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The topic talks about public speaking as a whole. However, I shall narrow it down to public speaking in the Church. Generally, if you do speak in the Church (which is not in the comfort of your house), then you are engaging in public speaking. The lesson is therefore meant to sharpen our delivery skills while speaking in the church. Are you asking a question? Are you a teacher, preacher, song leader, an announcer or performing one duty or another in the daily nurture of the fold of God? Then this lesson belongs to you; it belongs to all of us.
It is meant to sharpen and enhance our delivery skills and encourage us to avoid those things we may consider trivial but do weigh down on our presentation and audience appreciation of what we say.
Our text is 1Cor. 14: 40: Let all things be done decently and in order. The Church deserves order and decency more than any other place, hence this lesson.
The art of public speaking involves communication.
The Communication Process
Permit me to use very simple definitions of communication to drive home the importance of that word in our daily living generally and in the church in particular. In its simplest sense, communication is the sharing of meaning. This is to say, communication only takes place when the one who receives the message understands it the way the person who sends it intends the message to be understood. Every communication has an audience – in our own case, members of the church. They could be few or many. The scenario could be church business meeting, Sunday school, Bible study, committee meeting, lectureship, gospel meeting or a sermon.
In this paper, we shall regard public speaking as remarks or even statements made in the open to a group of persons. This is as opposed to a speech made or people outside the public glare. When we appreciate that public speaking is not that which is done in one’s private chambers or home to his family, then shall we appreciate that to effectively speak to the public demands a knowledge of the elements in the communication process. And just to add, public here means everybody that listens, whether they were scheduled to be there or not. Their presence or attention makes them members of that public.
This implies that one public could be different from the other, depending on the event. For example, the public for women’s Bible class is different from that of men’s class. An appreciation of this fact is critical in effective public speaking.
Steps for Speech Presentation and Delivery
Public speaking demands preparation:
- Selecting the subject – select a topic that you know and that interests you and your audience. Familiar topic increases your confidence.
- Narrowing the subject – narrow the subject to meet the specific expectations of your audience. Let your subject be at the comprehension level of the audience. No one wants to listen to an empty speaker. Teachers and preachers should understand the topic they are handling. They should find out what aspects of the topic interest potential listeners before mounting the pulpit. Teachers and preachers should anticipate questions from the congregation, and therefore tackle such likely questions before they are raised. We should have reason for speaking – we should not speak just to express ourselves, but for instrumental reasons – to pass on ideas or influence others think or act. That constitutes the core essence of our teaching or preaching.
Our speeches should be others-directed – that is to say, the speeches should meet our listeners’ needs and solve their problems. It does not mean saying what the audience wants, but rather tackling the issues that bother them. Church speakers should realize that the congregation is of mixed persons and therefore complex. Hence, they should tailor their messages to reflect the diversity in the audiences, failing which some segments of the audience may go home dissatisfied on the grounds that the message had nothing for them.
Specific Areas of Public Speaking in Churches
- Long, excessive, unnecessary Introduction
Some preachers and teachers on the pulpit indulge in long introductions that tend to bore the listeners. Why should a sermon of 20 minutes have the introduction taking close to 10 minutes or more? Aside from the listeners being bored, a long introduction eats into the time of the sermon.
- Dry, Irrelevant Jokes
From the pulpit sometimes come jokes that are dry, that is, that are without fun and with nothing interesting. Worse still, the jokes are not relevant to subject or topic at hand.
- Problem of Interpretation
This is one of the serious challenges that confront the teacher or preacher. Here we are not looking at the ability of the interpreter, but the failings of the main speaker. Quite often, speakers use words or phrases that their interpreters find it difficult to interpret. Instead of helping the interpreters by providing the exact word for interpretation, they heap more problems on the interpreters by using even more difficult words, and the interpreter is consequently lost. The embarrassment is two-fold: first on the interpreter and then on the speaker whom most people would think did not even know the interpretations of such words or phrases in the first place. The rule is that the speaker should first know the interpretation of the words he intends to use. It is not a mark of intelligence to use words that are beyond the capacity of the interpreter. It disrupts the flow of the presentation.
- Difference between Teaching and Preaching
There is certainly a difference between teaching and preaching. The knowledge of that difference is sometimes the dividing line between a good speaker and a not-so-good one. Teaching imparts knowledge; uses many Bible portions and subheads and takes a longer time. Preaching is admonition. The shorter the admonition, the better it is. Unfortunately, many people see preaching as an opportunity to teach and vice versa; it should not be so. This often results in long, boring sermons that turn off the audience.
- Accuracy and Reading of Bible Portions
It is absolutely important that speakers should be certain of the Bible portions they cite. It is an embarrassment to the speaker when the portion he cites and is read turns out not to be the one he intended. Related to the above is intensive scripture reading during teaching, and particularly sermon. Public reading of every portion cited suggests that the speaker is doing what is called in computer “copy and paste”, with nothing coming from him. This also tends to distract the attention of the audience.
Only key portions should be read out. The reader could paraphrase others. Excessive Bible reading during sermon may impede the preacher from effective admonition. Someone may ask, “Beyond the Bible reading, what is his admonition?”
