Wednesday, February 9, 2022

How NOT to Communicate

The other night I was watching a debate on YouTube where one of the debaters did nothing but ramble on, making incoherent sentences about absolutely nothing. It was pure bloviation. Nothing aggravates me more. The level of verbosity was absolutely incredible, as if rhetoric was employed to distract attention from the lack of him saying anything meaningful.

Now, I love communication. Both verbal and nonverbal. I love to study it, read about it, watch it, write about it, and learn from it. It's a skill that must be acquired, practiced, and honed. This debater had no substantive argument. He belittled his opponent, disrespected him, and called him a whiner (and worse) for no reason whatsoever. In fact, I could make no sense of anything he said. He spoke a lot of fancy words but said nothing. Contrast that with the way the New Testament writers used rhetoric. I never, ever, get the impression that they used rhetoric to say to their audience, "Look at how smart I am." That's why in my book Using New Testament Greek in Ministry I urge my students not to use Greek from the pulpit. As R. C. Sproul once put it, "A great preacher is like an iceberg. You only see 10 percent, but you sense the 90 percent." As far as I can tell, this is how the New Testament authors wrote, completely free of artifice. If you'd like some examples, you could perhaps read my essays Paul and Christian Unity: A Formal Analysis of Philippians 2:1-4, The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews: An Evaluation and a Proposal, Hebrews 1:1-4: A Study in Discourse Analysis, A Note on the Structure of Hebrews 12:1,2, On the Style and Significance of John 17, The Pauline Love Command: Structure, Style, and Ethics in Romans 12:9-21, and Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Here's another observation. If you're ever to become an effective speaker -- whether as a lecturer or a preacher -- you will have to know way more than you talk about. This is the problem I have with so much that passes today for "preaching." What I see nowadays is more or less a performance where a person is delivering a lecture couched in the form of a sermon. It's a packaged thing that could be presented just as easily to this group as to that group. There is little to no connection between speaker and audience. This is largely because the speaker is addressing the group rather than the individuals in the group. When I speak in the classroom or in church or in chapel, I will almost always address someone in my audience, by name if at all possible. It's not actually the group you're addressing, it's the individuals in the group. That's why I never use notes, because it's only by maintaining constant eye contact with your audience that you can tell whether the people are engaged or bored or connecting. 

So to speak effectively, you have to have something to say, something that is yours, because there is a big difference between knowledge and Google knowledge. Secondly, you have to pay close attention to your audience. Close your silly notebook and stop scrolling your iPad! Make every effort to connect with your audience, and they will thank you for it.