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How to Win a Crowd, and Other Lessons I Learned From a Coptic Orthodox Priest

How to Win a Crowd, and Other Lessons I Learned From a Coptic Orthodox Priest

In September 2013 I had the privilege of attending The One Conference at St. Peter's University in New Jersey.

This conference was designed to bring together youth and their leaders from every Orthodox jurisdiction in order to fellowship together and “be strangers no more.”

It was an incredible experience! There were over a thousand students present, representing both the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches. I personally met students from Coptic, Indian, and OCA backgrounds, and there were also three Bishops present, one from each of these groups!

The keynote speaker was Fr. Anthony Messeh.

I met Fr. Anthony the night before, but other than that he was a Coptic Orthodox Priest, all I knew about him was that he had been a speaker at OCF College Conference the previous December.

At the conference, every student I met was excited that Fr. Anthony was going to speak. Only moments after he took over the stage, I understood.

Fr. Anthony's theme regarded the difference between knowledge and intimacy of God. It was a great theme, and I was furiously taking notes, but before long I was taking two sets of notes. One set on the content, and another on his presentation style.

Every eye in that room followed Fr. Anthony's movements on stage. Every ear in that room heard each word that he spoke. Every person in that room was eager to glean wisdom from his presentation.

This is an Orthodox leader,” I thought.

Some elements of effective presentation come from natural talent. Most elements come directly from the technique. I would venture that Fr. Anthony relies on a mix of both.

These are the techniques I took note of during that Saturday morning presentation, in hopes I could replicate them in my own presentations:

1. Stick to brief, concise slides

I've heard this advice before, but Fr. Anthony executed this technique without a hitch. He used one slide with a graphic and maybe 2-3 words for at least five minutes of presentation. This meant that people weren't stuck reading the screen, they were watching him speak.

2. Know your audience

Between referencing Facebook & Twitter (where incidentally, he has more than 4,000 followers) and using casual, youthful language like “you guys” and “totally” it was clear that Fr. Anthony knew his audience.

His familiarity with the digital culture of today hit home when he used an ecard to make a point. The audience was primarily made up of young, tech-savvy youth who were interested in relatable stories.

In the new culture of sharing, personal insight is more relevant than ever—as long as the message is genuine and practical. Fr. Anthony's personal anecdotes, relating his marriage to our relationship with God, made a clear impact.

3. Engage your audience

Fr. Anthony didn't just mentally engage his audience by sharing his message, he also physically engaged them.

He began his talk by greeting everyone in a personal manner (very different from the formal introductions we're all used to) and then jumped straight into asking direct questions.

He asked for a show of hands for those who struggled with self-deception, or those who knew someone who did. Rather than stop there, he gave specific examples (such as “Do you know someone who thinks they can sing, but really can't?”), and for each example he asked for a show of hands.

By the time he started explaining the importance of this concept, the audience was already connected, engaged, and believed that it was relevant to them.

4. Break your stereotype

Fr. Anthony is a well-known speaker and blogger, but he is also an Orthodox Priest.

Despite the respect given him due to his office and his popularity, I saw him let deference and praise wash over him like a cool breeze: he didn't even acknowledge it, he just kept smiling.

He was casual and upbeat, while at the same time very candid about the importance of his message to every person in the audience. He walked, talked, gestured, and laughed on stage.

All these points came together smoothly, to the point where his talk didn't feel like a lecture, it felt like a conversation.

Question: What techniques have you seen used to engage an audience?