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Book’s public speaking pointers to aid pastors & church members

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Ever seen a pocket change jangler, a ring twister or an arm locker? Lifelong church members probably have.

Change jangling, ring twisting and arm locking are all nervous habits of public speaking that can distract the listener away from the message, and in turn, away from the gospel. A new book coauthored by Hershael York and Bert Decker seeks to help people junk such bad habits and improve their public speaking skills.

Titled “Speaking with Bold Assurance: How to Become a Persuasive Communicator,” the book is written for laypeople and pastors alike. It is published by Broadman & Holman, the trade books division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Both authors are experts in public speaking. York is associate professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and will have a sermon featured in the May audiocassette edition (Issue No. 213) of “Preaching Today.” Decker is the founder of California-based Decker Communications and has been interviewed on NBC’s “Today Show” and ABC’s “20/20.”

York said he decided to coauthor such a book after studying the various speaking styles of ministers.

“I’ve always wanted to be a better preacher,” he said. “Anybody who preaches and anybody who communicates wants to be better. You want to know how to connect. I’ve heard a lot of sermons, many of which were doctrinally, biblically sound [and] rooted in the text — and I still went to sleep. The guy didn’t grip me.”

York learned of Decker while listening to an audiocassette series by Decker titled, “High Impact Communications.” Although targeted toward businessmen, the cassette series impressed York so much that he incorporated part of Decker’s system into his own sermons.

York was further impressed when he learned that Decker is a Christian. The two then met together and agreed to coauthor a book specifically focused on a Christian audience.

Although pastors will benefit from the book, York pointed out that it is intended to help every public speaker within the church — from Sunday school teachers to deacons.

“It’s probably even more for laypeople than for pastors, although anybody who communicates the Christian message ought to read it,” he said.

Persuasive communication requires much more than simply the spoken word, York said. It also requires strong visual and vocal skills. Visual skills include the way people appear when they speak — such as the way they dress and the expressions on their face. Vocal skills include the range of a person’s voice. York pointed to research showing that — from the listener’s standpoint — the text of a message accounted for only 7 percent of believability. Visual skills accounted for 55 percent of believability, vocal skills 38 percent.

“A full 93 percent comes from the way you say it with your voice, and with your body language — the look on your face,” York said. “We cannot be detached from this that we preach. Everything about us has to be consistent and convey that message. That is what makes oral communication radically different [from] written communication. Don’t ever think that they’re close to being the same thing. They’re not. Words on a page are lifeless. … Oral communication is very different, because it can communicate passion.”

The book includes nine communications skills that serve as the basis for persuasive communication:

— Maintaining eye communication with the audience.

“Analyze your eye pattern,” York said. “Is there a part of the sanctuary you’re ignoring? You want to make sure you don’t do that.”

York suggested watching videotape of oneself in order to improve eye communication.

— Gestures and facial expressions.

“Your gestures need to go with what you’re talking about,” he said. “The main thing is that you do want your hands and arms free. You don’t want to have to be holding something. You want them free to move and to be consistent with what you’re saying.”

This category includes the nervous habits of change jingling (jingling the change in one’s pocket), ring twisters (playing with rings on one’s hand) and arm locking (folding of the arms).

“Get rid of them,” York said.

— Confident posture and movement.

“How you stand really does affect the way you communicate,” York said, suggesting putting the weight on the balls of one’s feet while speaking in public. “You want that forward lean,” he said. “You want that good posture.”

— Appropriate dress and appearance.

“You want to dress appropriately for whatever culture you’re in,” York said. “If the expectation is for you to wear a coat and tie, [then] wear a coat and tie. Don’t dress too far above people.”

But York said it is better to dress up than to dress down. For men, this includes a tie. For women, this includes a dress.

— Voice control and vocal variety.

“Most people carve out the middle 20 percent of their vocal range, and that’s all they’ll use — even when they’re preaching,” York said. “But the best speakers are like a roller-coaster. They’re all over.”

York said that Bellevue Baptist Church’s Adrian Rogers is an example of someone who has command of his vocal range.

— Avoiding “filler” words.

York said it is imperative that a speaker eliminates “filler” words such as “uh,” “um,” “you know” and “well.”

“When your speech is full of them, what you’re telling their mind is that ‘You can shut out part of what I’m saying.’ You really want to work hard to make every word have meaning,” he said.

— Use of humor.

Jokes are generally a bad idea because “most people can’t tell jokes well,” York said.

There is one big exception to this rule – the pastor. “In a relation between a pastor and people, you can even get away with bad jokes,” York said.

York added that self-deprecating humor usually works in any audience.

— Involving the listeners.

“Every now and then, ask questions” of the audience, York said. “Use somebody’s name in an audience that you know. Ask for a response. … Have sheets for them to fill out.”

— Acting naturally.

“Look and act natural,” York said. “Be yourself.”

York admitted that acting natural may be tough if a person is trying to change how he speaks.

“You’ve got to work so hard at changing that it ultimately becomes who you are,” he said. “It becomes natural to you.”

York and Decker now are working on a book titled “Preaching with Bold Assurance” that will focus solely on preparing and delivering sermons. It is scheduled to be released in 2002.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SPEAKING WITH BOLD ASSURANCE.

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  • Michael Foust