Weekly Thought – November 21. 2023
Fred began his public speaking career as a young man in the personnel department at General Shoe Corporation in Nashville. A call from an industry association to the company as the largest employer in the region was routed to Fred. They wanted someone to address “people issues” at their Tennessee meeting. He accepted the invitation (although he had done no professional speaking, but given much thought to the subject) which then became an invitation to be a key speaker at their National Conference. His reputation as a speaker, consultant, and writer allowed him a lifetime of broad experiences.
Focus on the Audience
Whether speakers, preachers, or talkers, we must think of what our listeners need to hear, not what we want to say. Our material should not be an expression of egotism, our “much learning,” or the things people have given as compliments. Our content should grow out of a careful analysis of the needs of the listeners. I try to remind myself I’m speaking to people about a subject, not about a subject to people. The focus is on the people, not the subject. That may sound like a semantics, but many speakers are authorities on a subject without being authorities on the audience. They feel they have communicated whether the listeners get anything or not.
During World War II when we needed to train technical people very quickly, we had a program called Training Within Industry (TWI). One of the basic tenets was “The teacher hasn’t taught until the student has learned.” If an applicant for a welding job went through TWI and came out unable to weld, we didn’t blame the student; we blamed the teacher.
As communicators, if people don’t get what we say, it’s our fault, not theirs. Our job is to influence the thinking and actions of the people who hear us. I am not relieved of my responsibility just by enunciating syllables to show my knowledge of the topic. If I am teaching the Word, I have succeeded only when they understand and apply the scriptural principles.
I used to do some professional speaking with Norman Vincent Peale at chambers of commerce and other civic meetings across the country. I asked him one time, “How do you decide what to say?” He answered, “Fred, on Friday I ask myself, ‘What is the most common problem I ran into this week?’ That helps me decide.” He was talking to people, not to a subject. No wonder he has been so popular throughout his long career.
A singles group asked me to do a retreat with five two hour lectures, followed by discussion. I got there and realized that what I had prepared was not the most useful thing for them. I didn’t deliver a single one of those fully prepared lectures. Instead, we had a tremendous amount of dialogue. Afterward I went back to my room, stayed up all night synthesizing what we had talked about so that I could bring it back in a cogent form at the next session. I left there wobbling on my feet from sleep deprivation. But I received much feedback from people telling me the retreat was one of the best experiences of their lives. I was dealing with their problems, taking what knowledge I have of life principles and applying it to their current needs.
As a speaker I must always remember that the audience is first – I am there to talk to them about a subject, not to have them listen to me discuss a subject.
This week carefully consider: 1) How well do I communicate with others? 2) What is my goal when asked to give a presentation? 3) When do I believe I have expressed my message clearly?
Words of Wisdom: “I try to remind myself I’m speaking to people about a subject, not about a subject to people.”
Wisdom from the Word: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NET Bible)