Phobias are powerful. I hate high places and spiders! My worst nightmare would be out on a ledge with a big ugly spider! It’s not rational, I know. That’s the crazy thing about phobias. They don’t make sense. What’s your fear?!
According to a 2001 Gallup pole on American Fears, snakes rank at the top of the list. Public speaking is second! (Heights rank third, being closed in a small space is fourth and spiders and insects are fifth.)
Speaking in public, regardless of the size of the crowd, terrifies most people. But leaders don’t have a choice. They must talk in public. You might think some leaders have it easier because the largest number they are required to address is about ten people in a boardroom. But that can be just as terrifying as addressing five hundred people, if not more so. The reason this is true is because the level of intimacy actually increases with a smaller crowd. It becomes more personal. When you speak to a very large crowd, you can choose not to reveal much of yourself, and in a way, remain more safe and secure than if you address a huge group. Of course the great communicators understand this and are gifted at connecting at a heart level regardless of the size of the crowd.
My emphasis in this article is not so much about becoming a great communicator to large crowds, but embracing the fact that all leaders must be good communicators regardless of the size of the audience. Whether you are a pastor speaking to one hundred people, or a business leader wanting to close a sale with three people, your ability to communicate is crucial.
The Joshua’s Men Communication Retreat is something I look forward to every year. Joshua’s Men is a one year intensive leadership development process that includes two overnight retreats. The second retreat is typically in June and some of the toughest and smartest guys I know get weak in the knees knowing they will be delivering a 30 second commercial and an 18 minute sermon. Both are video-tapped and critiqued! You’ve never seen guys get so relieved and flat out happy as when they are done with their talks. I’ve been leading these retreats for twenty-four years and I’ve learned much through the process. I could write volumes, but let me offer just a few thoughts that will likely be helpful to you.
Good communicators are comfortable with themselves.
One of the reasons we video the sermons is so the speaker can see how they did immediately after they finish the talk. It’s partially about communication skills and partially about self-discovery. You’d be amazed at how many leaders have never been critiqued by their peers by evaluating a video of one of their talks. It can be an intimidating process. The presenter often (and emphatically) says, “That doesn’t look like me and I don’t sound like that!” They are literally coming to grips with a new level of self-awareness. It’s great! The difference-maker is whether or not they like what they see. If a speaker is not comfortable with who they are, they will never become a good communicator. If you as a leader don’t know who you are, don’t like who you are, or somewhere in between (not comfortable), your listeners will pick up on it. They may not ever understand what is actually going on, but they’ll know something isn’t quite right. The more you are able to genuinely be yourself, the better communicator you will be.
Good communicators understand the weight of their words.
If you are a pastor you know how much your words matter. From the boardroom to the pulpit, your words count. You don’t have the option of being frivolous or carefree with what you say. I’m not suggesting that you get so preoccupied with words that you become uptight and too intense. You need to be relaxed with people in order to connect. Remember there is a difference between appropriate and well-timed intensity and being an intense person. No one wants to be around an intense person. I’m often amazed when someone makes a comment to me about something I said “years ago” in a sermon or a team meeting that really stuck with them. It makes me grateful the Holy Spirit provides wisdom and it reminds me of how important my words are. As a parent, pastor, friend, or business leader – your words carry weight so make them count!
Good communicators think before they talk.
We’ve all been in trouble for speaking before we think. (Which really means speaking without thinking!) It is important that you are able to think on your feet, all effective leaders can do that. But the truth of the matter is that for at least 51% of your communication, and probably more like 80%, you have time to prepare. You have time to think carefully about what you will say ahead of time. Don’t get lazy and simply wing it. You might get away with that for a while, but trust me, that will eventually catch up with you. Further, as a spiritual leader, it’s important to add prayer to your “think time.” You can think on your own, but to knowingly take a pass on the wisdom of God is foolish. Take time to think deeply and practice writing your thoughts. It’s a great way to gain clarity and see if you agree with yourself!
Good communicators understand that delivery outweighs content.
Which is more important content or delivery? This is a long-standing debate. It’s easy to ask why must we decide? They are both important. That’s true. But pushing the question makes us face the reality about the importance of communication. I will admit my bias up front. I’m a content guy, but will fully acknowledge that if I don’t present it well, or at least in a way that makes it receivable by the hearer, it doesn’t matter how good the thoughts are. In fact, I’ve seen brilliant content wasted by speakers who were so bad and so boring that they might as well have said nothing at all. Candidly, silence would have been better. We all want both great content and great delivery, but great content is readily available to us all. Then you add your own stuff (or start with your own thoughts and then study what others think) to the mix plus the Holy Spirit’s counsel and you are in great shape with content! So you are wise to invest time in learning to communicate better.
Good communicators are intentional about using words to make things happen.
This is the part that fires me up. Let’s leave the content / delivery debate and make the call based on results! The bottom line of leadership is whether or not you help the people you serve be better and live better. Life should be better for those you lead. As a spiritual leader, this is understood within the context of God’s Kingdom – His rule and reign.
How are you using your words to communicate God’s truth and grace in such a way that people live their lives to the full! (John 10:10) I’m referring to your communication as a leader in general, more than your teaching, although all the components of your communication are involved. So, how are things better? What is improved? What problems are being solved? What new ideas have you shared that have been embraced? Do the people hear and respond to your vision? When you speak do people listen? When you speak are you understood? When you speak do people follow?
Your ability to communicate clearly and concisely has a profound impact on the answers to these questions!
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