Talking is a Gift

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My Mentor and Me

Last week I said goodbye to a wonderful, godly woman who made such an impact on my life! I wanted to share an article with all of you about all the life lessons I learned from the precious JoAnn Leavell.

Rhonda and JoAnn photo 2009 DSC_5475

JoAnn Leavell My Mentor and Me

(click the link above for the PDF)

Connecting with the Audience

One important task of preparing to speak is planning to establish and maintain a personal connection with the audience. In his book, The Empowered Communicator, Calvin Miller discusses seven keys to unlocking an audience. He suggests that a speaker follow seven specific steps to better understand the audience and encourage connection.[1]

  1. Build a speaker-listener relationship. It is the speaker’s responsibility to connect with the audience.
  2. Step over the ego barrier. The speaker must be transparent and put aside focus on self.
  3. Promise your hearers usable information and keep your promise with content. A speech must actually contain the relevant material promised by the speaker.
  4. Create tension and resolution. Attention must be gained then released when information has been presented.
  5. Construct a pyramid of priorities. Listeners prioritize truth, interest, and inspiration. Speakers should be sensitive to these desires and respond intentionally.
  6. Make sure they hear through a “trinity of audio values.” Three vocal dynamics impact presentation: projection, dynamic, and pause.
  7. Kill interest-lag through six values of mobility or movement. Six values should be considered:
    • change everything on the spot – Spontaneous editing is often needed during a speech to adjust timing and content.
    • change what isn’t working – Adjustments and revisions may improve understanding by the listeners.
    • pull from accessible back file – Past knowledge or experience may assist a speaker in the moment.
    • casually ask for attention – A speaker may need to call for attention from the audience if minds seem to be wandering or distractions occur.
    • heighten projection – Increased volume or stress may refocus listeners.
    • quit early – Stop speaking before the audience stops listening. There is never such a thing as a bad short sermon or message

I am constantly in awe of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life as I stand to speak His message. Though I carefully prepare my material and plan specific illustrations or personal examples, the Lord often brings to my mind an experience or story while I am speaking that I have not consciously thought about in a long time. I share the God-given illustration and realize later that someone in the audience made a powerful connection with that account. The Holy Spirit, who always knows the audience, can pull from your past experience or previous knowledge to speak His Word directly to each person in the audience.

The most effective public speakers will exert effort ahead of time getting to know the audience and the occasion as well as preparing material. During the message, an excellent speaker responds to feedback from the audience, often editing and adjusting the speech in mid-message. When speaker-listener connection is maintained from the opening comment to the closing word, the outcome of the message will be positive.

Preparation for a speech is a challenging task. No two audiences are alike. No two occasions are alike. No two speakers are alike. In addition, the same speaker is different every time she speaks. Diligent work and dependence on the Holy Spirit is essential for a public speaker preparing to give a message. Face the challenge as you focus on your audience before you stand up to speak for them!

            [1] Calvin Miller, The Empowered Communicator: 7 Keys to Unlocking an Audience (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 11-206.

Running the Race

Discipline is not a pleasant topic for most people. It is difficult to discipline others, but it is even more challenging to discipline oneself. However, discipline is necessary to maintain order in life, relationships and as a public speaker! The ability to motivate oneself and exert willpower is a basic trait needed personally and professionally. Scripture admonishes believers to “run the race with endurance” – not tiring in our pursuit of Christ-likeness (Hebrews 12:1).  In 1 Timothy 4:7-9, the apostle Paul reminds the Christian of the importance of being disciplined in godliness:

But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, For the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.

Self-discipline is important in the speaker’s preparation of a message. Personal willpower is needed to contemplate research, organize material, and plan a speech. Many other interests and activities are distractions when thoughts should be focused on the upcoming message to be given or lesson to be taught. Discipline yourself to work on your speech and be prepared to deliver it to the best of your ability.

Discipline is needed in all areas of life in order to maintain balance and ensure healthy growth. Specific goals must be established to promote spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and social discipline. A Christian speaker should be committed to developing the disciplines of a godly life and seek to have:

  1. A disciplined heart
  2. A disciplined body
  3. A disciplined mind
  4. A disciplined routine[1]

The heart of a person must be pure and holy, focused on following the Lord and obeying His commands. The body of a person must be healthy and fit, adhering to proper nutrition and regular fitness. The mind of a person must be increasing in wisdom and knowledge, through listening and learning. The routine of a person must be systematic and balanced, setting aside time to pursue growth in all areas of life. These disciplines promote balanced growth in an individual and in a God-called public speaker.

