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Preachers, pastors need to be more exciting, informative, speaker says

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part one of a two part series.

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–“Communication is a contact sport. You have to connect with people,” said Bert Decker, a nationally known communications consultant.

“I find the spoken word is the word that motivates people,” Decker told participants of a conference, “Communicating with Bold Assurance,” held July 2-3 as part of Discipleship and Family Week at Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center.

Decker, CEO of Decker Communications, San Francisco, Calif., is author of ‘Communicating with Bold Assurance,’ an eight-session course for use in churches distributed by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He is also chairman of a non-profit organization, Bold Assurance Ministries, that uses biblical principles in teaching people how to speak with greater confidence.

The goal of Bold Assurance, he said, is to enable “people to be more skilled at sharing the word [of God] one on one and in groups.”

“There are millions of people with the right skills in their heads and in their hearts who can’t get them out because they don’t believe soft skills such as communication are important,” Decker said. “When you marry style and substance, that’s all you need to communicate.”

Decker said the fear of public speaking leads the list of people’s greatest fears at 41 percent. Other fears in the top seven are: heights, 32 percent; insects and bugs, financial and deep water, 22 percent each; sickness and death, 19 percent each.

He cited a 1985 San Francisco Business School study that showed four stages of speaking, beginning with the non-speaker who is terrified of having to get in front of people and avoids doing it. The occasional speaker fears the task and is a reluctant speaker. In the third stage, the person has moved to willingness but still experiences tension when speaking. In the fourth stage, the leader is eager to speak and is stimulated and excited by the opportunity.

“I wish the whole body of Christ were in stage four,” Decker said.

Emphasizing the importance of visual communication, he said audiences judge a speaker’s believability primarily (55 percent) on what they see of the speaker, 38 percent on the sound of the speaker’s voice and only 7 percent on the message itself.

“If you want to communicate information, do it in writing,” Decker said. “If you want to persuade and move people to action, do it by speaking. Our preachers and pastors need to be exciting, motivating and informative. I recommend not reading sermons or speeches.”

As he has worked with business leaders, sports figures and others to hone their speaking skills, Decker said most have no idea about the bad habits they have such as interspersing their words with “uh” and “ah” or standing with their hands clasped stiffly in front. Audio and videotaping helps to identify problems and take deliberate steps to make changes.

Decker listed nine behavioral skills that “can be learned if we have the faith to let God’s energy guide us.” They include:

— Eye communication, the first, and most important behavior. “You get leverage in a large group by looking at one individual,” Decker said. I urge you to find out what your eye communication is and work on it. When you don’t have eye communication, you don’t have communication.”

— Body posture and movement. “Get your weight forward. Don’t stand behind the lectern. Very few people move around with too much energy.”

— Dress and appearance. Acknowledging today’s increasingly casual culture, he urged, “When in doubt, dress up, not down.”

— Gestures and facial expressions. He said about one-third of people speak with a natural smile, one-third have fairly expressive faces and one-third have established no connection between their faces and the feelings they are trying to communicate.

— Voice and vocal variety. “The monotone voice can kill good communication,” he said.

— Words and non-words. Instead of stuttering or using frequent “uhs,” Decker urged mastering the use of the pause.

— Listener involvement, such as making a point through objects, skits and other means.

— Humor, “an invaluable communication technique that’s very hard to teach, but it is learnable,” Decker said. He suggested keeping a notebook of humorous stories for use in speeches.

— Be yourself. “The natural self is all you need to be,” he said. “It’s a skill as well as a concept and it’s the foundation of bold assurance. Allow God to work through you.”

To gain regular feedback to improve as a speaker, Decker suggested what he called the “3 x 3” method. During group speaking exercises, each member should be asked to list three “keepers” or strengths from each person’s presentation and three areas of needed improvement. Cards are then collected and given to each speaker.

“When most people give feedback, it’s all critical or a whitewash without much value,” he said. The 3 x 3 method requires balanced feedback.

In addition to his focus on building trust through verbal communication, the Bold Assurance course includes help on building trust in the message and enabling speakers to build trust in themselves.

Decker also has co-written a book with Hershael W. York, “Preaching with Bold Assurance,” that will be released next winter by Broadman & Holman Publishers.

LifeWay’s discipleship and family group sponsored Discipleship and Family Week, July 1-7.

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson