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Speaker's Corner

The "Want To"

I quoted an authority who opined that the three most important things for a public speaker are:

1. Have something important to say.

2. Want someone else to understand or believe it.

3. Say it as simply and directly as you can.

It goes without saying that if the first item is not in place, then the next two hardly matter. But the second point is closely related to the first. In general the desire to communicate an idea is directly proportional to the importance of the idea to the speaker. But not always. Some people simply lack the desire.

In all my years of teaching speech, there was one thing I was never able to do. I could not make a man want to communicate. I recall a football coach once making a similar observation. A man could have all the athletic skills to play the game, but if he didn't have desire, he could never become a great player. He would choose a player of mediocre ability and great desire anytime over a great athlete who couldn't be bothered. This was the same coach who said that any player caught holding hands with a girl on campus would be dropped from the team. "A football player in love isnít worth a hoot," was his loudly voiced opinion.

Frankly, I don't know why some students bothered to take the public speaking course unless it was just the thing to do. There is a proverb about it: "Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?" (Proverbs 17:16). Why pay the tuition when your heart isnít in it?

I had a lot of success in those years of making effective speakers out of callow young men. But I could only help those who wanted to. Oh, they were nervous. They dreaded giving the assigned speeches. They made all the mistakes, but in the end, they wanted to be able to convey an idea from their mind to others, and to be able to change the thoughts and actions of men and women. And so they endured the fear, struggled with the assignments, winced when they got a tough evaluation, but they stuck with the program.

But in all my years of teaching speech, I have never been able to teach the "want to." Not even to men who had heard the gospel and who could change lives with it if they cared. Maybe some people just donít have the calling. Perhaps the desire is the mute evidence of the calling and the gift.

From the first time I stood in front of an audience, I wanted the audience to agree with my point, to believe that my argument was right, to be persuaded to my point of view. Or if my goal was solely to inform, I cared deeply that the audience would retain the information I had for them and make use of it. I hoped that my appeal to action at the end of the speech would actually change a personís life.

I once had a friend in the ministry who hated to give sermons. I never understood him. To me, the chance to open the Bible and teach is motherís milk.

When you care whether the audience believes or not, you will give more thought to the organization and structure of your speech. Not only that, but you will acquire a sense of urgency that the audience will recognize and respect. If they can see that you fervently believe in what you are saying, they will give you a hearing. They may not agree in the end, but at least they will hear you out respectfully. But if they sense that you donít care, they wonít either. You would be surprised how many people can sit through a sermon and not be able to tell you what it was about.

But then, if you didnít care about public speaking or preaching, you wouldnít be reading this, would you? What you have to do is nurture that caring spirit. No one else can make you want to. It is worth whatever sacrifice you have to make to keep the flame burning.

I probably should mention that some audiences will make it very hard. Public speaking is communication, and it is a two way street. Textbooks talk about what they call the "circular response." The speaker presents his ideas, watching the audience carefully. The audience hears, assimilates and responds (or not). The speaker observes the audience response and makes adjustments to the presentation. More than once in my career, I have backed up and covered a point the second time because I saw a puzzled look on the face of someone in the audience.

If you donít care what your audience thinks about what you are saying, you donít care enough to be up there in the first place. And there is no feeling quite like the feeling you get when you see the puzzled expression disappear and be replaced by a face saying quite plainly, "Oh, now I get it." It is like hitting the sweet spot on a drive off the tee. It is one of lifeís truly satisfying experiences.

But you have to want to.

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