In the last post from this series I wrote about the benefits of a team approach to coming up with the material for the weekend message. In this post I want to offer some insights from the world of music that have helped me become a better public speaker.
I once saw a documentary on the legendary bass player Jaco Pastorius. He talked about practicing bass in his head for several hours a day. My bass player at that time used to joke quite frequently about how much he practiced in his head (his excuse for not picking up his bass an doing the hard work of actual practice). The truth is that most of us aren’t at the level of musicianship of Jaco, so practicing in our heads won’t work nearly as well as actual practice with our instruments. While practice makes perfect sense for musicians I don’t think it is nearly as common to apply this principal to the realm of public speaking. But speaking in public is every bit as much of an art as playing music in front of people and it takes just as much work if one is to get good at it.
In a typical week I will spend around 6-7 hours studying and preparing my message for the coming weekend and another 3-4 hours in practice speaking it. Why so much time in practicing it? Because it is only through practicing the message that I get a sense of how the thing actually sounds. Practicing the message is particularly helpful for me because I developed much earlier as a writer than a speaker. When I first started speaking at my last church 5-6 years ago I would frequently have 15-17 pages of notes; the words written out just the way I thought they sounded best. The only problem was that I frequently sounded like I was reading notes (which is okay for professors or politicians but not so much for pastors.) The same can be said of musicians who play with their eyes stuck to the page versus those who have practiced the music enough that they are freed from the page. The later is free to express certain aspects of the music in the moment such as slowing down in certain sections or improvising over the melody in other places. Practicing the message out loud over and over helps to internalize the message or to know the music by heart, so to speak, so that in the actual moment of delivering the message, the words can be liberated from the notes and delivered with spontaneity and care for that particular context.
Practicing a weekend message will feel weird if you have never done it (my kids have walked in on me on many occasions when I am preaching to myself and I know I must look a little strange) but the repetitions will really help you identify the sections that are worded wrong or places in the message when things drag or if there is just too much content.
If I am going to play a new song at a gig I have no problem playing it through as many times as it takes for me to get comfortable before hand. The same goes for teaching. One must practice the message until it begins to feel comfortable. This doesn’t mean you don’t need any notes but it will probably mean you don’t need as many as you think. I have found in the last 2 years of speaking every weekend my notes have been whittled down from 15 pages to 2-3 pages of mostly bullet points. I still think writing every word out can be helpful in the beginning but don’t underestimate the power of actually practicing what you preach or should I say preaching what you practice!