Talking is a Gift

Home » Uncategorized

Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Animate, Don’t Alienate

The eyes and face of a speaker convey mood, emotions, and character. Both interpersonal conversation and public speaking use eye contact and facial expression to amplify meaning and clarify feelings. Lack of eye contact and inconsistent facial expression can actually confuse the intended message. Poor eye contact can lead to suspicion, and limited facial expression can imply lack of interest. Effective communicators must intentionally develop skills to communicate with the eyes and face.

The word “countenance” means the outward expression of a person’s inner being. The inward character of a person is reflected outwardly through the eyes and face. The Bible often uses the word “countenance” to describe the appearance of God and the people of God. God asked Moses to tell Aaron and his sons that He would “lift up His countenance upon them and give them peace” (Num 6:26). Samson’s once-barren mother was told by an angel that she would give birth to a son. She told her husband that she had encountered a man whose “countenance was like an angel of God” (Jdg 13:6). David was described as a youth with a “ruddy, fair countenance” (1 Sam 16:12; 17:42).

The Psalms and Proverbs often contrast the happy or joyful countenance of one who follows God with the sad or sorrowful countenance of one who focuses on self (Psa 43:5; 89:15; 90:8; Prov 16:15; and 25:23). For example, in Proverbs 15:13 (KJV) we read, “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” The prophets encountered God and spoke of His countenance also. Daniel’s countenance changed when his dream was interpreted (Dan 7:28). Some faces of people in the Old Testament had sad countenances while others had happy countenances (Gen 4:5; 1 Sam 1:18; Neh 2:2-3)

The New Testament describes the countenance of Jesus and His followers. During the transfiguration, the countenance of Jesus was “changed as He prayed” (Luke 9:29). After His resurrection, the countenance or appearance of Jesus was like “lightening, bright and white.” In his vision, John saw the risen Lord and His face (countenance) “was shinning like the sun and midday” (Rev 1:16). A radiant countenance is a theme of Scripture and a trait of holiness.

The Bible describes the face or countenance of several women. In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah’s sad countenance became happy when the priest Eli told her she would bear a child (vv. 8-18). Abigail was described as a woman of good intelligence and beautiful countenance (1 Sam 25:3). King David’s son Absalom named his daughter Tamar after his sister who had been tragically raped by her half-brother Amnon. The countenance of Absalom’s daughter, Tamar, was described as fair and beautiful (2 Sam 14:27). Many other women of the Bible and many godly women today reflect the righteous countenance of the Lord.

If a Christian is created in the image of God, then her countenance should resemble His. The eyes and face should reflect the sincere emotions and godly character of those who love Him. This chapter will highlight the role of eye contact and facial expression in nonverbal communication. Speakers must express thoughts and feelings in their eyes and faces as well as through words.

Eye contact serves several purposes in public speaking. Some believe 75 percent of nonverbal communication is through the eyes. The speaker conveys the sincerity of her heart, the intent of the message, and the intensity of her passion through the eyes. Good eye contact improves the speaker’s confidence, demonstrates security, increases credibility with the audience, projects warmth, builds connection, and communicates value. The audience provides visible feedback to the speaker. Smiles and nods may indicate understanding, while curious expressions or confused looks may imply poor comprehension.

A speaker can control her eye contact and connect with the audience more personally. Keep the eyes open and focused. Wide eyes are more visible in a group setting, and focus allows the speaker to see the eyes and faces of the people. Scan the audience with the eyes and face. Turn the head as well as the eyes to look at someone or some area of the room. Establish eye-to-eye gaze when possible. Connect with one person in the audience at a time. However, try not to stare or move mechanically. Look at all areas of the room and all people. Try to cover all the people and all the room with an eye gaze. Try not to overlook the balcony or extreme sides. Engage in eye contact with the most important people in the room even if they make you a little nervous. Use steady, controlled eye contact. Confidence and persuasion are conveyed with individuals and the audience as a whole with deliberate eye contact. Maintain eye contact with each person or section for several seconds. Complete a thought or sentence before gazing at another person or another area of the room. Avoid looking at the ceiling, toward the floor, or above people’s heads. Roving eyes convey anxiety and disinterest. Look up from any notes, and lock eyes on the audience. Glance down to read a sentence or two then glance up to establish eye contact with the people. Move the eyes about the room in a synchronized pattern. Both eyes should move together across the room and focus together on individuals. Look at the audience while walking to the platform and before walking away. Begin and end the speech by connecting with the audience.

For more tips about the eyes and face, see chapter 22 of our book!

The Warmth of the Soul

“Warmth is the soul of the voice.” [1]

In Psalm 149, the psalmist called for God’s people to express praise to Him in words and actions: “Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song…let the exaltation of God be in their mouths.” Exaltation or praise is to be reinforced by a joyful shout. The sound of the voice conveys the emotions and feelings of the heart. A Christian should offer praise to the Lord with her whole self.

