Now that I’m listening more on Sundays rather than preaching all the time, I’m seeing some very regular patterns that bother me. In fact, there are two fallacies I see speakers commit over and over.
- FALLACY #1 — People want to hear what I have to say.
- FALLACY #2 — Longer is better.
Consider fallacy #1.
If a speaker assumes people want to hear what they have to say, there is no drive to be captivating, relevant, or creative. This assumption leads a presenter to simply present material without much attention given to capturing and holding the listener’s attention throughout the presentation.
God gave me a gift–and it wasn’t public speaking. The gift God gave me was the gripping assumption that people don’t really want to hear what I have to say. Right or wrong, this has shaped my public speaking for 35 years. I am always amazed that people will give me their attention for 25 or 30 minutes (at least most people). What my “people-don’t-want-to-listen” assumption does for me, however, is that it drives me to continually capture the interest of the audience, constantly connect my teaching to real life, and make sure everyone has a little enjoyment in the process (because a little pleasure with teaching has been proven by psychologists to be the one ingredient that will make it stick).
When a preacher/teacher assumes people want to hear what I have to say, the message becomes more about me than them–or the important topic at hand. The person at the podium becomes the reason people are sitting there. “They want to hear me!” Wrong. Fallacy #1 can makes us boring–really boring and terribly ineffective.
Consider fallacy #2.
Longer may be better on very rare occasions–like if you have so much profound content that it absolutely cannot be presented in the current attention span we are allotted. Trust me, this is rarely the case. Almost never. Instead, 95% of the time, a longer presentation means that the message is less potent and not fully prepared. [And don't assume you're in the 5% that can preach long.] We are rarely as good as we think we are.
In my years as a pastor, as I prepared week after week to teach the Word, I always forced myself to take a 45 minute message and widdle it down to less than 30 minutes. It was a rare Sunday that I went over that time limit. The discipline of forcing myself to be brief did several things to my sermons:
- It forced me to be sure I stay after the big idea
- It was necessary for me to cut out “the fat”
- It kept the message clearly moving somewhere all the time
- It eliminated my natural tendency to “camp out” on my favorite element for too long
- It shortened my stories and illustrations down to be really effective instead of letting me be a wordy storyteller
- It kept my audience engaged
- It made me prepare really well (an unprepared message is a long message)
Fallacy #2 — longer is better — is just not true. We can falsely assume that we get deeper. This is rarely the case. Instead, we are usually less effective. Regularly engaging in this false assumption will hamper people’s enthusiasm for the teaching time and may even drive people away.
So if you’re a pastor, preacher, teacher, or public speaker, take note and act accordingly. Rarely will your audience tell you the truth about these things…and usually, we preachers don’t like to hear it anyway.