The difficulty of public speaking–message preparation, Part 1


Writing good message is hard work.

As I wrote in my book (with Duffy Robbins), Speaking To Teenagers, I believe that the craft of writing impactful messages is a very difficult task. There’s so many moving parts: the right word choices, the content, and the illustrations all work together to create something that people want to listen to and will move them toward life-change.

All good communicators want life-change!

But, it’s so difficult… especially to do it well week after week.

While I’m working on a message I’m always thinking about how to allow my content to “breath” a little so my audience stays with me. I try to give my audience enough space to listen so they feel like they’re in a conversation rather than a lecture. I’m constantly thinking illustrate, show rather than tell, relieve the tension, surprise them, drop a laugh-line, grab their attention, etc…

Because I take this craft very serious, I have gathered some friends along the way whom I will occasionally “run things by” so they’ll read my message (or a portion of my message) and give me feedback.

One of these guys is Brian Bird. Brian was one of my youth ministry volunteers for many years and the dad of several kids who went through our youth group. In addition to being an amazing man, he’s got a cool job. He’s a writer. He writes TV shows, movies, etc… He was the executive producer for Touched By An Angel and wrote on sitcoms for many years prior to that. He’s the real deal, and he’s on my informal “communication team.” [His blog is here and Twitter is @brbird.]

Last weekend I was preparing to teach at Mariners Church and I sent out a “help” email to a few buddies to get some help with word-choice. Every time this happens I get a new education of communication.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, I’ll show you the string of emails that took place between Brian and I and all that I learned. I think it will be helpful for those who communicate on a regular basis and have a desire to improve.

Part 2: coming tomorrow.

Question: Do you have a communication team? If so, how do they help you? Share here.


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Are you a funny speaker or a speaker who uses humor?

GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee. Jonathan has become a regular guest blogger on this site! He is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.


Last week HomeWord posted a devotional from Doug about his failed attempt at standup comedy. I empathized with him so much… been there, done that. That’s why I always choose content with a side of comedy.

My worst moment was when I followed comedian Tim Hawkins at a speaking event. If you haven’t heard Tim, he’s hilarious. He’s a standup comedian who always has the audience rolling on the floor.

The event was a citywide event for parents. Tim’s job was to be the entertainment and make everyone laugh. My job was to inspire the audience to be a light in their homes and their communities. It was at this event that I learned a huge lesson: setup is everything. (more on that in a minute)

I don’t consider myself a comedian. I’m a speaker who has a message to communicate and uses comedy as a tool. I get the opportunity to speak or do workshops in a lot of churches across the U.S. each year. Every time I use comedy on a Sunday morning, it’s welcomed. Comedy opens the doors for people to listen to content.

Standup comedy? That’s a whole different ball game.

My first attempt with standup comedy was in college. Our local student diner had an open mic night where they offered free food for anyone who would give it an attempt. They had me at “free food.”

I tried a short routine and landed about 80 to 90 percent of the jokes with laughter, then proceeded to try some improv, moving through the audience, asking people’s names and trying to be funny on the fly. After landing a few attempts, I quickly bailed out with a, “I’m Jonathan McKee, thanks so much for coming!”

Whew!

3 minutes. That’s all it was. No matter. I got free pizza and ice cream.

Fast forward 20-years and I’m still using comedy, but only as a side dish. And that’s where I made the mistake following comic-genius Tim Hawkins. I tried to throw in a few of my proven hilarious stories, and only received chuckles. People weren’t up for a side dish of comedy when they had just been fed a main course.

The evening was painful! I might as well have sung a solo following Celine Dion.

Lesson learned.

Expectations are everything. In the same way, I’m careful with the way people introduce me. I’ve had plenty of people tell me, “You’re the funniest speaker I’ve ever heard.” I appreciate the flattery, but please don’t introduce me as “the funniest speaker you’ll ever hear.” I’ve had people do that, and those venues are always twice as hard because the audience is sitting their with their arms crossed waiting for me to make them laugh. “Let’s see how funny you are, California boy!”

That’s why, whenever I go to speak to teenagers somewhere, I don’t give them a big paragraph to read, I just tell them to say, “Here’s a guy named Jonathan from California that I think you’re going to enjoy.” Expectations are light. I use comedy to open the door for Biblical truth.

Works every time.
As it is, I have people constantly tell me I should do standup. But to be honest, if there’s a choice between comedy or content, I’ll always settle for the expectation of content.

Question: When you teach/speak, what expectation do you feel your audience has of you? Thoughts?

 

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