Haddon Robinson explained the influence of the voice in his book, Biblical Preaching:

Speech consists of more than words and sentences. The voice conveys ideas and feelings apart from words. We make judgments about a speaker’s physical and emotional state—whether he is frightened, angry, fatigued, sick, happy, confident—based on the tenor of his voice, its loudness, rate, and pitch.[2]

Chapter 21 of our book establishes the importance of nonverbal communication to express emotions and feelings, focusing on three aspects of vocal tone which project meaning: volume, variety, and vibrancy. For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on vibrancy.

Vibrancy refers to the enthusiasm and passion communicated in the tone of a speaker’s voice. An animated and energetic voice adds emotions and feelings to the spoken words. Public speakers should desire vocal vibrancy and lively delivery in speech delivery. Vibrancy in the voice should make the listener want to hear the speech.

Energy is expended physically when speaking. Verbal and nonverbal communication involves energy and effort. Public speakers need to maintain physical as well as mental health to communicate more effectively. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate rest are essential ingredients of energetic speaking. Fatigue and illness hinders enthusiasm and vibrancy in speaking.

Warmth is an aspect of emotion which can be expressed verbally or nonverbally. Tender feelings can be communicated through choice of words or tone of voice. A softer, lower voice typically conveys warmth. Warmth should be a vocal quality desired by public speakers.

In an etiquette book written in 1942, Margery Wilson suggested that the voice reflects emotions as surely as a mirror reflects an image.[1] Warmth is the “soul” of the voice. Sweetness, generosity, and love of humanity are personal qualities of the inner person that produce warmth in a speaker’s voice. Wilson recommends that people build character and virtues to speak with vocal warmth.

Excitement and eagerness should be experienced and expressed by the speaker. If the speaker does not sound excited about the topic, the audience will not want to listen. When possible, a speaker should select a topic of personal interest. If the assigned topic is less than stimulating, the speaker can express enthusiasm verbally. Vocal vibrancy depends upon energy, warmth, and excitement.

Consider these principles about vocal vibrancy when delivering a speech.

  1. Determine the presence or absence of vibrancy in your voice.
  2. Compare your vocal vibrancy to that of other speakers.
  3. Prepare physically for speaking with proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
  4. Work to soften the tone of your voice to convey warmth.
  5. Expand your interest to be enthusiastic about the topics for your speeches.

The voice provides insight into the speaker’s emotions and feelings. The vocal characteristics of volume, variety, and vibrancy combine with words and other nonverbal cues to communicate the meaning of the speaker’s message. A simple sentence such as “I have had a good day” can change meaning drastically when the voice is used differently. Soft volume may raise doubt in the listener; loud volume may cause belief in the statement. Vocal variety may keep the interest of the listener; limited variety may lose attention. Vocal vibrancy may convey passion to listeners; flat, monotonous tone sounds unconvincing. Tone of voice is the nonverbal code for expressing emotions and feelings in public speaking.

The sound of the voice conveys the emotions and feelings of the heart.

[1] Margery Wilson, The Woman You Want to Be: Margery Wilson’s Complete Book of Charm (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1942), 58-59.

[2] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980), 202-203.

Step Back and Observe

“Vertical and horizontal listening are necessary for Christian speakers.”[1]

While there is no one perfect speaker in the world, there are many excellent speakers. Much can be learned by listening to and observing a wide range of speakers in a variety of contexts. Insights can be gained from the strengths and weaknesses of public speakers, and ideas can be prayerfully incorporated into one’s own speaking style.

Assessment of the public speaking of others should consider several personal characteristics or traits in addition to skills and abilities. Observe the speaker’s character and integrity; sensitivity and awareness; knowledge and information; and desire and passion. These traits are worthy qualities to emulate.

Awareness and informal observations should become a natural mindset of a speaker. Without pen and paper or objective criteria, make mental notes as others speak. Learn to communicate more effectively through observation and examination as well as practice.

Some general guidelines will provide structure for informal observations. Begin noticing the speaker even before the speech starts. Continue observation during the speech and until the speaker is no longer present. Consider observing these aspects of communication, incorporating them into conscious thought.

Before the speech.Observe the setting and platform before the message begins. Is the platform conducive to comfortable positioning and movement by the speaker? Is the lighting adequate for good visibility? Are the podium and props set up properly? Is the screen visible for slides if used, and will the speaker be able to reference them easily? Will the speaker be positioned physically to connect with audience? While some features of setting and stage are beyond a guest speaker’s control, some adjustments and adaptations can be made to improve the speech.

Notice the speaker’s behavior and mannerisms even before she speaks. How does she interact with people before the session begins? How does she participate in the program as a part of the audience? How does she approach the stage and position herself for speaking? How appropriate is her appearance, clothing, and makeup?

During the speech.While the speaker shares the message, try to focus on the speech content and allow the Lord to communicate His thoughts personally. Also, pay attention to the public speaking skills employed during the delivery. It may be helpful to organize observations within the introduction, body, and conclusion parts of the speech. The speaker and listener should be consciously aware of each distinct part.

