybe it’s all a mental thing – what you tell yourself before you get up on the platform – what you feed your mind about the value you bring to that group. Many of us are excited about our message, but none of that excitement is reflected in our speech or our sales presentation. Maybe we’re afraid. Maybe we’re too focused on technique. Maybe we memorized a script that wasn’t written from a passionate perspective. All I can say is this – Passion is contagious. If you believe what you’re selling me from that platform, so will I.

7. Authenticity.  I also call this the “unique” factor – the something different in your approach that gets my attention.  My entire message is based on the idea that in order to succeed in business and in life, we have to stand up and stick out. That it’s not being better that makes us have impact – it’s being different.  As speakers we have come to look alike. We must figure out what makes us unique – what is our own personal brand that nobody else can deliver but us. And it’s not about being different just to be different. Wearing a lime green suit doesn’t do you much good if there’s not much value to it. Seek different with value. And Joel Osteen is different. Look at how most preachers/pastors deliver their message – now look at how Joel Osteen does it. Everything from his delivery to the message is something they don’t hear at the other church down the street. And he’s authentic – the message is true to him. People don’t want to be sold. And they don’t want speakers who are fake and canned. They want speakers who are real. We will believe and trust the speaker if we feel like we know them.

Okay. I’m through venting. Those are just the thoughts I could not keep to myself. I’d be happy to hear yours. If I don’t respond, it’s because the author of the article saw this post and hunted me down and killed me.

Here’s the link below to the article in Forbes magazine.

Link to Forbes article:


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  1. Linda Larsen01-19-12

    Wow, Kelly. Old Forbes should have gotten YOUR article first methinks. Seriously good. Seriously. I think you should send this to another magazine. Send it to Congress. Send it to the National Speakers Association. Send it somewhere where more people will see it!

  2. dana12-12-12

    I completely agree with you. You are a fabulous writer among other things. Thank you for sharing!


    I really get happy whenever I read and listen to Joel’s stories he has so many people walking with him and I thank GOD for that wonderful gift to Joel Osteen,may God bless you and add you guys more life so that we can keep on growing stronger in our faith under your help by giving us direction .Thanks a lot.

  4. Bill02-12-13

    Excellent analysis; better than Forbes’.

  5. Bhavi04-04-15

    Excellent writeup. He is such a sincere, charismatic person and his words are in sync with his persona. At the same time, what you outlined are precisely reasons his wife comes across as a completely fake, inauthentic, boastful (no humility), and insincere showoff. In fact she often says the same words as Joel – as Lakewood has a distinct verbal style to it, but the way she is as a person and her delivery, it comes off in a negative way and has the opposite effect as when Joel says it. Turns out she was sued for rude and bad behavior on a flight which doesn’t surprise me one bit. So she comes off as a bad character in contrast.

  6. kelly04-04-15

    Very interesting take on the wife! I have heard the stories myself. It is a striking contrast.

  7. David09-10-15

    Great article. Authenticity spoke to me the most. I’m looking forward to applying all your points to my sermons and becoming the best communicator of Gods word that I can be. God bless you.

  8. kelly09-10-15

    Hey David,

    Glad you found value in the article. I can’t imagine having to write a sermon EVERY WEEK. My pastor says that’s one of the hardest parts of his job. Not sure if this helps….but here are the six ingredients that boost my impact on stage as a motivational speaker. (Side note: We both know that the Holy Spirit has the biggest impact of all).
    My six secrets…
    Humor….People love to laugh. Humor really opens hearts. You have to be extra careful in church – but humor still works if it’s clean and appropriate. Our pastors use it all the time. Humor shares universal experiences – authentic real experiences.
    Story….Giving advice has a pushing action. Telling a story has a pulling action. Story allows your listener to “try on” your Truth. I guess that’s why God used so many stories to impact and teach.
    Humility……..As speakers are are coached to act like we have all the answers. I disagree. I don’t want to be on a pedestal above them – I want a seat beside them. Claiming my imperfection is the fastest way into their heart and their trust.
    Humanity…….While I often get way too wrapped up in what I want to say – I try to spend more time thinking about what they need to hear. Not to manipulate. But to speak to the things they are thinking on their pillow at night. (Again….Holy Spirit is a big help in guiding me.)
    Passion…….This is a tricky one. You can’t fake passion or learn it. It comes from really believing what you are saying, and making sure your words and your gestures REFLECT that. I’ve seen lots of speakers who looked bored to death. I want to be very excited about what I’m saying. Sometimes I have to mentally get there – even when I don’t feel it.
    Something Different……….We live in a crowded world with lots of “noise” and distractions. I truly believe that to be heard above the noise, we must give them an experience they remember. So I’m always looking for ways to get their attention and do something different. There are lots of ways to craft that sermon in a “different” way. Lots of ways to shake up where you stand, props, etc. And there are MANY ways to tell a story. I love to get their attention. I need to get their attention. This Truth is too important for them to miss.

    Hope this helps. I’m in a secular world mostly, giving speeches. But God’s handwriting is scrawled ALL OVER IT. Quite exciting to see how He works in places He’s not “allowed” to be in.

    And…at the end of the day…..He does all the work. We just try to get out of His way.

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