Your Flair

What do you think of a person who just does the minimum?Last week, I wrote about using specific, concrete examples to help your audience better grasp your point.  Today, I want to explore that further.

The best content in the world won’t change your audience if they can’t connect to your message.  That’s why the crafting of your talk itself is as important as the crafting of the content.  With a little practice, you can add flair to your talk that will engage your audience and help them to connect to your content in transformational, worldview-shifting ways.  I want to focus briefly on three:

  1. The words you use are key.  As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”  Using (but not over-using) alliteration can add a touch of poetic artistry, improve your audience’s ability to assimilate.  If you can sum up your talk in one clear, simple point, repeat it as often as you can in the talk (while it still feels natural).
  2. Be aware of how your body is moving.  Are you walking?  Are you sitting?  What are your arms doing?  Does the way your body moves emphasize or detract from your point?  A great, quick read on this is Malcolm Gladwell’s article “What the Dog Saw”, available in his book of the same name.
  3. Finally, can you use your environment to your advantage?  I gave a talk about Jesus as the light of the world in John 1 and its connection to Genesis 1.  We used the lighting in the worship space to illuminate my point – shutting them off and turning them back on in sequence at specific points throughout the rest of my talk.  It proved to be quite effective in cementing my point in the audience’s mind.  Another time, in a talk on Jesus’ third temptation, I used Guitar Hero as an example.  I used a Guitar Hero guitar on stage and had our worship pastor come out and play some songs to help me make my point.  Don’t even get me started on the adultery smoothie.

The point of all of this is not to create needless spectacle.  Rather, it’s to connect our audience to our content on more than just the aural level.  The more points of contact we created to our content, the more likely our audience is to take what we communicate to them home with us, to make our message a part of themselves.

What concrete examples have you created in your talks?  What strategies have you found most effective?

Speaking of… Concrete

In this series, I’m exploring some of the techniques I’ve learned to make a speaking presentation more effective.

Looks like a delicious pudding... or a DEADLY one!

I am very much a ‘big picture’ type of person.  I don’t like to focus on the nitty-gritty, the practical, the ‘application’ of a talk.  Unfortunately for me, that’s where – in my experience – most of my listeners camp out.  So over the past couple of years, I’ve been working on making my talks more tangible, more down-to-earth (and, for the record, I’m blessed with a wife who lives in that world, so she’s been a fantastic teacher).  Here’s what I’ve learned:
Your audience isn’t going to be able to grasp a lot of the less tangible, big-picture ideas without some help.  It’s not because they’re dumb.  It’s because they are – more than likely – novices compared to you.  If you’re speaking, it’s most likely because someone thought you had something new or fresh to bring to their worlds.  You’re the expert.  And you’re afflicted with what Chip and Dan Heath (in their incredible book Made to Stick) call the “Curse of Knowledge”.

You can’t remember what it’s like not to know.

I study New Testament.  I’ve know what the Synoptic Problem is for so long, I can’t remember what it’s like not to know that Matthew, Mark and Luke all read like basically the same story, that they use a lot of the same phrasings, and that Matthew and Luke have all this extra material Mark doesn’t that we’ve labeled Q.  But introduce a person who’s grown up in Church but never studied the Gospels scholastically to that concept and s/he’ll only see a big, scary mess (which, to be fair, is how most of us feel about the Jesus Seminar).

One key to overcoming the Curse of Knowledge is using concrete, tangible examples.

Is this too busy?  I like numbers and shapes!Dr. Steve Friesen is a master at this when it comes to New Testament.  I taught under him for two years, and the first year we taught Mark, then Matthew, then John then Luke-Acts, and introduced the Synoptic Problem during the Matthew section.  Students struggled to understand how Mark and Matthew were so similar – all they could see were the differences (Mark has no birth or post-resurrection narratives, almost no parables, etc.).

The next year, he switched it up – we did Mark, John, Matthew, and still introduced the Synoptic Problem with Matthew’s material.  But this time, the students themselves noticed the ‘problem’.  After reading Mark and John, they immediately noticed how similar Matthew was, and began asking questions!  It was really incredible.  I’ve also noticed that graphics like the one over there <— help more visual students to understand the relationships among the Synoptics.  In fact, the more methods of communicating you can use, the better.  Repetition is the key to memory!

Beautiful, is it not?  This is what your talk can look like.  Well, you know what I mean.Another friend of mine who is especially good at making abstract concepts very understandable is Henry Imler.  Henry teaches philosophy and religion in Columbia, MO.  He constantly uses all sorts of images – especially comics – to illustrate complex philosophic ideas to his students.  Check out his blog for some great examples!

So, here’s the bottom line: concrete, practical examples can draw your listeners into your core message.

Is this something you do regularly?  What are some of the best strategies you’ve found for overcoming the Curse of Knowledge?