Listen carefully to the speaker’s opening comments in the introduction. Did she immediately capture the attention of the audience? Did she begin with a challenging question or interesting illustration? Did she relate to the other people or elements of the program? Did she quickly gain rapport with the audience? Did she stimulate interest in the topic? Did she project energy and enthusiasm? Did she use specific words phrases or movements to bridge from the introduction to the body?

As the body of the speech was delivered, did the speaker transition smoothly from the introduction? Did the speaker present clear relevant points? Did she include appropriate supportive material to strengthen her premises? Did she use nonverbal communication naturally? Did she utilize the sound system and media effectively? Did she adhere to the schedule and allot time equally to all points? Did she move smoothly into the concluding remarks?

Was the conclusion truly the conclusion? Did the speaker pause, alter tone, adjust pace, or move to denote the conclusion? Did she summarize main points or introduce new material? Did she call for response or action? Did she close in a vivid memorable way? Did she verbalize “in conclusion” or “in closing?” Did she have a false conclusion? Did she stop before the audience finished listening?

After the speech. Recall the positives and negatives of the speech as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the speaker. Was the speaker effective? Was she well-prepared and thorough? Was the message relevant to your life? Was the audience responsive? Were the major points memorable? Were personal applications realistic? What were two or three strengths of the speaker? What are one or two weaknesses needing work? What one positive comment would you like to share with the speaker?

Whether a wonderfully delivered or poorly constructed message, much can be learned through stepping back and observing!

            [1] Quentin Schultze, An Essential Guide to Public Speaking. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006),  45-49.

Critique, Don’t Criticize

Critique rather than criticize personal speeches or the public speaking of others.

Speaking skills can be improved incrementally one speech at a time. Because gratitude and grace are godly qualities to be developed for speech follow-up, expression of appreciation due to others, and personal evaluation of one’s presentation should be considered. Speakers fall short when they do not complete the follow-up process of public speaking.

Immediately after the speech, the public speaker will be strengthened by personal evaluations and follow-up. In this important step of public speaking, a person should not be totally focused on self. Instead, recognize those who worked diligently to make the event happen and acknowledge those who invested time in attendance. Public praise encourages others and strengthens the connections with the speaker. Gratitude may also be expressed later in writing.

Self-examination should also follow the speech. Constructive critique – not destructive criticism – is helpful. The speaker should honestly reflect back on what was said and how it was said. Then energy can be focused on improving weaknesses and continuing strengths in the future.

Criticism and critique are two different words with different attitudes. A dictionary defines criticism as “an act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything (usually involves finding fault).” [1]  Critique is defined as “a serious examination and judgment of something (constructive criticism is always appreciated).”[2] A criticism is typically emotional while a critique is intellectual. A criticism is usually vague and general while a critique is concrete and specific. A criticism is a harsh observation or negative comment; a critique is a thorough review or fair analysis. A criticism finds faults, condemns, and judges; a critique sees possibilities, clarifies, and questions. While a criticism states what is lacking, a critique identifies what is working. Criticizing one’s own speaking or the public speaking of others is not productive. However, critiquing speeches can be very productive.

An important part of personal growth and development is self-evaluation. It is helpful for a speaker to evaluate herself after each speech to learn from the experience. Identifying strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis promotes excellence in speaking. A speaker should also have general goals for sharpening speaking skills.

After each presentation, a speaker should ask herself if she was satisfied with her speech, what went well, and what needs more work. Was she confident as she spoke or, if not, what caused nervousness? The following questions may provide more in-depth self-evaluation:

  1. Did you accomplish the purpose of the speech?
  2. Did you adapt to the setting of the speech?
  3. Did you connect with the audience and receive positive feedback?
  4. Did you witness response to the speech?
  5. Did you experience any specific problems?

In addition, it may be helpful to examine each stage of the speech process. The questions below may promote more personal insights. Take time to suggest strategies for areas needing improvement.

Preparation

  1. Adequate time in prayer and preparation?
  2. Accurate analysis of audience and occasion?
  3. Clear outline and balanced points?
  4. Thorough development of content and supportive material?
  5. Adequate preparation of presentation materials (handouts, slides, etc.)?
  6. Effective speaking notes?

Delivery

  1. Confidence in speaking?
  2. Capture attention with introductory comments?
  3. Maintain connection with the audience?
  4. Appropriate appearance in wardrobe, makeup, and hair?
  5. Adhere to time allotted and pace all parts of the speech?
  6. Notice mistakes or stumbles?
  7. Appropriate use of words and language?
  8. Natural gestures and body language?
  9. Consistent eye contact and facial expression?
  10. Clear speech and comfortable rate?
  11. Appropriate volume and projection?
  12. Audience connection and response?
  13. Manage challenging situations?
  14. New techniques or material for next presentation?

If available, an audio or video recording offers objective feedback. Though sound and image are perceived differently, recordings can offer objective feedback to the speaker. Do you have any tips for self-evaluation?

 

            [1] “Criticism,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Criticism (cited 22 March 2013)  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).

            [2] “Critique,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Critique (cited 22 March 2013) American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).