Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Biggest Problem with Speakers

It's just after seven o'clock in the morning and I'm desperately waiting for the caffeine to kick in from the mug of coffee I'm gripping in my left hand.

In my right hand I'm holding a pen and sketching out some possible ways to structure a training seminar.

I don't normally start work so early; I'm ordinarily readying for the school run at this hour.

But Emi, one of the guys in the Bucharest cohort of our Chrysolis Academy training program for Christian communicators, has asked me round to help him develop the interactive elements of two sessions he is teaching this weekend at a local church's men's retreat.

Emi, like many people I am working with here, also has a regular job (he's in management) and so we had to grab a couple of hours together going over his material before he headed off to the office.

As I coach people like Emi in their speaking, both in Romania and elsewhere, it's interesting how often the same issues arise.

You might think the biggest problem I encounter would be that people don't have great things to say, or that they are theologically off-beam, or perhaps just plain ungifted.

Actually, though, the number one difficulty I come across is that people struggle to structure a message well.

Take the three boxes in the photo below as a very basic structure for a message about Jesus:

The first part is the most straightforward: It is relatively easy to teach someone to connect with an audience and their concerns. Most thoughtful Christians are fairly sensitive to those they are addressing and do this well.

The problem almost invariably hits in the second section. The gospel. Two errors are common here.

The first is that many communicators shift style completely. Having begun their message with great stories and good humour they suddenly shift into an abstract, philosophical or preachy mode when they begin focusing on the gospel. All the good work of winning over the audience is lost.

So I spend a lot of time trying to help people retain a consistency of style. You can use stories and humour to communicate the gospel as well as to connect with your audience, and this is a skill which can be learned and honed. Learning to tell a story well is one the key capacities of an effective evangelistic speaker.

The other problem I find when people share the gospel is the tendency to try and say too much. They attempt to explain every single thing they know about sin, Jesus and the atonement. When you try to say everything, though, your audience usually hears (or at least retains) nothing. Five things are mentioned quickly with limited depth and none sticks. So I work with people to identify the one core thing they want to explore with their audience and focus on that.

A consistently engaging style and simple focused content, then, are two of the major things I am seeking to develop in those Romanian communicators with whom am working.

Emi (right), thankfully, is a good storyteller and an increasingly focused communicator. But you can always improve in this area, so our bleary-eyed breakfast was a helpful exercise for him as he readied himself for the following weekend.

It turned out to go really well - just last weekend I was at a party where I ran into someone who had attended the retreat and told me how affected they were by Emi's message. What Emi was saying had come across very clearly and made an impact.

Structure matters. Because it enables us to speak of Jesus in ways which interest and engage people who might not otherwise consider him. How could you tweak your mode of speaking to make your messages more coherent and therefore more compelling? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Luke Cawley is Director of
Chrysolis and author of:

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