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As a student of public speaking, I’m always watching and analyzing how people communicate. Whether it’s on television, at a play, or just sitting in Starbucks, there are certain key ingredients to effective communication. The list can be rather long: presence, voice, style, word choice, authenticity, structure, content … we could keep going.

One distinction I’ve been reflecting on lately has been the difference between communicating in order to influence and communicating simply to inform.

As a pastor and preacher, my natural bent is to communicate to influence. That’s not to say we don’t inform. We certainly do. In fact, to truly influence requires solid information otherwise the influence will be short-lived, perhaps even harmful.

Here’s a mistake I see many communicators make: they desire to influence but simply inform.

Every public speaker has to be clear about the goal of their speech — if it is to influence or inform. A talk that seeks to influence will be structured differently than one that simply wants to inform. Influential talks contain a clear call to action. An informative speech doesn’t have to worry about a clear challenge or decision; the goal is different.

Simply giving an audience the right information isn’t necessarily influencing them to do anything about it. Unfortunately, good information alone isn’t enough to change a person. You must tap into motivation, needs, expectations, and more. An influential talk will convince the audience action is needed, not just suggested.

Early in your preparation, you’ll need to answer the question of intent: influence or inspire? It will shape your research, structure, and presentation. It will bring clarity to your thoughts.

Not knowing the intent of a speech is a common mistake that inexperienced communicators make. Don’t let that happen to you!