I took a public speaking course in high school because I figured that, one day, I actually might have to speak in public and I dreaded the thought.
My section of the class had about 18 students which, to me, certainly constituted in public. But when it came time to give my first speech, I was well prepared—it was a 3-5 minute “demonstration speech.” I volunteered to go first because that gave me extra credit, and I knew that the pain of waiting, no matter how short, would go beyond what I could bear.
This was my speech: “Today we will hear a demonstration of trumpet playing. Ray, could you come up here and demonstrate?” And my dear friend Ray pulled out his trumpet and played for the next two minutes and fifty-five seconds. That was it. Really.
In other words, when I give suggestions about public speaking, I am writing as someone who is not at all gifted—but I have grown.
Here are some things I’ve learned.
1. I do not naturally enjoy being in front of people, but I do enjoy talking about things that have helped me and could be helpful to others. The key: I must be edified by what I am saying. If I don’t enjoy and profit from it, I might as well apologize right up front, go home, do some repenting, and ask for prayer that Scripture would be fresh and powerful in my life.
2. Scripture is just plain beautiful. God has determined to use words to communicate to us, and the writers of Scripture were word designers. I too want to offer, as much as I am able, attractive and memorable words and images.
3. A student once said, “You brought energy to class today.” In other words, “You are usually drop dead boring but you seemed more lively for a change.” He reminded me that, when working with the living Word, there is no room for monotony or lack of enthusiasm.
4. Since I get marked down by students for clarity, I am always working to be more clear, more simple, more coherent.
5. I try to cover less material. What is the one point?…the one point?
6. I avoid long introductions. A congregant graciously suggested that I cut back on my introduction after a sermon which I was going to preach again in a half hour. The second sermon was probably ten minutes shorter and ten times easier to follow.
7. I have forgotten my notes more than once, and those times seemed to go better, so I use fewer notes or no notes at all. My colleagues and I have discussed this and fewer notes is not for everyone, but I will probably stick with it. If I can’t remember what I am saying, then no one else will either.
The advantages to no notes?
- I have to think of what I am saying as one coherent piece rather than a number of points.
- I talk to people rather than figure out where I am in my notes.
- I delete long quotes, which everyone appreciates
The disadvantages? I always forget something I planned to say.
8. As with the written word, I edit. I try to cut out everything that doesn’t directly support the main point. Edit, edit, edit. No one minds if the speaker finishes early.
Growth is a fine thing, whether that growth is spiritual, learning new skills, or in this case, a composite of the two. No longer do I wish that Ray was in the wings ready to bail me out, but there have been a few times when I wanted to ask a colleague to come up and clarify the mess that I just created.