Effective Speaking and Preaching

Biblical Exposition and Homiletic Helps.

By JOSEPH HARKER, Departmental Secretary, British Union Conference, England

There is a fundamental difference between speechmaking and preaching. A sermon or address delivered "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" may not meet all or any of the requirements for a successful speech, yet in Heaven's estimation such a sermon or address would be truly successful. On the other hand, the consecrated worker surely desires to learn as much as possible regarding good style and correctness of speech. These qualities are not to be despised. They carry with them a force and a power which God can use to His glory.

"Practice, practice, practice; there is no other road to expertness and effectiveness in speech­making." And yet there are a few hints which, hardly acquired by painful experience, may serve to save beginners from many pitfalls and quagmires.

I. Before speech comes thought. Learn to think clearly, to observe accurately. Do not suffer yourself to glance over a statement of fact in the newspaper and rise with a confused impression. Do not permit your mind to be satisfied until you disentangle two ideas which you partly confound. Distinguish between re­ligion and theology, poetry and verse, an asso­ciation and a society, a man and a male.

2. Teach yourself to feel keenly what you do not feel. Do not blur or quench your emotion at hearing of an outrage, at seeing a noble deed, or in the presence of sorrow. Guard your power of feeling as you would guard a great treasure. Correctness of thought is to the preacher what line is to the artist. Keenness of feeling corre­sponds to color.

3. Be careful, especially at the beginning of your efforts to speak in public, to say one thing at a time. Do not attempt both to make and to qualify a statement in the same sentence. Do not attempt to give reasons for a position in the same breath with your delimitation of it. Never be afraid to use short interrogative sentences such as these : But why do I make such an as­sertion? Does this seem an exaggeration?

In due time you will feel that you can leave out such links in the chain, supplying them by the intonation of your voice, or the extension of your main sentence, or the use of a subtle conjunction. But at first you will best main­tain clearness by adding remark to remark. Only a skilled artist can sketch an object without taking his pencil from the paper. Only a practiced rhetorician can qualify or strengthen or defend an argument in the same sentence which states it.

4. Learn to speak and write in paragraphs. Many an excellent essay or forcible speech is spoiled for lack of halting places. A speech is not a fabric to be cut off in equal lengths, nor is it one unbroken whole. You have not thought clearly until you have seen the points of tran­sition in your subject.

First, amass your material; then attempt to gather it around several centers ; then proceed to arrange these sections of material. This last is no easy task. You will find that some of your first paragraphs must be split in two, and occa­sionally two have to be united into one. It is of great service to sketch out each paragraph on a separate piece of paper ; then you can shuffle, combine, excise, divide with little trou­ble. And when.you speak, do not be afraid of showing the skeleton of your address. It is not pleasant to look on a skeleton ; but you are to see where the hand joins the arm, and where the arm joins the shoulder. Better that your speech should be a little angular than shapeless.

5. Learn to finish your paragraphs clearly. If you can find a good phrase, keep it until the end of the section. Do not leave it among the more commonplace remarks where it will be unnoticed. Be careful about the setting of your jewels. In the writings of "Dr. Watson" (Ian Maclaren) you will find admirable examples of ending a paragraph. It is as characteristic of his speaking as of his writing'. This art can be learned.

6. Con frequently the shrewd paradox of the late R. W. Barber : "Put everything in that you can. Take everything out that you can." Let your mind be selective rather than encyclopedic when you are preparing to speak. Yet shun thinness and frothiness of speech. It is only by ruthlessly cutting out platitudes that you can learn to speak the great and noble commonplace freshly and forcibly. Learn to enrich your language at fitting moments with the colors of the sunset and the sonorous voice of many waters.

7. Finally, practice assiduously and use dif­ferent methods. At one time try writing your speech beforehand, after you have thought it out and spoken it to yourself. At another time make careful notes of your ideas and of your transition from idea to idea, but do not write out the talk in its entirety. Yet again, write the beginning and the main ideas, and leave the words which clothe your illustration to come at the moment of delivery. Effective speaking is very different from effective writing. It must be fuller and yet less elaborate in form. The hinges of the subject must be more clear, and its spearpoints, though less sharp, must be driven home. Some make the mistake of seek­ing to make their speeches literature. And many fail by aiming to be rhetoricians before they are thinkers. Lucidity, intensity, arrange­ment, sacrifice, practice—these are the essen­tials.


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By JOSEPH HARKER, Departmental Secretary, British Union Conference, England

September 1943

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