9 Hints to Improve Public Speaking
by William Hoste
The true object of ministry is “that God in all things may be glorified” and the body of Christ edified. Some who have a measure of gift fail to edify as they might. The reasons for this may be in their own hands and capable of removal. Some hints may help both writer and reader. I throw them out from the negative standpoint. Ministry may fail to edify on account of:
- Inordinate Length
This is specially wearying when prefaced by the usual formula, “a brief word”, “a few remarks”. This frequently preludes a long drawn out address of forty minutes or so. I remember once being invited to give a special address somewhere in Italy. A deal of preparation was made and a goodly company came together. It was agreed that a local evangelist (a gem of a man) should give “a few words” of introduction. He spoke well over an hour, and the visitor’s turn never came. Not once nor twice have some of us had to suffer agonies of self-reproach for exceeding the time limit. This is at least a sign of grace which possibly all do not experience who ought, but it were better to suffer beforehand and be brief “not only in word but in deed”.
There is another phase of this which is very trying to an audience, the trick of making “false finishes”. The speaker seems to have come to an end, and then starts off again with renewed energy. Some speakers are long but never lengthy. Some may seem lengthy without being long. If you have seven heads to your address, perhaps it is more prudent not to announce that fact to your audience “lest they be discouraged”. “Stand up! Speak up! Shut up!” have been suggested as seasonable advice for public speakers.
- Undue Frequency
Some speakers would be twice as valued if they spoke half as often. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas 1:19). Of some it may be said, as to Israel of old, “Their strength is to sit still”. The flesh is very restless. Some Churches seem afflicted with the complaint. There is but little waiting upon God. Everyone is at full-cock, ready to go off at the first opportunity. This is the deathblow to spiritual worship. I know men of some gift who have become a positive burden to the Church through thinking it incumbent on them to give portly addresses nearly every Lord’s day morning, usually before the Lord’s Supper, and with sparse reference to it. They seem to think it is expected of them, but they end by cutting off the ears of their fellow-Christians. We are not local Atlases bearing up the Church of God on our shoulders; there are others qualified to edify. Perhaps the Holy Spirit would use one of these if we spoke less frequently.
Akin to this is the idea that some people seem to have that they must always intervene at a certain point of the services, as if some acts would not be genuine if performed by another. I know of one Church where one good brother seemed under the impression that he must start the morning service with a hymn; there he is with his hymn ready. It may, of course, be most appropriate, or it may not be. If he performed this service less frequently it would probably be more spiritual, as well as more acceptable.
Some people have their pet themes. To them your ministry is irrelevant if you move outside their little repertoire. They always speak of “principles of reception” or “the higher life”, “separation from the world” or “the Great Tribulation”. Themes of great importance, no doubt, but not to the exclusion of many others, for “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (1 Tim 3:16). Others are always dwelling on the low state of things. Their motto is “Ichabod”. This kind of thing is apt to be very depressing if it feature largely in preaching. Those present are scolded for the shortcomings of the absent.
The old men who remembered the first Temple in its glory drowned with their weeping the rejoicing of the younger generation. This has been highly commended by some, and no doubt in a material sense they were right, but God had something better for that Temple than for the former. Things are low and weak today in many ways, the testimony is of a remnant character in the midst of the growing apostasy, but God is the same; His Spirit abides with us, and His Word is as true as ever. We should avoid a depressing ministry. Let us “strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die.” The Church of Philadelphia was commended, although it had only a little strength, because it had kept the Lord’s Word and had not denied His name. Those who sacrifice their days to coming together to hear the Word of God, surely may expect some positive ministry of edification and encouragement. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus. That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:4-6).
- Conference Addresses
This brings us to another point. Some think that all the addresses at a Conference should be of a devotional character. True, Christ should be the great object of all ministry, but how varied is the Word of God! In how many ways is Christ presented to us! The Bible does not consist of a few favourite chapters or subjects, but of sixty-six books, all of which “are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work” (1 Tim 3:16-17).
One good man loved to dwell almost exclusively on the axe-head that swam. I am afraid he was a little bit out of his depth, for I felt in considerable doubt after hearing him as to what doctrinal or practical lessons he intended to convey. He told me he had made a special study of this miracle. I suggested his writing a tract on it and getting it off his mind. Because Paganini performed wonders on a single string, there is no occasion for us to try, seeing we have an instrument of ten strings. Besides, he played a tune; we too often produce a monotonous hum.
