Servant Public Speaking

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10, ESV).

I recently read an article in Harvard Business Review on public speaking. The title of the article was The Best Public Speakers Put the Audience First!

The author described a situation when she had flown to Europe for a 45-minute speech at an influential forum on communication. She was the last speaker of the day, and every speaker before her went too long.  

The allotted time for her speech shrank from 45 to eight minutes.

If this had happened to me, my thoughts would have been, “I’ve flown across the ocean. My thoughts are more important than anything I’ve heard. I think that I will add a few more jokes and emotional illustrations and make the audience want to listen to me for my allotted 45 minutes.”

I would have failed miserably.

The author, a world-renowned speaking coach, admitted feelings of frustration but controlled them and “in the moment” edited her speech to eight minutes of practical tips that they could use immediately.

She said, “I chose servant leadership over self-interest.”

One principle makes a great speech and allows a “so-so” speech to become much better – making the needs of the audience more important than our own. 

The author realized that even if she had prepared the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2, that

the audience, after hours of listening to other speeches, wanted dinner and not to listen to another 45-minute speech!

This “serving,” or absence of it, can be found in the length of most sermons.

When I prepare a message, it can be hours of preparation. I have way too much material and, understanding the nuances, tributaries, asides, and rabbit trails, I want to share all of it.

My offense of serving myself rather than the audience happens when I believe everyone wants to listen to me for 45 minutes because I have such wow material that even the angels in heaven will listen with stunned silence, and the audience will forget their desire for Sunday dinner.

Rarely – well, at no time – has this happened in my 51 years of public speaking.

My best sermons have been the shorter ones when I realized the audience’s limitations and put a throttle on my eloquence. Focusing instead on what was understandable and easily applicable.

As the author of the article states …

As public speakers, we can often feel like we’re at the top of the pyramid because we’re at the front of the room. It can be tempting to interpret a presentation as an opportunity to showcase what we know rather than address what the audience wants and needs to know. But that makes it about us, not about them. In contrast, speakers as servant leaders demonstrate self-awareness, empathy, and foresight.

I’m so inspired by my new ideas on Servant Public Speaking that I’ve purchased, and am reading, several books on the topic. I’m tempted to make #814 the longest blog in the history of Interruptions or even in the history of blogdom.

Should I stop now and let you consider what I’ve written? But I have so much to write, perhaps another thousand words will help.

HHHHMMMHHM – long blog post or short blog post?

I think I know your answer!!!

The end. Go eat breakfast.

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