Seductive and persuasive in its ways, public speaking has the capability to draw a large audience. Despite the power within public speaking, it still manages to rank to be people’s greatest fear, followed only by the fear of death. It seems to be a natural gift and as Quintilian, Roman rhetorician, once said, “Without natural gifts, technical rules are useless”. So it is a gift that is then refined by some helpful guidelines which can be mastered through adequate training and practice. It can be used as a means for mass corruption and destruction or it can be a great way to build up and regenerate people. We cannot undermine the power and influence that exists in our words as we express them through public demonstration. Authenticity, humility, and servant leadership as Christ exemplified is ultimately what is required.
Through words we hold meaning and thought, and ultimately we hope to captivate our audience as we sculpt and mold their thoughts. I have seen many who try to merely reach their audience with an emotional overthrow. At the moment it is great; you can sense the energy in the air and people are ready to move on out and do something. However, if there is not enough logical reasoning tied in with these emotions, then the long term results can be quite disappointing. When the emotions wear off, they will not have a good enough reason to continue their endeavor. Understanding group psychology is important as one identifies their audience, recognizes their needs, and fills them the best way they can. One of the worst things that a speaker can do is fail to take the time to analyze and listen to their audience. Only then will they be able to know what kind of approach they should take as they speak in order to effectively communicate with them. Since words are arbitrary symbols, they contain different meanings with different groups of people. It is important to understand what type of lenses they use to view the world, so then you can go and guide them along from there.
What the audience really wants and needs is an authentic speaker. This is one who is ready to speak the truth in love and not hold back on their God-given convictions of what is to be said. We need men and women who are of high moral character, display servant leadership, defend truth and justice, and who also spend much time in prayer. The authentic speaker will bring up things that are true but that people tend to hide or overlook. They will be ones to unapologetically proclaim the truth of the gospel and not feel they need to beg their audience to listen. They speak out of love, humility, and ultimately from a heart of prayer. Their energy is hard to let down, and the audience is captivated by both their words of truth as well as the emotional elements that tie them together in their humanity.
It is important that as a speaker, you recognize and come to terms with who you really are, a sinner, and who you are in Christ, redeemed. Beyond this you might also need to take some time to think about your talents, your gifts, and your weaknesses. We are all alive at specific times and places, with our own unique experiences and God-given gifts which are to be used to live out our God-given purpose. As we recognize this purpose, our convictions for the messages we deliver are often much deeper. I find it amazing that God gave us something so special such as speech and language along with logic so that we can make coherent sentences to communicate with. Through this we can also be real and tell our own stories of God’s redemption plan–stories of what God has done in our own lives. We cannot just ‘trade our sorrows’ and forget to tell people our stories. Those stories are part of our life journey. They are stories of redemption. These are stories which can bring hope of an eternity with Christ to other people.
It is not only what we might hear from a speaker that has weight, but we also take into account their credibility. What they know about a specific topic and their own interactions look like with it can make or break them. Audiences also seek out the creativity behind what the speaker is saying. It is not just the content that matters, but also the unique manner in which is it being presented. It is better to have a speaker who presents a story using vivid detail which helps to display his own person and humanity than to generically say whatever it is just to get it over with. Along with this, the speaker’s credibility should also line up with good morals. Quintilian said that the “Orator must be a good man of moral character with a complete knowledge of what is just and honorable. The speaker should be a person who tries to live in a manner above reproach.”
Speakers are more credible when perceived as motivated not by personal gain but only by the best interests of their listeners[i].Ultimately, the speaker’s focus is to be on the needs of their listeners, not necessarily their own agendas. The speaker must not take their own ideas and consider that to be truth, but ultimately their source of truth must come from sound Biblical teaching. They are to keep rooted in Biblical truths, not mere man made traditions that have no root in scriptures. Speaking the truth in love is so important. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”[ii]Paul acknowledges that he could be saying some great things, but if he did not have love for the people, it would just be an annoyance to them and his words would have no meaning in their ears. How many times do we see people getting turned off by Christians who approach them and quickly cast judgment before extending their hearts to love? Immediately, any potential connection with that person is pretty much gone and the wall is built up, if not higher than it once was. There is a way to speak the hard truth, there is a way to present the gospel message, and there are ways to let our voices be heard and our words to have weight.
[i] Carpenter, Ronald H. Choosing Powerful Words : Eloquence That Works. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998. Pg 75
[ii] New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.