Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Connecting the Dots


“There are speakers who write and writers who speak.” ~Lysa TerKeurst

In ministry these days, it does seem that both are demanded. Certainly publishers ascribe to this truth. Writers can’t just hide behind their computer screens anymore. They have to go out and build a platform, and the fastest way to build an audience is to speak in front of one.

Speakers also must write. Event planners want a taste of your message before they invite you to speak in front of their group. When you’re a leader, it’s a scary thing to hand a stranger your microphone, so getting a feel for the speaker’s beliefs and style is essential. If you love to speak, having a blog is a great way to give leaders a glimpse of your ministry. For the first time, I’m taking my book to my events, and I’m enjoying the blessing of sending attendees home with more of the message God has given me.

There are lots of things that are the same about speaking and writing. They’re two different vehicles for a a truth. Both are best used coupled with stories, sprinkled with memorable phrases, and infused with creative, fresh ideas.

However, there are differences between the two. One of the differences I run into most often as I work with my coaching clients is the need for speakers to closely connect the dots in their messages.

When I’m reading, I can pause, reread, ponder, and review. I think about reading Mere Christianity by CS Lewis in my college years, and if you’ve read it, you’ll probably understand what follows. The content in Mere Christianity is so deep that I would often reread sentences or whole passages over and over in order to grasp the full meaning. I highlighted and underlined and circled words in the text to help myself retain the rich truths.

The written word allows the reader to review, but the spoken word doesn’t. If one of my listeners wants to ponder a point or has a question that stops them in their thought processes, they have to stop listening to me which means they’ve missed a chunk by the time they tune back in.

As speakers, we need to create messages with the dots–the connecting thoughts–very close together. You may feel as if you’re over explaining, but you’re really just helping your listeners follow. You can verbally create “pregnant pauses” both for effect and to allow your listeners to ponder for a moment, but the points of your message need to connected and clear.

When you’re finished with your message, try to edit it as if you didn’t know what you know. It should have a stream-like quality with each idea flowing into the next.

It’s really hard to accomplish not knowing what you know completely, though, so the other thing I try to do before I present a new message is to let someone else read it. I’ll ask them to look for places where they have “mental whiplash”, the feeling you get when ideas abruptly change or transitions are weak, or places where they start to have questions.

If you haven’t read Made to Stick, I highly recommend it. They have a whole section on “the curse of knowledge” and how to avoid it in our messages. It’s full of ways for speakers to connect the dots.

Do you both speak and write? Which one is your strong suit? In your experience, how are they alike/different?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Problem with Professional Speakers


Last weekend I was part of a fabulous conference called Women Get Real in Cheshire, CT. It was wonderful in so many ways– local women from lots of denominations attended, the atmosphere was warm and beautiful, and there was excitement and buzz in the air.

My favorite part will probably surprise you. I was the only “professional speaker”. Let me quickly define. The other speakers were extremely effective and very professional, but they were local women who I’m guessing were volunteers. I can’t begin to tell you how delightful it was for me to do an event with other speakers and to hear their stories and teachings. Each of them spoke on an area of struggle for women with which they had personal experience, and all three had obvious God-given gifting as speakers.


(From left to right) Jessica Landmon, founder of Women Get Real, spoke authentically about choosing faith over fear. Rachel Axtmann spoke compellingly about choosing submission as wife. Shila Anderson gave an irresistibly down to earth talk about triumphing over the scale (comparison as well as health).

Since I speak both as a ministry and for a living, you might think it’s strange that I’d down-play professional speakers, but this weekend reinforced some thoughts I’ve been having for a while.

For Event Planners…

I’ve been in your shoes, so I understand where you’re coming from. It’s easier to get women to come to an event when there’s a “name” on the ticket. In this world where there are so many things vying for your women’s time and celebrities make people sit up and take notice, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to bring in a speaker who your women already know.

BUT don’t forget the importance of the stories around you. There are women right in your church who have something to share that will be life-changing for others. There’s less and less of a platform for these stories, but you can make a change. Start to see part of your calling as identifying and training up speakers. Give women a chance to share. Give them their first opportunity (even though they’re shaking in their shoes and stumbling over their words–everybody has to start somewhere!). You can easily weave these times together in an event with a well-known speaker:

  • Create times in retreats for short testimonies.
  • Look for new women willing to teach break-outs.
  • In your small groups, set aside times for women to share.

For Beginning/Volunteering Speakers…

You are a needed voice, and don’t forget it!

Although women at the event responded to me, they lavished love and praise on their homegirls. And so they should! It takes boldness and courage to share your story where you live life. These are the same women who see you make mistakes and watch your children throw temper tantrums. :) That’s what magnifies God, though. When we get to hear the God stories happening in our midst, it builds our faith.

Truthfully, I’m less nervous speaking in front of hundreds of strangers than when I speak at home, and I’ve spoken for over a decade now. I know you’ll be nervous, but it’s normal. Push through and tell your story for the glory of God. Don’t despise small beginnings. Every chance to speak will build your confidence in His ability to work through you.

For Professional Speakers…

We never want to get too polished. There is something about a heartfelt message that pierces people’s hearts. It doesn’t even matter if that message doesn’t have a brilliant sticky statement, clever scripture interpretation, or a well-crafted ending. It’s the heart behind the message that matters most.