A Christian must employ personal willpower in order to develop discipline but also has the added resource of the Holy Spirit’s power. A speaker who wants to proclaim a message from the Lord has an even greater responsibility to maintain a disciplined life. It is not a personal word but His divine Word to be communicated. A disciplined person will become a more disciplined speaker. The combination of personal willpower, God’s supernatural power, and people’s persuasive power will help Christians and speakers alike develop and maintain the discipline needed for life and ministry. The discipline of a public speaker “yields the fruit of peace and righteousness” to those who hear the message! Challenge yourself to become a more disciplined speaker and believer in 2015!

            [1] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 72-81.

            [2] Rhonda H. Kelley, Divine Discipline: How to Develop and Maintain Self-Control (Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1992), 67-103.

Barriers to Good Listening

Are you a good listener? Most Americans are poor listeners. Litfin explains that we are an EYE-oriented culture rather than EAR-oriented. Americans prefer visual input, especially young people who have grown up with electronic technology. The people in cultures where there is no written language or high incidences of illiteracy are EAR-oriented. In our culture, we say, “Can I have a copy of that?” or “I need to see it in writing.” We prefer “reading and storage” over “listening well and remembering.”[1] We must work harder on listening when it doesn’t come as naturally. Attention and listening skills are better in cultures that must depend on hearing and memory for information.

Common barriers to good listening include the following:[2]

  1. passive listening – Many people are lazy listeners. Listening is active, involving interaction of the listener and speaker in the process.
  2. interrupting – Many listeners are impatient to wait for the comment to end and eager to speak themselves. Conversation requires give and take; listening, then speaking.
  3. assumptions – People have a tendency to jump to a conclusion before a speaker finishes a thought. Making a wrong assumption is like jumping to a confusion!
  4. self-focus – In this “me–generation,” people are more interested in what they have to say than what others are saying. Listening requires focus on the speaker, not on self.
  5. past intrusion – Previous experiences or past failures may influence a listener. A good listener must be “in the moment” in order to understand the speaker.
  6. distraction – Drifting thoughts and poor attention hinder good listening. Distractions can be internal or external. Listeners must focus on the words being spoken in order to listen completely and correctly.
  7. defensiveness – Listeners may react strongly when they disagree or have another opinion. This verbal response has been described as duelogue vs. dialogue. Duelogue implies two people fighting with words as their weapons.[3]

Identifying one’s personal barriers to good listening is an important move in controlling these hindrances so listening may improve. Knowing personal weaknesses in listening is the first step toward improving listening skills.

Distraction is probably my biggest barrier to good listening. I am highly distracted internally by thoughts of everything I have to do. I am distracted externally by sights and sounds around me. When my husband and I go out to dinner, my natural desire is to face everyone and everything in the restaurant because of my curiosity. But to give Chuck my undivided attention, I must sit facing him–and maybe the wall–to tune out the distractions around me.

The Bible teaches about the importance of listening and warns against hasty speech. In James 1:19, the apostle admonishes: “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Commentary in the Life Application Bible for this verse includes an exercise for overcoming barriers to good listening. “Put a mental stopwatch on your conversations and keep track of how much you talk and how much you listen. In your conversations, do others feel that their viewpoints and ideas have been valued?”[4] Effective communicators break down personal barriers to listening in order to build up people while focusing on their messages. Have you been able to identify your own barriers to good listening? How can you become a more effective communicator by being a better listener?

            [1] Litfin, Public Speaking, 42.

            [2] Gronbeck et al., Principles of Speech Communication, 36-37.

            [3] “Duelogue,” http://www.examiner.com/article/monologue-dialogue-or-duelogue-how-savvy-are-you (cited 3 March 2013) examiner.com (Clarity Digital Group LLC, 2013).

            [4] Tyndale House, Life Application Bible: New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1987), 604.

