Who cares what other people think of us as we approach the lectern? On one level it doesn’t matter, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” John 2.23-25 NIV11
However, Jesus also said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matt. 10:16 NIV11 We have an obligation to be smart, but innocent. Hence, let it not bother you what people think in the sense that it doesn’t change your convictions. But have care as to how you come across in case your behaviour is a distraction from the message.
With those caveats and clarifications in order, let’s tackle the topic of when a speech begins.
- Preparing. A speech begins when people first become aware of you. What do the people to whom you will be speaking know about you? Are you a visiting speaker? If so, try to make sure the introduction is accurate both before you arrive and on the day. I’ve been introduced as having more children than I’m aware I possess and as being someone with a variety of qualifications – some of which were even true. What people know shapes what they expect. If they don’t know you, the way you act becomes more important because they are curious. If you are well-known, it’s less significant, but still important to visitors at the event.
- Arriving. Park your car considerately and enter the venue in a spiritual frame of mind. Pray in the car beforehand. Greet people warmly and asking questions rather than trying to ‘impress’ people with what you know and who you are. Genuine curiosity will make a big difference to how people listen to you – and your message. Surely one of the reasons Jesus had crowds hanging on his every word was because they had seen and felt his compassion. As someone said, “If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message.”¹
- Standing. Here we’re talking about getting from seat to lectern. Know where you’re going – pick a path avoiding microphone cables, music stands and instruments. Find out in advance which microphone you’ll be using. Familiarise yourself with the controls of any advancer you’ll be using for A/V resources. Decide in advance where to put your stuff (Bible, notes etc.) and check it will all fit. Walk to the lectern with your head up, not eyes focussed on the floor, or, Lord forbid, making last-minute changes to your talk. Look like you’re excited about getting up there to speak – because, hopefully, you are!
- Speaking. Look up. Smile. Deliver your first sentence with meaningful words you’ve selected in advance. That 10-second window is your opportunity to convince any doubters that their time is about to be well-spent. Catch people at the start and likely they will stay with you for the entire sermon. Miss that chance at the beginning and you’ll be behind the ball for a while, and it’s hard work coming back from there.
I must emphasise that this is not about looking impressive for the sake of it in some humanistic worldly sense. Rather, it is about looking like we mean business. From the beginning.
Do you have any comments or questions? You can email me, tweet @mccx, or leave a message below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
¹ “Christian reflections on the leadership challenge”, Kouzes & Posner, Jossey-Bass 2006