- Keeping to Time
The Bible says there is time for everything under the sun. In the church there is duration for all items of worship. Nothing throws off the audience like a speaker who has exhausted his given time, and even when the lights are blinking and asking him to go, he refuses to quit. Such a speaker should not deceive himself: he lost his audience the moment his time was over. It is even worse if you are a visiting teacher or preacher – you would have offended the congregation and you may not be given another opportunity!
Note: Don’t ask for extra time; don’t say the time keeper is not correct. You may succeed in taking the time not given to you (because you may not be driven from the pulpit), but you may have succeeded in insulting the time-keeper and, by extension, the church.
Remember, you may have used your time to tell stories, whether relevant or irrelevant to the topic; or you may have had a long introduction or you may have used your time to read all the verses of the scripture! Leave the stage with the ovation is loudest.
- Eye contact/Excessive Reading
Why do you stay at the pulpit to read a sermon or a lesson when you were asked to preach or teach? Whether in teaching or in preaching, too much reading from your script is not decent. It suggests that you are not conversant with the issue you are handling or that you are afraid of your audience. Eye contact with the audience gives the speaker confidence and ensures a high degree of attention to him. Except you are reading a speech, then do not read your sermon or lesson. Those who read often end up using words that if the roles were reversed, they would not be able to interpret. If they were not reading, those difficult-to-understand words would never have entered their mouths!
Repetition in teaching and preaching is used for emphasis – to stress a particular point. But excessive repetition suggests that the speaker has nothing more to say. The congregation would be happy if you left.
- Use of Language
The use of language is two-pronged. First, speak in the language that you are more fluent in. Don’t try to impress. Don’t try to pretend. Those who attempt to do so often end up embarrassing themselves when, particularly in the use of English, they mix up tenses and concord, thus embarrassing the entire church. Rather than force yourself, politely (in advance) ask for the services of an interpreter, if no provision was initially made. When you speak fluently, you deliver intelligently; you speak shrewdly and land safely. Second, be mindful of your grammar. If you are presenting a paper that you are likely going to read to distribute copies to others or put it on a projector, don’t be contented with yourself. A second pair of eyes that can add value to the work is highly recommended. Be driven by two things – the need to deliver an error–free script which adds to your good reputation and the need to have an uninterrupted audience attention as a result of smooth presentation. Above all, develop the habit of constantly reading both scriptural and secular books.
- Always have a Script
Are you teaching? Are you preaching? Are you announcing? Have a script before you – not as a reading material, but as a guide. Anything not written down may easily be forgotten. The pulpit is like a live radio or TV studio. It comes with tension that is enough to make you forget what you had not written down. There are no medals for the one who claims to preach or teach without a material or the Bible. The day you will need the material would be the day you would be embarrassed. Don’t trust your memory; it may fail you when you need it most!
Official announcers in church need to write down each item of announcement so that they could announce accurately; so that they would not forget; so that they would mind their language; so that they would not bring in what was not intended. Announcements from the pulpit constitute official intimations by the church. They carry the full weight of the church; therefore they should be done orderly.
- Exhausting a Lesson
Except you teach or preach from Genesis to Revelation, chapter by chapter and verse by verse, you may not exhaust your lesson. There is always another day and there will always be. Plan your lesson according to the time allotted you. Don’t ask for more time: it shows your incompetence to handle an issue within a specified time. If you insist on exhausting your lesson, you many end up teaching or preaching to an empty hall or disgruntled members. None of these should happen. Do not justify your request for more time by saying, “After all, today is Sunday; it is meant for God”. Yes, Sunday is the Lord’s Day, but the Bible has not enjoined us to stay in the church listening to you all day! Also note that God is for order and decency. When you use your time, do not say you are guided by the spirit. Remember, you are not the only spirit-filled person in the church, that is, if you are in the first place. And also remember that the Spirit says that to everything there is a season. Plan your lesson in a way that if for any reason your time is shortened, you can cut out some portions, and if you have more time you can carry on.
- Be Humble to accept Correction
Some people have a haughty attitude that does not allow them to accept corrections. The pulpit, perhaps more than any other place, demands humility. While you teach or preach, do it with humility. Let this humility be seen in you when you are corrected. Some, even in obvious error while teaching, refuse to be corrected by the minister or the elders or any other person. It is worse if such a person is a graduate of a preaching school. To err is human; to accept correction is divine. Learn to accept correction. If you are not convinced, adjourn the issue rather than sow wrong seeds in the minds of believers.
- Don’t Run away from Questions
There are occasions when someone would teach, and teach well, but when it comes to the question-and-answer session, he would say that it is the time to practise what is taught and not to ask questions. This is most impolite. What is wrong in someone asking a question? If you are not ready to answer questions, then you should not teach. And I dare say, you should not be assigned to teach. Concentrate on sermons which attract only “Amen” and no questions at all. Questions are feedback for the teacher to gauge the level of understanding of the lesson by the congregation. Even if a question is out of context but is a biblical issue, there should be an attempt on it or defer it politely. Do not run away until you have answered all questions within the time allowed. Only bad, incompetent teachers run away from questions.
