Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Speaking So People Will Listen

Martha Garcia speaking to women in Honduras
I was partnered this past week with someone I didn't know on the golf course.  Sometimes I play as a single and look forward to the opportunity to get to know someone new.  On this day, I was paired with a guy who was in no mood for anything spiritual. As a matter of fact almost everything out of his mouth was a negative statement. What made it worse was that he used the "f" word in almost every sentence. He ranted about California where he lived and complained about the course we were playing.  He didn't like the greens and the holes were not marked correctly according to his GPS.  On and on he went. 

I told him I was a pastor but that didn't stop him one bit. I also tried to be encouraging but nothing seemed to work. I was worn out and depressed by the time we finished and didn't really want to talk to him any more.  The guy said he was a salesman, but I was wondering how he sold anything to anyone with that mouth and attitude.  It reminded me of the importance of our words, and how they make an impression and an impact on others.

As a chaplain to businesses, I have to be very conscious of my conversations.  I must remind myself to be slow to speak, to ask questions and listen. But when I speak, I have a great opportunity to impact a person's life, to lift them up and share with them the keys to the abundant life that Jesus offers us. We all have relationships, and opportunities to do the same.  And if you are a pastor, you have this precious 30 minute window almost every week, give or take a few minutes, to address an audience with your undivided attention. What a tremendous opportunity to affect lives for Christ. This should be your most important 30 minutes of your week and you should do everything possible to make the most of that opportunity. I pray you never take it lightly or for granted.  

If this time is so important, shouldn't we all work at communicating to the best of our ability? When planning a speech or sermon most of us spend a lot of time preparing the content of what we plan to say. Content is the most important thing.  But a close second is how we say what we want to say. How much time do you spend on your delivery, as opposed to the content?  It is my experience that most pastors spend very little time in preparing how they speak. Yet, if you do not communicate effectively or have an awkward speech pattern that creates a barrier for the listener, it may not matter what you say. 

I know a pastor who has a speech pattern of elongating certain words he wants to highlight.  "How are you doing chuuuuurch."  He does this at the end of his phrases, sort of an "up talker" but making his words much longer than necessary and pausing after the word. This slows his speech to a crawl and doesn't make listening to him very easy. He could be a much better communicator but he has to be aware of his speech pattern and then work hard to change it. 

Americans speak generally with a nasal tone, especially women. On a mission trip to Africa I was reminded of this when I heard the African children laughing at the way we talked.  They were imitating the girls speech, speaking out of their noses.  The Africans speak from their diaphragm with this very rich and deep vocal tone, much different than our speech. I hadn't really noticed the difference until the children pointed it out.  Great speakers often are those who speak in a lower tone so if you are one that speaks with a nasal tone, and you want to be an effective speaker, you probably should change your register from the nose to chest.

The best speakers have speech patterns that are not only easy to follow but are also pleasant and compelling to hear.  They will vary their cadence, pace and volume, pausing at the right moment to get across their point. There is an art to speaking well, but many never try to master it and never become the communicators they could be.  

So here are some suggestions on speaking so that people will listen:

1. Listen to yourself.  It is hard for me to listen to myself but I can't change unless I can identify what needs changing. You should record or video yourself whenever possible. Listen and make a list of the things you think should be changed or improved.  

2. Have a mentor or a vocal coach who can critique you and help hold you accountable to change. Often you will not catch everything that could be improved. I have a tendency to say, "you know", way too much and the word "kinda" for no particular reason. My wife is the one who pointed this out to me and holds me accountable now when I begin to slip those words into my speech.

3. Practice, practice and practice some more. Your speech patterns have been formed over many years and are difficult to change. But you can do it if you practice and focus on the areas that need to change. Practice in front of a coach.  Just like a batter taking batting practice while their batting coach watches.  

For more on speaking so that others will want to listen, check out this 9 minute Ted Talk by Julian Treasure. Half way through he talks about the importance of register, timbre, prosody, pace, silence, pitch and volume.   

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