For Chris, the formula is not: share a childhood story, divulge a personal secret, end with an inspiring call to action. If one overuses these devices, the talk can come across as clichéd or emotionally manipulative. I admit I have followed this formula, and as a result, people didn’t connecting as well as I would have liked. Chris reminds us of the real objective in our speaking: relaying an idea that shapes our thinking and behavior. Isn’t that what pastors are trying to do every Sunday? Here are three simple strategies from Chris for your speaking.
One, limit your talk to just one major idea. Ideas are complex things; you need to slash back your content so that you can focus on the single idea you're most passionate about and give yourself a chance to explain that one thing properly. You have to give context, share examples, make it vivid. So pick one idea, and make it the through-line running through your entire talk, so that everything you say links back to it in some way.
I believe there is great value in this first strategy for pastors. Pick one Scripture, one main idea, one theological concept, one thing God is directing you toward, and make this the reason for your message.
Two, give your listeners a reason to care. Before you can start building things inside the minds of your audience, you have to get their permission to welcome you into their life. And a primary tool to achieve that? Curiosity. Stir your audience's curiosity. Use intriguing, provocative questions to identify why something doesn't make sense and needs explaining. If you can reveal a disconnection in someone's worldview, they'll feel the need to bridge that knowledge gap. And once you've sparked that desire, it will be so much easier to relay your idea.
Pastors love illustrations. But let’s face it, many times our illustrations are flat. They are half-relevant stories often tagged onto a message. I have been convicted not to include any illustrations unless they build curiosity, move around a concept in a way that draws people in and offers a provocative visual that cements the idea in the hearts and minds of listeners. How can I help them see the need to make this connection in their worldview?
Three, build your idea, piece by piece, out of concepts that your audience already understands. You use the power of language to weave together concepts that already exist in your listeners' minds -- but not your language, their language. You start where they are. The speakers often forget that many of the terms and concepts they live with are completely unfamiliar to their audiences. Now, metaphors can play a crucial role in showing how the pieces fit together, because they reveal the desired shape of the pattern, based on an idea that the listener already understands. Work on a vivid explanation that delivers a satisfying aha moment as it snaps into place in our minds. It's important, therefore, to test your talk on trusted friends, and find out which parts are confusing for them.
Seminary and University language can be confusing. I know I have to think about their language, not the proprietary language of theology. If I don’t start where they are, how can I walk with them on their journey? Jesus started where we are, didn’t he?
Four, here's the final tip: Make your idea worth sharing and integration into their lies. If you believe the main idea has the potential to brighten up someone else's day or change someone else's behavior for the better or inspire someone to do something differently, then you have the core ingredient to a great message, a gift to them and all of us.
I pray every week God will inspire me and help me in preparing my message. I don’t desire for the message simply to be good but something that leads all of us toward holy living and inspired living for an awe-inspiring God.
Hear Chris’ full TED Talk on making TED Talks.
Photo credit: Dr. Thomas Jay Oord