During the 1970s, the Bible conference grounds in Winona Lake, Indiana was an exciting place to be for a young bride married to a seminary student. The Billy Sunday Tabernacle with sawdust floors, the Homer Rodeheavor (Sunday’s song leader) Auditorium, Grace College and Seminary hosted some of the nation’s premiere Christian speakers and musicians.
I’ll never forget working at the conference grounds cafeteria to help put Chuck through school. It was during this stint that Jerry Falwell came through with his “I love America” singers, committed to sharing/singing about the love of God, America, and family on the steps of every capitol building in our country. Little did I know at the time that Chuck and I would end up in Lynchburg, Virginia for further education and ministry with Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty Baptist College and Seminary (now Liberty University).
When I reflect over 40 years of marriage, I realize how privileged I was (am) to be exposed to some of the best of the best Christian artists, writers, and speakers. Over the years, I’ve learned a few lessons about speaking from other speakers.
Use a strong illustration.
My first keen memory as a 22 year old wife was sitting in on a women’s conference in the Grace College auditorium. Jill Briscoe—wife to Stuart, mom, author, and speaker—used the illustration of various types of sea vessels to help us identity how God had equipped us. Was I a cruise liner, a sailboat, a cargo ship? I found that concept captivating and helpful, plus it stuck in my memory. I have often thought of that illustration, reminding myself that I can be content the way God has made me. I don’t have to be someone else. Jill’s example of using a powerful, memorable illustration has helped me when crafting my own talks for women’s groups.
Later, I enjoyed listening to Patsy Clairmont during Women of Faith conferences and on tape. Perhaps no Christian woman speaker does humor better than Patsy. What a seamless presentation in her unique, but very natural story-telling style that flows along with humor and scriptural application. When I come to my own speech-writing and delivery, I’m reminded of Patsy’s powerful example. So, I try to apply humor that relates to what I am presenting. The more natural and personal the better.
Don’t shy away from tears.
Too many speakers to count have modeled this for me. Just as laughter can reinforce your message, so can tears. Often these come without warning. I don’t typically plan on tearing up, although I am well aware that certain sections of my speech (especially the personal examples) can lead to emotion. So I use my emotion to reinforce the message, the passionate theme on my heart. As in writing, conveying emotion is a powerful tool that captures the audience and helps them identify with your words/message because they see you as a real person.
During our Thomas Road/Liberty years, during a cozy retreat setting, Lucy Swindoll showed me how to include music as part of a talk. Just a simple, acappello hymn, even a line or two, could add depth and meaning to the presentation. Since I’m a musician this appealed to me. I had not often seen this included with a talk. Her example taught me to think outside the box when speaking. If the lyric furthers the theme and takeaway of the speech, and if it flows naturally, then I sometimes add it to the presentation.
Share what you’re passionate about.
In the early 80s, I attended a banquet at Liberty where Bev LaHaye was the speaker. She had recently started an organization called Concerned Women for America and was passionate about America returning to her biblical roots. She talked much about her children and grandchildren, about the godly legacy she hoped to leave them. Her vision ignited my own. I learned that a powerful speech stems from a passionate heart. So, I try to write/speak about what’s hot on my heart in regard to God’s Kingdom/culture.
Keep it simple.
I’ve learned from a host of speakers over the years that simple is best. When the Holy Spirit reveals the Scripture passage, burns the message into your heart, gives you a real life application, reinforces it in multiple ways, you have clarity. But the writing/presenting of it can be a challenge. It takes revision, revision, revision to package the talk so that it’s digestible. You want the audience to take away the MAIN thing. For you writers, it’s similar to the one liner we shoot for when writing back cover copy. Think about what your aim is in giving your talk. Come up with a brief outline (3 points, for example).
Barbara Johnson and her funny hats come to mind. I remember hearing her at a retreat years ago where she used a floppy hat to illustrate a point. Now I use my own homemade “Josephine’s Coat of Many Burdens” and “Josephine’s Coat of Many Blessings” to help women discover who they are in Christ and what part they play in His Kingdom story. A simple skit/monologue can solidify a message, too. Often women tell me that they remember me because of the prop or skit I used for a particular talk. Prayerfully, they remember the point I was trying to make as well.
Practice, practice, practice.
One of the most skilled speakers I know is Chuck Swindoll, especially given his childhood stuttering problem. But that impediment only served to help him focus more on delivery technique than most perhaps. That and the grace of God, which he would readily tell you. Every week, he spends time in front of the mirror practicing his sermons/talks, creating hand gestures that will reinforce his points.
Well, if Chuck Swindoll needs to practice in front of a mirror, how much more do I. It might seem that practice will lead to a stilted speech. Far from it. Practice builds confidence, vocal strength, and opens the door for spontaneity during the actual delivery.
Dress as a professional.
During our years in Lynchburg, I attended a women’s retreat at Eagle Eerie. As I walked to the meeting room, someone behind me said, “Are you the speaker today?” I can only imagine she thought this because I was decked out in a gray suit, matching gray hosiery, gray shoes, and pink blouse with bow characteristic of the 80s. Back then, dressing up for a conference was the norm rather than the exception, but I guess I’d pulled out the stops that day. Amused, but honored, I turned. “No,” I said, with a smile, but I’d like to be, I thought. Years later, God fulfilled that dream, first through marriage seminars with my professional counselor husband and then at women’s functions.
What I learned from that encounter and from the speaker who followed, was that if I’m going to speak, I need to dress appropriately. Later I learned from other professional speakers that the rule of thumb is to dress a little bit better than your audience. Not to flaunt your nice wardrobe, but to cue the audience that you are indeed a professional. If the retreat is rustic, like the one I conducted last weekend, and everyone is wearing tee-shirts and jeans, I will wear a nice, but casual blouse/shirt with simple slacks, for example. Certainly, you don’t want to be overdressed in a way that you feel distant from your audience.
I’m indebted to the many speakers over the years who’ve invested in my speaking ministry, many without even knowing it.