There is a great deal of stale manna about. Once a man’s ministry was fresh and crisp; now he seems played out. Once he was a blessing, now he fails to move. His words lack unction. He is perfectly sound, but it is the soundness of tinned meats. A young man once said to an elder brother who was seeing him off from the station, after a short series of meetings, “I hope you will have me again. I have thirteen undelivered addresses.” “The Lord add to their number, dear brother!” was the reply of the other. It would be a good thing if some notes of addresses were “purged with fire” every year or so.
How badly ill-cooked food nourishes the body, and little better for the soul is crude ministry. The Word of God must be pre-digested. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer 15:16). The teacher must be first fed himself. True ministry brings us into the presence of God. There two persons are revealed, ourselves in our littleness, vileness, and unworthiness; and Christ in His infinite perfection. The teacher must have this double vision. He must share the thoughts of God, and then, like Luke, he can set them in order.
Some people seem to claim a sort of on-the-spot-inspiration. They ask us to believe that, like the prophets of old, a message has come to them as a direct revelation from God on a verse they have never thought of before. At least this is the impression sometimes conveyed. Well, the verse may well be a message from God. If it is, it will need no adventitious advertisement, but will make its power felt on heart and conscience. When Ehud came to Eglon with a message from God, he did not ask to be believed on his bare word. Eglon was left in no doubt as to its reality, for he felt its point profoundly. But claims to inspiration are rarely inspiring. As for preparation, it is as we meditate on the Word that it takes shape in our minds in an orderly way, and it is only then that we can give it out clearly. When a person says that he understands a thing clearly, but cannot express it, it is his understanding which is at fault.
- Dependence on the Holy Spirit
Some excellent people, I fear, may question what I have said on the ground that all preparation is the fruit of defective dependence on the Spirit of God. But why should this be so? In reality, we need both dependence and preparation. The two things are not incompatible. It would indeed be regrettable if anything written here should lessen our dependence on the Holy Spirit, but that very Spirit has caused to be written for our learning such words as: “Because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed (it was no haphazard performance left to the last moment), and sought out, and set in order many proverbs (it was an orderly arrangement of divine truth). The preacher sought to find out acceptable words (he studied not only the matter, but even the manner of expression), and that which was written was upright, even the words of truth (sound doctrine in a form of sound words). The words of the wise (i.e., those who do as here recommended) are as goads (inciting to action) and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies (difficult to forget), which are given from one Shepherd (for all ultimately that is good and profitable comes from Him)” (Ecc 12:9-11).
This is the most serious hindrance of all. Correct doctrine with no grip. The water of the Word, but no oil of the Spirit. Form without the power. This usually comes from a careless walk, some inexpedient thing clung to, worldly ways, sin allowed. The Word has been neglected or, if studied, not fed upon. Perhaps some doubtful habit blinds the eyes. The holy oil will only pour out into clean vessels. The way to the throne of grace has been little trod. “If a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work” (1 Tim 2:21). Christians differ as to what “these” refer to. Some say “vessels unto dishonour”, but a dirty cup does not become clean by being removed from dirty ones, but only by being cleansed inside and out from its own dirtiness. It is then placed among other clean ones ready for use. If we want to be vessels unto honour we must “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” I think the context shows that “these” refer to the “profane and vain babblings, strivings about words”, and “iniquity” of the previous verses, which defile and hinder usefulness.
How much has been talked of separation “from” and separation “unto” has been overlooked; of separation from what is outside, while the inward parts are full of self, envying and strife. This is “Pharisaism”. The separation without holiness, of which God complained in Israel of old, who said: “stand by thyself; come not near to me, for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in My nose, a fire that burneth all the day” (Isa 65:5). Ecclesiastically they were separate from their fellowmen, morally they were separated from God.
Then, too, there must be waiting upon God, not only for a message, matter and manner, but for that ability to deliver which God alone can give. We may get our message long before we speak. We rarely, if ever, get the experience of power before we speak, but rather of conscious weakness. But we find at last that God is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, the reward being that we find Him. It is those who, like Elijah, can say, “The Lord God before whom I stand”, whose words have power with God and with man.
(From a chapter in Mr Hoste’s book Bishops, Priests and Deacons)