- Don’t Blame Bible Readers
If the person reading a cited Bible portion has made a mistake in the course of it, do not castigate the reader as some normally do. Remember the person is doing you a favour to even read it for you! If you are that good, why did you not read – a case of passing the buck? A castigated reader may lose his confidence to read next time. It may even discourage others from reading for fear of making mistakes and being castigated too! Try not to have a special reader for you. The church belongs to everyone. All who can read should be encouraged to do so.
- Don’t blame Church Leaders
Some persons are in the habit of findings fault with church leaders as they begin their teaching or sermon. They castigate the leaders, particularly the preacher, for not assigning them frequently. Some even go to the extent of recalling when they were last assigned. Invariably they are castigating the leaders, and do they hope to have any other opportunity? Recalling when you were last assigned poisons the mind of the church and makes manifest the malice that you hold towards church officers. When the congregation sees that you are starting with malice, they tune off their mind, waiting for you to finish.
- Public speaking demands Audible Voice
Whenever one is asked to speak in the public, he should be audible enough for the audience to hear him. It is always frustrating for the audience to strain to hear a feeble voice at the pulpit. It is wrong to expect your audience to strain to hear you as if their life depends on that. Even with the availability and functionality of a microphone, some find it difficult to speak to the hearing of the congregation. On reaching the pulpit or wherever the podium is, be sure to adjust the microphone to the level of your mouth and ensure that your mouth is close enough to the mike.
- End Lesson at the Peak of the Crescendo
Lessons should be ended when it is least expected. And that is when the message has reached its highest point. Once the tempo has fallen, then everyone would have predicted the end of the lesson and no one is taken by surprise. The surprise element makes the people long for more, yet it is not available. It ensures that the “food” is served and consumed hot.
And when a fresh opportunity comes for you to speak, people will enthusiastically gather to listen to you.
Some unwittingly weaken their message when they bring in appreciation at the end of their message. This weakens the landing of the message. If you must appreciate, restrict it to the beginning when you are trying to gather momentum, and it could actually form part of your momentum. Once you have gained the momentum, end with it. It is good for the audience to long for more.
- Avoid Generalisations
When addressing the public, do not lump everybody into the same pot. For example: “All of you here are idolaters; all of you don’t give cheerfully; you people are not taking care of the preacher; you’re not committed to the work of God”. In that audience that you are addressing, there could be many exceptions which you may not know. That is the reason you need to respect the mixed audience by not generalizing. Rather than speak with absoluteness, find reason to say, “Some of you, some of us, many of us” etc. Even if a vice is widespread, please do not involve everybody. Including yourself shows humility.
- Open Air Lecture/Interaction with Non Church of Christ Members
We are right in our claim that in our hands is the word of reconciliation. For this reason, our approach in delivery should not make that reconciliation difficult. That we bear the word of reconciliation should give us the inner joy that makes us humble, and not to look at ourselves as superior and the unbeliever as inferior. Even when pointing out the scriptural wrongs, it should be done meekly using the Pauline example in Athens in Acts 17:16-32. The Pauline example easily won some of the Athenians to God. Draw and convince your listeners by building your foundation; then the conclusion can’t be denied. Avoid statements that inflame a situation.
- A Word for Service Moderators
Our service moderators should know that they are like a master of ceremony. When they introduce an item, the person to execute the item should also be introduced. There may be in the audience persons who do not know the speaker, and would be delighted to know him. Like a good MC, their words should be few. The moderator should know that he is not the main speaker; his job is to usher in the item and the person to perform it. He should not in any way be a second speaker. He should endeavour to repeat the number of the hymn to be rendered.
- Be Careful of Unintended Nonverbal Messages
These refer to all nonverbal aspects of our behaviour – facial expression, posture, hand movements, manner of dress. They are all messages we transmit without words or over and above the words we use. Controlling non-verbal messages is very difficult. Facial expressions, posture, tone, voice, hand gestures often give us away. Ralph Emerson says it all: What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.
- Avoid abusive Language
Please do not use abusive words no matter the situation. And do not threaten members. The church is not the place for that. It does not live on threats but on persuasion.
One who leads in a congregational prayer does so on behalf of the church. It is not a personal prayer; hence the one leading should use the first person plural “we” and not first person singular “I”. He should not personalise the prayer. Personal prayers are offered at home and not in the congregation.
The opportunity to speak in the church, just as I have, is a public trust. Our handling of that trust leaves lasting impressions in the mind of our audience. Such impressions may determine if they would listen to us another day or if we would ever be given such public trust again. In whatever we do in our congregations – teach, preach, announce or lead in songs – we should be driven by the need for the audience to sincerely desire our return to the pulpit.
I thank you for your audience.
UYO TOWN CHURCH OF CHRIST, 20 PAUL BASSEY STREET, UYO
INDOOR LECTURE BY BRO. (DR.) UWEM AKPAN
ON SUNDAY, APRIL 01, 2018