An Essential Guide to Public Speaking

Don’t gloss over these comments on this outstanding book. Some of you may not do public speaking, others may think you already know how. If you fall into either of these categories you will miss an outstanding book. While it focuses on public speaking, it actually talks about communication that touches each one of us.

Quentin Schultze is no stranger to our readers. He is the master “guru” in communication. He holds the Arthur H. DeKruyter Chair in Faith and Communication at Calvin College. He has authored numerous books covering the waterfront in areas of communication. Why this little book? I use the term little book (111 pages) to encourage you to take the time to read it. I was challenged by Schutlze’s idea that we can become so professional and skilled with the science of communication that we often neglect what he calls the purpose and ethics of communication.

Throughout the book he encourages Christians to take public speaking more seriously by focusing not so much on self, the presenter, but on the audience and how we not only choose words, but how we posture ourselves ethically and morally in what we say. He uses St. Augustine as the classic example and refers to him many times. Before his conversion Augustine was a master of rhetoric (the art of persuasion). However, Schutlze writes, Augustine used and taught deception and equated good rhetoric (eloquence) with audience impact. He also believed that the real character of the speaker was irrelevant to the audience. Therefore, when Augustine was converted he backed away from that form of rhetoric only to realize later that Christians have much to contribute to this area. Schultze writes, “Christians historically contributed some of the most important insights on public speaking. Early Christians discerningly adapted speech practices from ancient Greeks, who founded rhetoric.”

What is needed is for Christians to develop their abilities to be “servant speakers.” Schultlze says, “Servant speakers are called to speak the truth in love without conforming mindlessly to the ways that the wider society communicates. Our public speaking must be sensitive to the rights and perspectives of those with whom we disagree while remaining true to our values and beliefs. What we say and how we say it are part of our witness to the world.” Schultze suggests that we think of the audience as our neighbors and speak responsibly, truthfully, and with sensitivity.

To communicate with truth and sensitivity effectively, servant communicators must learn to listen well. He says we must listen vertically to God and then listen horizontally to authorities and audiences so that we know in advance what we are speaking about and to whom we will be speaking. He then says we must also listen internally to ourselves. He further writes that a servant speaker seeks to know God’s wisdom without pretending to be God. Therefore, “learning to be a servant speaker includes lifelong self-evaluation. For many of us, this painful.”

With that kind of emphasis, Schultze gives us many practical ways to apply the servant-speaker attitude in our communication. While this is a book about public speaking, it is also a book on good communication in general. You will find many helpful tools in speech preparation, implementation, and evaluation. He does not simply focus on the verbal aspects of communication but also on the non-verbal, an area that is often neglected-the body, the face, the arms, the tone of voice. I would like to go through this book chapter by chapter but you will have to do that. As you do, you will find much that will challenge and encourage you. You will also think a little differently after you have read it. I had the opportunity to do a training seminar after reading this book. I was reminded of these things all through the presentation, especially being a servant to the audience and sensitive to where they were. That’s the kind of benefit in store for you in reading and applying these essentials.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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