One of the most common questions I’m asked in regard to speaking is, “How do you get up there in front of all those people?” Actually, for me, the hardest part about being a speaker is making sure I deliver the right message when I step up on the platform. Once I’m clear on the message God wants me to bring, getting up on the platform is the easy part because I can hardly wait to share His life-changing Truths with others. This past week, I’ve been working on a new message for Spring/2010 that I am super-excited about and it got me thinking about other speakers and the process they go through when developing a new message for an upcoming event. I’ve always admired pastors and Sunday school teachers who diligently prepare weekly messages. How in the world do they do it, week after week?! My husband falls into this category, having taught an adult Sunday morning Bible study class at our church for 22 years. I’ve watched him diligently prepare for his weekly lesson and needless to say, his development process is a bit more (okay, ALOT more) organized than mine!
I know it’s a personality thing, but seriously, we couldn’t be more different. We’re talking about a guy who studied well in advance of every test in college in order that he might go to bed early on the night before the test so he could be rested on the day of the exam. Like seriously, who does that? Let me put our differences into perspective for you: I didn’t get serious about studying for a test until Love Boat ended (around midnight) on the night before the exam. Or I guess, technically speaking, the morning of the exam. This might explain how my husband managed to graduate valedictorian of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas and I managed to um, just graduate. Barely. In five and a half years. Non-valedictorian. Non-Chemical-Engineering. But, I’m the proud recipient of a framed degree, all the same.
All this to say, my Type-A, methodical, super-organized husband prepares his weekly lessons in a very Type-A, methodical, super-organized fashion. This would also explain why he experienced increased heart palpitations and mumbled “Bless Your Heart,” when he recently passed through the living room and caught a glimpse (see image above) of my preparation process when it comes to developing a new message. It may look a bit scrambled and chaotic, but trust me, there’s a valid system going on, here — even if it’s only valid to me. Anyway, since I’m deep in the trenches of developing this new message, I thought it might make for an interesting blog post on how I get from point A to point Z in developing a message. Here are a few key components that make up the process:
1. The message must be something I’m absolutely passionate about and have walked through personally, on some level. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised if you knew how many speakers accept invitations where they are required to speak to a specific theme — one, mind you in which they have little knowledge, experience, and thus, passion for the topic at hand. Been there, done that. For this reason, I no longer accept speaking invitations where I am asked to develop a series of messages based on a particular event theme (Exception: If the theme is general enough to allow for some latitude, I will consider it). Once an event is finalized on my calendar, I lean heavily on God (through prayer) to initiate the next step. In other words, I present the assigned engagement to God and then I step back and listen for His direction. Ideally, this part of the process takes place 1-2 months in advance to give God plenty of time to nudge this heart of mine. Normally, He directs me to develop a message based on something He has recently taught me or brought me through in my own life.
2. The messages must center on a foundational biblical text, rather than a “topic.” In other words, the text will drive the topic, rather than vice-versa. For example, I was recently asked to address modesty as “part of my message” to a large group of teen girls. Rather than go into the event with guns blaring and blast them with 1 Timothy 2:9 and a list of what-not-to-wear items of apparel, I camped on passages of scripture that deal instead with the need to examine one’s heart. Dressing immodestly (as a means to garner male attention), is a symptom of a deeper problem. If I focus on the topic of modesty with the goal of inciting them to do a closet make-over when they get home where they purge out the list of “what-not-to-wear” items (aka: Hoochie-wear), I’ve only managed to put a band-aid on the real problem. It is a matter of the heart and if it’s not addressed at the root, it will manifest itself in some other way, long after the closet make-over. (Thus, my recent Tweet: “Christianity is not about behavior modification, but rather, heart inhabitation.”)
3. The message will not be media or power point dependent. I did a You & Your Girl event last year for over 1000 girls and moms where my sound technician experienced a little (big?!) crash that left me with out my technology. I didn’t get word of the crash until I cued him from the platform for the first Power Point slide and he stepped out of the booth shaking his head back and forth and mouthing a silent “I’m sorry.” Mind you, my message addressed “common beauty lies” and my power-point slides illustrated actual air-brushed images of celebrities to support the culture’s narrow definition of beauty. Fortunately, my message was centered on foundational Biblical passages related to God’s definition of beauty, so that remained the emphasis of my message. The slides were nothing more than an added accessory to support the text. In other words, I would be at a real loss if I step up on the platform without my Bible, not my Power Point. Don’t misunderstand, I love using technology to illustrate a point and will continue to use it, but should it not be available, I’ll be just fine with my Bible in hand.
4. A complete and total yielding to God regarding the message. This one is a bit scary. I want to be so yielded to God, that should He nudge my heart to change the direction of a message within 24 hours of an event, I will be obedient to follow His lead. I had this happen recently with a message I had prepared for a local women’s event. I prepared a message a couple weeks in advance (a message I was passionate about and in truth, would have been just fine). However, I woke up the morning of the event and felt a strong urging that God was leading me to give a completely different message. Normally, if God changes the direction of a message, He gives me a bit more notice, but in this case, I had a little over an hour to flesh out the new message. (I was focusing on a few biblical truths that God had recently used to spark revival in my own heart, so I was not really starting from scratch.) It all worked out and by the time I hopped in my car to head over to the venue, I could hardly wait to step up on the platform and deliver the assigned message. Not surprisingly, I received more positive feedback on this message than any other I can remember!
5. A clear understanding of my assigned role as a “speaker.” I will never step up onto the platform and deliver a message as an “authority” or “expert.” I am nothing more than a broken vessel, or for that matter, a donkey. I’ve reasoned that if God can speak through a donkey as He did with Balaam in Numbers 22, He can likewise, use me. Vicki = Donkey. I see myself (and pray you will, as well) as nothing more than a fellow sojourner on this pilgrimage to know God and make Him known. In knowing my place, I can present the assigned message with sincerity and authenticity. I want to have the freedom to share my own faults and struggles, as well as, the faults and struggles of my children (when permission is granted). I have zero interest in playing the “pretender game” where attendees leave the event under the false impression that the speaker somehow has her act together and thus, has unlocked the secret to raising Polyanna-perfect children or for that matter, is herself, a Polyanna-perfect child of God. No thank you!
So, there you have it. And on that note, I really must get back to finishing up this message. I’m missing some notes related to the message that I scribbled down on the back of a receipt from Panera Bread in a spur-of-the-inspired-moment and I’m on the hunt to find them. First stop: the floorboard of my car…