“Lay Your Nose On The Altar”

I had the honor of writing another article for SBC Life this month, and would love to share it with you all! It centers on how to keep Christ at the center of our lives, so that we may always be ready for an opportunity to TALK of His truth. Click here to read the article on the SBC Life website!

Misunderstandings about Public Speaking

Because the process of communication is so complex, it is often misunderstood. It would simplify matters if a person could convey thoughts telepathically to another person. If thoughts did not have to be formulated in a speaker’s brain, expressed through that speaker’s words, transmitted through the air, perceived through the listener’s ears, understood in the listener’s mind, and responded to verbally by the listener, a message would always be understood. But that is not possible. Instead, God created humans to have thoughts and feelings which, to be understood by others, must be expressed in words. The complexity of communication requires study and practice throughout the lifespan.

Many counseling books unveil the critical need for communication within marriage. For years, during pre-martial counseling, my (Monica) father would place three rocks before the couple, signifying the three foundations of a marriage. One of those rocks stood for the critical need to communicate (connection); the others for communion (intimacy) and cooperation (marital roles). Married couples certainly benefit from the mastery of communication.

While there are numerous misunderstandings about communication, Duane Litfin presents three common ones in his book, Public Speaking: A Handbook for Christians.[1] These misunderstandings can confuse both the speaker and the listener.

Misunderstanding 1: Each act of communication is separate and discrete and can be studied as such. The truth is that communication is a complicated, interactive process.

Misunderstanding 2: Communication is linear in the sense that a message travels one way from a source to a receiver. The truth is that human communication is circular. It begins with a spoken word and continues with further interactions.

Misunderstanding 3: The speaker transfers thought to the listeners. The truth is the listener filters information through personal perspective in order to understand the message spoken.

These misunderstandings reflect the complexity of the process of communication. Though complex, communication is an essential interaction among humans to convey messages, build relationships, and serve others. Understanding these myths about communication will improve overall communication and strengthen relationships.

Seven Pinker, and Paul Bloom declared, “Speaking is innate, writing is an invention.”[2] Oral communication has several distinctive components which contrast it from written communication.[3]  These differences must be considered when speaking verbally. First, oral communication tends to be more direct than written expression. Nonverbal cues can clarify meaning while more description is necessary in writing. Second, oral communication tends to be more repetitive or redundant than written discourse. Readers can refer back to information that is written, while listeners need repetition for better understanding. Third, oral communication tends to be more fragmentary. Written language includes complete thoughts and sentences. Fourth, oral communication tends to be more personal. Readers typically include a variety of people not only those close enough to listen personally. One needs to be aware of these distinctives when preparing to speak. Information needs to be delivered to be heard, not read.

One of my (Monica) favorite Bible verses is Psalm 45:1,  “My heart is moved by a noble theme as I recite my verses to the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” I love to write and find I am able to express on paper what is often difficult to express aloud. When I turned twelve years old, I started keeping a prayer journal. I would write out my prayers. Journaling became a daily discipline for me and helped me to articulate on paper what I was thinking about or struggling with each day. I found in my writing that I was much more detailed when I wrote out my prayers on paper than when I prayed out loud. However, when I have been asked to pray at a women’s event or small group setting, I never hand out copies of a prayer to be read by everyone. I speak them out loud to the Lord on behalf of the women in the group. As women hear what is spoken out loud, there is a connection. Words spoken out loud are different than words written out on paper.

According to Litfin, there are several distinct advantages of public speaking.  First, important messages must often be communicated to a large number of people. It is much more practical and beneficial for a major thought to be shared one time to a larger group than many times one-to-one. Second, a public speech is a message which can be organized and prepared by the speaker. Thoughtful preparation increases the clarity and improves the effectiveness of the communication. Third, a public speech allows the ideas to be heard by the listeners who can postpone a response until the ideas are fully understood.[4] While spontaneous, interpersonal conversation will always be a part of daily life and church ministry, skilled public speaking can enhance the message delivery among groups and even among individuals. What misconceptions do you encounter about public speaking?

            [1] Duane Litfin, Public Speaking: A Handbook for Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 19-21.

            [2] S. Pinker, and P.Bloom.”Natural language and natural selection,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13, 4 (1990), 707–784.

            [3] Litfin, Public Speaking, 275-77.

