Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am a youth. For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:6-8)
Short answer: Work at it.
Longer answer: Read, listen, attend, ask, study, change, improve.
I used to have a professional speaker in my church. When I asked her for advice, she declined. I was disappointed. I would loved to have had some helpful pointers from her. (Many years later, we are still in contact and to my pleasant surprise, she remembers only how effective I was. I’m thankful for her poor memory!)
I bought a magazine at Barnes & Noble the other day. OnPoint costs like a hardbound but is a slick quarterly from the Harvard Business Review. The entire Summer 2019 issue is devoted to “How to Become a Fearless Speaker.”
I paid $20 bucks for it.
If I get one or two great ideas, it’ll be an excellent investment.
And that’s another point worth remembering, pastor: Always be open to improving your technique.
I’ve been a public speaker almost as long as I’ve been standing. In the fourth grade, when Mrs. Meadows invited students who had read a great story to share it with the whole class, I would volunteer, walk to the front of the room, turn to face the students, and make up a story on the spot.
Yes. You read that right.
I. Made. Up. The. Story. On. The. Spot.
I’m as amazed as anyone, thinking back on that.
I have no idea what prompted that exercise in spontaneous creativity, where the self-confidence (pride?) came from, or what momentarily robbed me of my sound judgment. Just as mystifying from this distance is why Mrs. Meadows let me get by with it. Not once did she ever reprove me for doing it. (I could add that neither did she compliment me, but I’m confident my attempts were not particularly well done. Nevertheless, she was extremely lenient with this little brash kid.)
Fear of public speaking, we’re told, ranks right up there with the fear of dying.
Those of us who do it often–and hopefully fairly well–become energized in front of a group of hearers. When we have something good to share, and know it’s good and they’re going to love it, there’s nothing better.
That, as much as anything, is why I am a story-teller. When you know it’s a great tale and you are sure the audience is going to love it, you are literally in your moment.
This expensive magazine is almost funny to us preachers with one piece of advice. In one article, the author says: “We start helping speakers prepare their talks six months or more in advance so that they’ll have plenty of time to practice. We want people’s talks to be in final form at least a month before the event.”
Get that? Six months of practice for an 18-minute TED talk. (You’ve heard of TED talks? The TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design. It’s a phenomenon, big with business people. You can see examples of TED talks on youtube.)
We pastors often preach three times a weekend and once or twice during the week. But six months preparation for one message? In your dreams. And yet…
It’s an interesting idea. Stay with me here a minute, Preacher.
What if you were to do that, Pastor?
What if you were to work on a message so compelling, with two or three just-right Scriptures, a story so perfect and memorable, and everything as good as you could make it? What if you worked with a professional or two to improve it, practiced it in front of a group to get their feedback, and rehearsed it so often you could do it in your sleep? What if you did it a couple of times a year just for the discipline, just to upgrade your standard, usual delivery?
And then, what if you retained that message so it would be available at a moment’s notice in the future. After all, even busy pastors get called on to speak before civic clubs, community meetings, and other churches. At those times, you need something you can preach at a moment’s notice, something already prepared which you know will be appropriate.
This is why some pastors join Toastmasters and similar clubs–to get safe feedback on what they are doing and to do a better job of what God has called them for.
In the middle of his lengthy ministry to God’s people, when Jeremiah had been preaching and laboring nonstop to halt Israel’s rush to the graveyard, God said to him, “If you return, then I will bring you back. You shall stand before Me. If you take the precious from the worthless, then you shall be as My mouth…And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall….for I am with you to save you and deliver you” (Jeremiah 15:19-20). The fascinating thing about that is it’s a call within a call. God is using some of the same language He used at the initial drafting of this man into the ministry (see Jeremiah 1) and calling him to a new commitment to the same task.
Think of it as a renewal. A mid-course correction.
Do you need one of those? We all do from time to time. It’s a sign we’re committed to doing the will of God, of pleasing Him for the rest of the journey.