A Few Words about Saying a Few Words

A young friend told me that she is taking a public speaking class at the university. I felt compelled to share with her some of my own thoughts on that subject. Recently I was seated beside someone who actually teaches communication skills to corporate leaders, and I did the same. What nerve!

Besides a preaching class at seminary many years ago, I don't recall taking any other public speaking classes before or since. What I know about it is what I have learned by reading, talking with others, and...observation throughout my ministry.

So...if you are called on to give a eulogy at a funeral, a Best Man or Maid of Honor speech at a wedding, or when accepting an award—here are my suggestions. And, unlike the two people I just mentioned, you are free to walk away and stop listening at any time.
1. Approach the opportunity as a privilege you have been given. Do it with enthusiasm and passion.
2. Don't waste valuable time talking about how you felt when asked to speak, how nervous you are, or the various ways you thought about what to say, etc. Just get into your talk from your opening sentences. TED Talks will show you what I mean.
3. Get their attention with a question, a quip, or something in the news. It's in the first minute or less that the audience decides whether they are going to listen to you, or tune you out. Something from the news shows that you are informed and relevant.
4. Tell a story! One brief vignette that can be visualized and remembered.  Practice telling it until you know which words to emphasize, which details  are essential to the punchline and which ones just weigh it all down. For an excellent example, watch this clip from Sunday night's Emmys (https://nowthisnews.com/videos/her/alex-borstein-encourages-women-to-step-out-of-line-in-emmys-speech). It was perfect!
5. Don't tell jokes--but use natural humor. Even at a funeral it will be appreciated, as it brings the deceased back to life for a moment. I still remember Pat Humphrey's eulogy at the funeral of her son-in law, Billy, 13 years ago. We laughed through our tears because we saw Billy clearly in the moment she described.
6. Keep it positive. Don't scold or berate your audience.
7. Best Man: In telling a story or two, remember that Grandma is sitting right  there!
8. Use proper English. Elevate the language. Project, don't mumble. Enunciate each word.
9. Talk conversationally-- naturally, as if sitting around the kitchen table with a group of friends. Read their facial responses and adapt your remarks
10. The best advice I ever got came from a radio announcer one night when I was  recording some brief messages on his station. "Remember, Don-- when you are on the radio you are not talking to thousands of people out there in radio land. You are talking to one person—sitting in his car or standing over an ironing board."
      So, instead of saying: "I know what many of you are thinking...” say, “I know what you are thinking..."
      That's important for radio and television—but also in crowds of fifty to a  thousand. It's still just one person you are addressing.
11. Speak from your heart. Write it out first so that you stay focused and have  good grammar. Go over and over it. Even take those notes with you to the  platform. But look up and out. Make eye contact. Smile. Relax. You're the  "expert" in whatever it is that you are about to say. Don't try to "wing it" and just  say what occurs to you in the moment. If you don't write out anything else, at  least write your opening sentences. Use natural gestures, not overly dramatic     ones.
12. Be brief. Always leave them wishing that you had spoken longer—not staring at their watches praying that you would hurry up and finish. Once, when I was  preaching perhaps a bit too long, I saw a man in the audience look at his  watch—and then shake it!
Of course, I primarily deliver sermons--and that's different. That requires much more: Prayer, sound Biblical interpretation, a pointing of people to Jesus, no matter what the particular subject for the day happens to be. Utter sincerity. Still, these twelve things are always in the back of my brain, too, as I prepare and then as I stand to deliver.

Let me know if any of this is helpful to you the next time you are called to the podium.
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