            [4] Litfin, Public Speaking, 27.

The Last Word on Drama

When drama is used effectively in public speaking, there are many advantages. But all of us have been in a service or at an event where the drama didn’t play out quite so well. So, this week, we provide you with a few important things to consider when planning to utilize the dramatic arts! Also, see below for resources to get you started!

There are some disadvantages of drama in public speaking. Both the audience and the speaker may struggle with creativity in communication. When taken to the extreme, any of these factors can become disadvantages of the dramatic arts in public speaking.

  • Overuse – Drama should be used occasionally as a special feature rather than using it often.
  • Mediocrity – If used, drama should be well done. The only thing worse than no drama is bad drama. “Bathrobe drama” is the term for bad drama, implying drama by untrained performers using ideas and materials at hand.
  • Overspending – Expenses for dramatic productions mount rapidly. Avoid exceeding the budget and causing financial pressure.
  • Shock Factor – Dramatization should be used in good taste to avoid making the audience uncomfortable. Shock usually detracts from the message.
  • Special Effects – “Bells and whistles” as well as props and noisemakers should be used to enhance drama not distract from the message.
  • Embellishment – Drama should not alter the Scripture text or overstate the message. The truth should be creatively but accurately presented.
  • Manipulation – Emotions are a part of well-done drama. Healthy expression of feelings is recommended rather than extreme emotional control.
  • Camouflage – The point of the message must be clear through the drama, not lost in the creative expression.
  • Mismatch – The type of drama should be appropriate for the audience. Know the crowd and select drama personally for it.

Beware of these risks of dramatic expression. Adhere to the cautions and benefit from the advantages of drama.

One of the advantages for dramatic expression today is the availability of resources. There are many reference books, internet websites, and professional organizations for the dramatic arts. The most important resources for Christian drama are the Bible and life experience. The following resources for drama are helpful also. They offer general information as well as scripts, training, and networking.

Books

  • Actors Not Included: The Complete Works of Matt Tullos by Matt Tullos
  • Art for God’s Sake by Philip Graham Ryken
  • Christian Playwriting and Self-Publishing by Cleveland O. Mcleish
  • The Complete Guide to Church Play Production by John Lewis and others
  • Create a Drama Ministry by Paul Miller
  • Developing the Church Drama Ministry by Paul Miller
  • Devoted Through Drama: Monologues, Plays, and Skits for Christian Youth Groups by Kimberly Smiley
  • Drama: Church Drama for Church Folks by Barbara Dudley

Many children’s books and classic works of literature provide excellent scripts for drama.

Websites

  • Christian Drama Resources (www.christiandramaresources.com)
  • Christian Plays (www.christplay.com)
  • Creative Pastors with Ed Young (www.creativepastors.com)
  • Drama Share: Your Christian Drama Resource Center (www.dramashare.org)
  • Online Journal of Christian Communication and Culture (www.ojccc.org)
  • Wordspring Creative Resources (www.wordspring.com)

These drama websites were active at the time of publication. Other websites may be developed to provide resources for different forms of drama.

Drama and the creative arts have been a part of the church for centuries. In New Testament times, the church led the culture in developing the arts, specifically drama.[3] Though banned from the church at times, the dramatic arts have been powerful tools in worship when used appropriately. Dramatic arts in ministry today can reach the lost world with the gospel and the saved followers of Christ through discipleship. According to David Taylor: “Our emotions, bodies, and imaginations have a vital role, and the arts serve to bring them into an intentional and intensive participation.”[4]

            [1] “Christian dramatists form new association,” http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=4819 (cited 20 March 2013), Baptist Press, (Baptist Press, 2013).

            [2] http://www.wordspring.com/?page_id=1416 (cited 20 March 2013) Wordspring Creative Resources.

            [3] Julie W, “A Biblical Perspective of Drama in Ministry,” Online Journal of Christian Communication and Culture, entry posted December 11, 2011, http://www.ojccc.org/2011/12/a-biblical-perspective-of-drama-in-ministry/ (accessed March 20, 2013).

            [4] David Taylor, “Discipling the Eyes Through Art in Worship,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/april/art-in-worship.html (cited 20 March 2013),  Christianity Today (Christianity Today, 2013).