By: Tera Ertz
“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.” Proverbs 16:23
Several months ago, friend and fellow author Max Lindenman noted on one of my Facebook comments that I had mellowed tremendously since the days when he first got to know me on Right Nation. Back in the days before Facebook existed, I gathered with my fellow conservatives, and some not so conservatives, to speak on the news of the day in politics. It was a raucous time, my style was edgy, and I spoke with energy, conviction, and an overwhelming desire to convince the world that my view was the right view. I rarely resorted to cussing or personal insults, yet in my heart of hearts I secretly delighted in talking the opposition into sputtering madness. I carried that same attitude into my internet radio show, and onto Facebook a few years later when several folks I love dearly encouraged me to start getting my views out there. They told me how smart and articulate I was, and that the world would benefit from my wisdom and knowledge. Off I went, ranting with humor, wit, and a great deal of research and knowledge.
Three years ago I came to realize something. I am indeed a relatively smart individual, but so are a lot of other people. I do indeed have a great deal of knowledge in the subject areas I choose to write and speak about, but so do many others. I still deeply believe that conservative principles, both biblically and politically are the best principles for our society. But, and here’s the big but, no matter how smart, articulate or right I was, I was failing to actually benefit the world around me with my conversations. Those who agreed with me already agreed with me, and often already knew the information I was providing. Those who didn’t agree with me did not leave the conversation persuaded, nor were they likely to have learned anything new. I had to ask myself why I was spending such a huge amount of time researching, studying and sharing my thoughts with people. Was I truly seeking to have a positive impact on the world, or was I arrogantly looking to make myself look good using verbal jujitsu to take down those who disagreed?
In my Communicating Effectively class, the professor gave us a form the first day, and stressed its importance several times during the class. He called it the Paper/Speech planner, providing an outline for constructing a speech that met the criteria for the class. On first glance, the structure of that planner irritated me, because I am used to a more free flowing writing style. Yet, by the end of the class, the habit of using the planner to analyze what I wanted to say became invaluable.
Determining the purpose of the speech is always the first step. We rarely think of our personal conversations and interactions as a speech, but each conversation is in fact an ad lib public address of some kind. Just as with a formal speech, if we want those conversations to be effective, it is important to know why we are engaging in that particular communication. What is the purpose of what we are saying?
The planner outlines three main types of purpose for a speech: informative, persuasive and celebratory. In our more personal interactions, we might add others like expressing emotion and relationship building. Unfortunately, too often we could also add making ourselves sound smart, making someone else sound stupid, or insulting someone. Most of us in the arena of politics and faith spend a tremendous amount of time and energy in conversations, whether in person, on social media or on blogs. If we want to use that time wisely, to make our speech judicious, we need to take this first step in all our speech, not just the formal ones.
- Define our purpose for engaging – are we seeking to inform? To persuade? To build relationships? To tear others down?
- Once we have defined why we are engaging, we need to set aside any emotional reactions that don’t serve that purpose.
- For those of us who are Christians, we need to remember that no matter the stated purpose here, our main purpose should always be to bring glory to God in all that we do. We can’t do that effectively if our focus is on building ourselves up or tearing others down.
Next up: Who?
Tera Ertz is the founder of Hope and Change Ministries, author of God Talk: The Beginning, mother of five, and a child of God. You can find her on Facebook, or subscribe to Hope and Change Ministries or Contagious Transformations to keep up with the latest.