I’ve got to be honest and tell you that I’m struggling a little here. I love having the opportunity to give the same message multiple times because it allows me to work through the kinks and improve it. However, it’s hard to maintain “heartfelt” after you’ve given a message a few times. What I’ll be praying for after observing the other speakers this weekend is to be able to deliver it every time as if it’s the first time. That I’ll feel the personal impact of the story as if I’d just lived it. That the new women in the room will make it all feel new. They deserve my fully-engaged heart every time, but only God can do that work. I can’t generate it or fake it.

Have you been part of an event recently where there was a blend of speakers? How was it? What did  you love most about the messages from the homegirls?

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to Walk in Your Calling When Your Confidence is Crashing (Part 6)


Today is the last post in this series. Missed some? Make sure to scroll back through for the whole lot, and read at the bottom of this post for a giveaway!

One of the most painful crashes we can have is after we’ve received critique. I’ve received harsh criticism that crushed me, but I’ve also been flattened by constructive criticism that I should have dealt with better. Let’s  be honest. Criticism is hard.

So what are some steps we can take to appropriate critique in a healthy way? I have three actions that have served me well.

1. Be intentional. Decide how you’re going to handle critique before you ever receive it. Recently, I got turned down for an opportunity for which I had dearly hoped. It was tough and didn’t feel good, but before I received the final decision, I made some decisions. I determined not to take the news personally, not to allow the decision to affect the personal relationships, and to have compassion for the decision makers who are in a difficult spot. I decided to respond with grace and class. Since I believed these intentional stances were God’s will, I prayed and asked Him to help me. I still have some days when I struggle with the outcome, but with God strengthening me, I’ve been able to live in those determinations. (Note: It’s also essential to decide who we trust. If we trust God fully, no decisions by another party can thwart His calling! He’s just got something else in mind.)

2. Be discerning. Not all critique is equal. It truly is important to consider the source. Is this someone who is an expert with an established record of their own or just “Joe-Blow” on Facebook? It’s important to try to step away from our emotions and learn from criticism, but sometimes we also need to know when to discard it. Not all critique is equal and not all motives are pure. When someone hands us a plate of criticism, occasionally we need to hand it back and say, “No thanks. That’s your issue not mine.” (Didn’t my sassy southern girl just come out?!)

3. Be thankful. The only way we’ll grow is by learning from editing and critique, and it’s embedded in every field–especially speaking and writing. Since our messages are so personal, the critique can feel personal, but if we can develop gratitude for feedback, we’ll grow exponentially. I’ve had my devotions for P31 edited for over 10 years now, and although I haven’t arrived, I’ve grown tremendously. Can you imagine how thankful I was for all those years of editing when I faced an editor this year in a publishing house? VERY thankful!

Well, that’s it folks! The end of the series.

I’d love to hear from you about how you walk in your calling when your confidence is crashing.

For every comment, you enter yourself to win a copy of Breaking Up with Perfect (visit the link to read an excerpt) and the cutest “I’m breaking up with perfect”  bracelet by Bijou Southern you’ve ever seen! If you’re in a rush, just say “I’m breaking up with perfect!”

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to Walk in Your Calling When Your Confidence is Crashing (Part 5)


Early in my speaking ministry, I did an event with an unexpected outcome. It started like any other with a room full of warm, chatty women. After I spoke, though, the atmosphere was subdued. Women hardly looked at me as they left. The previously enthusiastic coordinator didn’t have much to say.

“What just happened?!” I thought.

I went back through the evening trying to figure it out. While I was speaking, I didn’t think it was bad. Did I step over a theological line? Had I unknowingly said something offensive? Were the women disappointed to come hear such a green speaker? I picked apart, I agonized, and I fretted, but I never did find out what had happened that night.

Doubt crept in.

“Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” “Maybe I thought I was called but I’m not.” “Maybe I’m too inexperienced, or maybe my skin just isn’t thick enough.” Those were some of the thoughts that ran through my head and settled in my heart.

How do we battle misgivings? What do we do when we’re drowning in doubt? Here are a few ways to fight doubt and win:

Study the craft. One important way to build (or rebuild!) your confidence is to hone your craft. Speaking is a craft to be learned like any other. Just because we can talk doesn’t mean we can speak, but everyone can learn to be a better speaker. That’s right. I said everyone. I truly believe that someone who has little gifting can become a good speaker. Those with gifting can become great.

There are resources for speakers in every stage of ministry and at every price point. Free–search for free webinars, read blogs, and watch TED Talks for excellent examples of speaking. Inexpensive–Read books. Two of my favorite are Resonate by Nancy Duarte and Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley. An investment–Go to a conference and/or hire a speaking coach. 😉

Surround yourself with the right people. You need 3 types of people on the ministry journey with you. You need encouragers, those who love you and will always find the best in you. You need pushers, those who see more in you than you see in yourself and will shove you into the uncomfortable places (more on this person in another post. They may not be your favorite folks at times, but I’m convinced they’re necessary!!). And you need truth-tellers, those who love you madly but will tell you in a skinny minute when you’re wrong, in sin, or off base.

Surrender to not being enough. The root of doubt is often self-sufficiency. When I love God and the women in the room, God shows Himself sufficient, and His presence erases doubt.

What do you do when you struggle with doubt? Do you have a secret I’ve left out?


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