Delivery is More Than What You Say – Part 1

Any beginner’s course in public speaking will soon instruct that effective delivery is so much more than mere word choice. Any self-evaluation of early attempts at preaching will probably point to the same thing, and if it doesn’t, a helpful listener will soon point it out! Dr.Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, is the author of Public Speaking: A Handbook for Christians. In his chapter on delivery he lists six channels of non-verbal communication. It would do us good to evaluate our awareness of these channels as we seek to communicate effectively. The first three:

1. Proxemics – the perception and use of space. Not an easy subject to grasp, but specifically helpful in three respects. First, there is the issue of distance. Physical distance is related to psychological distance. Generally speaking we should minimize the distance between speaker and listeners. Second, Litfin mentions elevation. If you are elevated above them, this suggests that you consider yourself above them. If you are below the congregation (amphitheatre), then the dynamic is reversed. Usually it is better to be on the same level if possible. Third, obstructions. A blocked view means blocked communication. This can refer to floral displays, a bulky podium or even your notes. Let people see you.

2. Kinesics – technical terminology for body language. This incorporates gesture, posture, movement. There are very few rules, but make sure your physical action complements and reinforces what you say. Request feedback from listeners, and watch a video once in a while. Without knowing the term “kinesics,” people instinctively know what you are communicating nonverbally.

3. Eye behavior – small things, but very powerful in communication. Don’t look above people, don’t look past people, look at people. Select an individual and look them in the eye for a moment before moving to another person somewhere else in the congregation. If you have eye contact with one person, several people feel connected with you, but if you avoid eye contact, then all will feel left out. Consider the earlier posts on “no-notes preaching.”

Peter has responded to a comment on this post.

2 thoughts on “Delivery is More Than What You Say – Part 1

  1. Thank you for the post, Peter.
    I have never thought about the importance of “space”.
    At the moment, when I preach to my congregation, I am distant, elevated and partially covered by a big pulpit!
    Every other preacher in my church preaches from this same position.
    Do you think I or we have to get down from the pulpit and go nearer to the people we preach to?

  2. Since I’ve preached there I know exactly what you mean, Andrea! For the sake of connection I would certainly consider getting closer, on the same level and being less hidden. As with all these things, you have to consider when it is a good time to make a change. Some people are resistant to any change, and you can never please everybody. However, sometimes a good change may be badly timed or too much at once if other changes are occurring. I remember when I had the slightly oversized podium removed for a series of sermons in the church we were in. It may have caused a slight stir, but hopefully not too much. It certainly helped the connection between preacher and listeners. So this kind of decision has to be on a case by case basis. If the only issue were “proxemics,” then I would say definitely move. But any such decision needs to be considered in light of the complexities of people and current church situation. Consider the situation further and go for the change if you can! At least you could try it for a message or two, but still allow each preacher the freedom to choose (many like the security of being half hidden, elevated and distant!)

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