I’m finally back from the Global Proclamation Congress, after more than a month of teaching an intensive preaching course, speaking at various places and launching my new commentary (in Chinese) on Mark’s Gospel. Such a tour of various cultures and venues allows me to review some of the principles of basic presentation skills that every public presenter should have. This is especially true for preachers in the church. These observations are directed at no one in particular. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of great speakers, but hopefully such observations also help my readers to review their own habits. I’ve blogged about this topic extensively. Anyone interested in more extensive discussions can search this blog on more topics on preaching and public presentation. This is not an exhaustive list. It’s just stuff that hits me as I listen to various speakers and observe my own habits.
Let me start with the “Do’s”.
- Pause and explain. When talking at length for more than 15 minutes, the audience needs pauses so that they can reflect. Pausing sometimes for the sake of explanation especially at the beginning of a presentation is important. Sometimes, it’s easy just to throw cliches around but without explanation, misunderstanding rather than understanding will occur.
- Master your powerpoint. I’ve made this point wherever I go. I’ll be the first to say that I’m no master of the powerpoint. In fact, I’m a bit of an old-fashion guy who isn’t always keen to use powerpoint. I’ve noticed most masterful preachers don’t need powerpoint to get their point across. IF one must use powerpoint, please master its use. I’ve seen many examples of speakers pressing the button for the wrong slides or not knowing which slide comes next in his speaking outline. This only confuses and disrupts the otherwise decent presentation. Some have chosen to ask others to operate the powerpoint. That’s a wise decision only if the speaker provides clear transitions so that the operator knows when to switch slides. For many cases I see, the speaker is better off not using powerpoint.
- Stay on point. Although this would seem obvious, many speakers don’t stay on point. Some speeches have so many unrelated points that the audience is caught in a thick fog. Either that or they’ll fall into a coma. IF you’re a biblical preacher, stay on point within the text that you’re preaching. Don’t make stuff up in your exposition that explains more your own agenda than the purpose of the text. Let the text set the boundary for the sermon. For other public presentation, let your big idea set the boundary for your speech. Leave other stuff for another day. If you don’t, people won’t learn more. They just get confused and learn nothing.
Let me now go with the “Don’t’s”
- Don’t set up straw men. A straw man is a caricature often of an opposing position in order for the speaker to knock down easily. Unhelpful cheap humor is one good way to set up a straw man. The problem with straw men is intellectual dishonesty. It’s intellectually dishonest to go for a cheap laugh at the expense of opposing opinions. It strikes at the problem of integrity. A good speaker has integrity enough to represent other positions accurately. If speakers can’t represent the opposing opinions accurately, it’s best not to even try.
- Don’t moralize. Moralization is different than speaking about ethics. When ethics ARE the main issue, we need to address them. However, when ethics aren’t the main issue and the speaker makes the main issue ethics, then s/he is moralizing. Moralization is immensely annoying for the intellectually engaged listener. Especially bad is when someone brings in an unrelated moral illustration as a hobby horse in order to beat the dead horse. If the main issue of the text isn’t that topic, skip it for another day. People who moralize in church honestly give preachers a bad name.
- Don’t quote random verses (even if done in context) for rhetorical effect. Every verse has a context.This principle also applies to any quote. If you quote and haven’t read the book, just don’t quote. Misquotation only impresses the ignorant. Quoting a verse doesn’t infuse it with magical power. Many Christian speakers like to quote verses to back up their points to make their points appear more biblical. Most of the time, the text they quote doesn’t really say what they want it to say. Perhaps a few more people need to read my Right Texts, Wrong Meanings book. Most of the biblical quotes are there to bait for cheap “amen’s” from the audience. Is that really what we’re supposed to do? Just stop!
- Don’t equate hyperactivity for true passion. Some speakers speak passionately. Others speak to appear passionate. I’m unsure of what the main cause behind that is, but perhaps they feel that the louder and more hyperactive they are on stage, the more they look like they really mean what they say. It’s hard to pinpoint the main cause, but I can tell when this is going on. One of my fellow listener gave a keen observation, “Even loud sermons can make you sleepy.” That’s so true. Louder doesn’t mean truer. Volume and truth aren’t necessarily the same thing. Plus, it’s hard on your blood pressure to be that hyperactive unless you do regular cardio.
The above is the short list of do’s and don’t’s. I think the bottom line is this. The final product of any speech depends on the person of the speaker. Much of it has to do with integrity, whether it’s moral, intellectual or spiritual. You can’t fake integrity.