Welcome to the Gap

We’ve all been there. As pastors, speakers, and communicators we study all week, planning and praying, writing and editing, and even some of us rehearse what we’ll say on Sunday morning. Then the day arrives. We put all our heart and soul into the message and fifteen minutes later – it never fails – someone will come up to us and say, “That was really great. I especially liked when you said ____.” Of course that blank is usually filled with something we didn’t say. Sometimes it’s the complete opposite of what we said!

This is the communication gap. It’s the distance between what we say and what people hear. It happens to all of us, but the best communicators close the communication gap.

So what can we do to close the gap? Here are four tips I have found helpful in my two decades of speaking.

1. Be Competent

Some of us are natural born communicators. Others of us have to work at it. Regardless, we all need to practice honing our craft. Yes, we’re talking about practice. But if we take our job as communicators seriously, we need to be as committed to practice as pro athletes are.

Practice means setting aside time each week to work on your speaking. That doesn’t mean “on the job practice.” Sunday morning is not the time to work on your skills, it’s the time to put it all together. Practice can mean rehearsing – in front of a mirror, on video, or to a small group of friends who can deliver feedback. It can also mean taking voice lessons or a public speaking class.

One of the easiest ways to practice is by observing other speakers, not just preachers but any communicator. One of my favorite things to do is watch stand-up comics communicate. I’ve learned a lot by watching someone make people laugh.

2. Be Clear

To close that gap, our message needs to be direct and to the point. One of my professors puts it this way: “Get in and get out.” Try this: have only one point for your sermon. I’m sure you were trained to use 3 points, but give it a shot.

By the end of your message your audience should be able to tell you clearly what your main idea was. How do you do that? By repeating your main idea over and over again. Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key.

Ask yourself this: What’s the one thing I want my audience to know and the one thing I want them to do? If you can’t answer that, then they probably can’t either. This is not unique to church settings. In fact TV commercials do this all the time, and they do it in 30 seconds or less! They quickly tell you what you need to know (Our product is great!) and what you need to do (Go buy our product!).

3. Be Concise

If you can’t say it in 15 minutes, don’t take 45 minutes trying to. To show that I take my own advice, that’s all I’ll say about that.

4. Be Creative

You have about 30 seconds at the beginning of your message to grab your audience’s attention and keep it. That means it’s a good idea to front load your message with creative elements. But don’t stop there. Creative elements within your message give your audience a chance to stop, catch their breath, and think again about what you’re saying.

Many times pastors will avoid creative elements because they don’t have a creative staff. Maybe they think if a creative element doesn’t include lights, sounds, and video it’s not worth doing. But a simple picture, an object lesson, or the telling of a great story are all easy ways to be creative. Video has been around for less than a century now, but creative public speaking has been around for millennia.

Creativity may mean you have to change your communication style or adapt to new technology. That means you need to go back to step 1 and go through the cycle again. Of course all great communicators are always working to hone their craft and be the best they can be.

I can’t guarantee that everyone who listens to your message will get it. There will still be some that are distracted, fiddle with their phones, or even fall asleep when you’re speaking. But if you follow these four steps – Be Competent, Be Clear, Be Concise, Be Creative – you’ll go a long way to closing the communication gap.

What are some times you’ve encountered the Communication Gap?