Sorry this post is late. I was traveling back from a speaking engagement in beautiful New Hampshire yesterday. Although I’d like to present myself as a polished, professional speaker so that you’ll want to work with the speaker service ;), I want to be vulnerable and share a couple of important lessons that I learned on this trip.
1. Know your audience (and don’t assume that it’s the same as home)–I had been communicating for months with the event coordinator at an evangelical church in NH. She began our first conversation by filling me in on the demographics and culture of the area. One stunning statistic that she presented was that NH is 97% unchurched. She warned me that this statistic created a very different atmosphere than my “Bible-belt” home. She went on to explain some ways that my presentation would need tweaked to reach her women–simplicity, no “Christianeze”, etc. I sort of got it. Later she said, “If you were going to speak to women in some island in the Pacific, you would know to study the culture so that your teaching is relevant. Sometimes you need to even do that here in the United States.” Great observation!
2. Be careful about reading faces– The habit of reading the faces of your audience is a double edged sword. When I was teaching, I developed this skill to know when I needed to speed up or slow down. Reading my kids’ faces helped me to know if they “got it” or not.
The same skill applies when you’re speaking—sometimes. I have had 2 times when trying to read faces just about sunk me, and this was one of those times. Both times I was in other parts of the country that are less churched than my own region. What I interpreted as blank faces (in my mind that translates to bored and disinterested) caused me to lose energy as I struggled to feel connected to my audience. I was shocked after the event to have woman after woman come up to me to share what God had spoken to them through my message. I couldn’t figure it out.
Because the event coordinator was someone I had come to trust, I felt comfortable asking her about my confusion. She explained (again!) that I wasn’t “preaching to the choir” with this group. In other groups that were familiar with the ideas in my message, I might get smiles and nods. Her perception during my message was that the women were very engaged but just pensive and processing my words because for many they were something very new.
So interesting. I left feeling good about the event, and I think I’ve gained some valuable insight for future events. I want to continue to refine this message (it’s my own testimony so it’s really important to me to get it right), so the event coordinator, who also speaks, and I are going to go over my notes together. I want to know where I might have included things that tripped up women unfamiliar with the gospel so that I can communicate the Good News in the most engaging and effective way possible.
Do you have any lessons to share that you learned the hard way? I’d love to hear them!