Speaking, Being Heard & Bringing Change










Speaking, being heard and bringing change – these are three completely different things.

The big hope when communication is a major part of your life and work is that you will speak in such a way that you are not only ‘heard’, but that your words will provoke action and significant life change. Otherwise you simply add to the never ending din of white noise that pervades our world.

I’ve been speaking to groups of one sort or other for over 30 years now and as I’ve got better at it, I’ve noticed that I’ve changed in how I communicate. I once wanted to make sure I got the information across correctly and to do that I would sacrifice a degree of personal engagement and spontaneity. With that sacrifice also came a corresponding decrease in passion and energy.

Now any time I speak I’ve got the basic idea nailed – that’s important after that there’s a plan, but its not critical I adhere to it religiously. I am just as concerned – sometimes moreso for the energy I speak with and the feelings that are created as few people respond simply to information. Otherwise we could all read our sermons or even send them by email and the ‘information’ would have the same effect.

So with that in mind here are some quotes I came across that reflect some of my own priorities in communication these days:

‘Don’t memorise, internalise’. – David Brooks. 

If you’re preaching on Sunday and you can’t describe what you want to say in one short  sentence then you haven’t done enough work to clarify and internalise the message. Its the test I give myself each Friday when I prepare. If I can’t frame it in one sentence then there is more work to be done!

‘Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.’ – Dionysius Of Halicarnassus

Aint that the case hey? Ever been listening to someone that would have been better to call for 20 minutes of silent prayer? If it isn’t worth saying then just don’t say it.

‘Once you get people laughing, they’re listening and you can tell them almost anything’. – Herbert Gardner

Ok – a little dangerous. I’m sure this is in the kit bag of all aspiring cult leaders… but I think its a general rule that people will listen to you far more willingly if you have been kind enough to make them smile and laugh. I will always shoot for 3 minutes of funny story or jovial engagement before kicking you in the nuts.

Always be shorter than anybody dared to hope. – Lord Reading

It doesn’t seem to matter how many pages of notes I take with me, I always seem to speak for 25-30 minutes these days. That seems to be how long I can hold most people and not have them wanting to leave. If you’re a beginner then shorter is always better. No one will EVER criticise you for a short talk, but plenty will resent you for eternity if you blather on after they have stopped listening.

Grasp the subject, the words will follow. – Cato the Elder

In other words – know your stuff and you can talk about it in many & various ways. This Sunday I am speaking about how we have significant conversations with one another that will form us into Christlikeness and I could actually talk about that for an hour right now. The work I do between now and Sunday is to cull the unnecessary information, add the stories and make it concise and useful.

The eloquent man is he who is no beautiful speaker, but who is inwardly and desperately drunk with a certain belief. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ah… passion! I have heard some theologically correct and technically well ordered sermons in my time that have left me weeping with boredom. But passion anchored to knowledge is the recipe for some real life change. The recent Royal Wedding was an example of passion making people sit up and take notice, when ordinarily they would have zoned out and looked at their phones for 10 minutes.

And if I had two piece of advice from my own experience to share that have been critical I would say:

‘Tell stories. Tell stories. Tell stories.’ 

That’s not lame, shallow, and veering into Ophrah world. Its how people listen. Its how people see the world. If you want to be heard then tell stories – personal stories as much as possible – not those ‘canned illustrations’ from the preaching books. Of course your stories have to be relevant, potent and helpful otherwise they can be rants, time fillers or self indulgence. But if Jesus thought it was best to make his point with stories then I’m happy to trust his judgement on that one. If you live in exegetical world and feel the need to communicate the wisdom of 30 different theological scholars to the people in your community then its time to give that away and start telling stories. Seriously – no one cares.

Second piece of advice from the Hamo school of communication…

‘You have 30 seconds to get me listening or my mind is going walkabout – and probably not coming back.’

The opening of any talk is the most important part. Lose me here and you might lose me forever. That’s how it is for some folks. You simply HAVE TO get my attention within 30 seconds or I go ‘mind-surfing’ and I only come back if you begin telling another story.

Anyway – hope they are helpful whatever communication you are doing!

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