One of my jobs/joys is speaking and singing on behalf of Compassion International. I was never taught how to do it though, so I did it very badly at first and little by little, with much trial and much error, I figured out what (often) works and what (often) doesn’t. The learning continues and always will, but here’s a little of what I’ve learned so far.
1. Tell us a story.
The best arguments and the greatest passion in the world are forgotten sooner than a story. Every bit of advice here can be carried out in a story.
2. Don’t lie.
Exaggerating is lying.
3. Why do you care?
You’re not in it for the money right? No, you saw something, felt something, learned something once that changed your heart and mind. You were captivated, fell in love, got angry. Tell us a story that shows us why you care and we’ll probably care too.
4. No statistics.
Instead of saying “X number of kids die of malaria each year in Africa,” for instance, you could say, “Daniel’s mother sat on the end of his bed smiling, proudly showing off the mosquito net that covers Daniel so he won’t die like so many African children do.” Does the number matter? Not to your audience. But Daniel does.
5. Don’t be a pamphlet.
Stay away from too many program specifics, technical jargon, numbers, marketing slogans. Those are great for web sites but you’re a person. Compassion International, for instance, meets four kinds of needs: physical, economic, spiritual, social. I aim to show how they’re met without naming them. Instead of “physical” I can say, “We had a hamburger together and she told me her favorite meal is chocolate cake!” Instead of “economic” I can say “Her mother is learning how to turn her knack for cooking into a business so one day she won’t need my help to care for her daughter.” Instead of “spiritual” I can say, “Susan asked if she could pray for us before we left her home.”
6. Keep it simple. (Seemingly.)
You can communicate a lot of info and the audience will never realize it, be overwhelmed by it, or get confused if it’s all contained in one simple story. One. Only one. One. With what happened before X and what happened after X and why it matters to you now. With just enough detail to get our mind’s eye going, but not so much that we wish you would get on with it.
7. Be positive.
Yes, you can get a lot of support for your cause by being a bully, motivating with guilt and shame, or showing pictures of skeletal children covered in flies. I can’t deny these tactics work. They must; a lot of people use them. But I choose instead to show a little of the problem and a lot of solution, to major on the hope. A success story, a picture of a child eating or smiling, a thank you letter from someone helped – I believe those motivated by hope stay motivated.
8. Your cause is not your goal.
My goal is not to get kids sponsored. My goal is to teach Christians about God’s love for them and the world and to remind them to show that same love. I routinely ask the audience to express their love for God and the world in ways that do not benefit the cause of Compassion at all. Compassion is one way to love. This perspective shift allows me to treat “competitors” like allies and stop measuring success only by the numbers.
9. Forgive them.
I know you care deeply about your cause because you love pandas or single moms or kids. But if we don’t love it too that doesn’t mean we don’t love something of equal importance with equal depth. And it doesn’t mean we don’t love you. Remember, your cause is not your goal, so please forgive us. Otherwise, and I’ve done this, your anger will make you a bully. (See #7)
10. You’re not the persuader.
I believe God is in control. Of everything. But I also know that a brochure on a table or a banner ad on a website don’t get kids sponsored. So, I speak as if the lives of kids depend on me, but I rest well remembering we all depend on God. Sometimes I do everything right and very few kids get sponsored. Other nights I trip over my words and confuse the crowd and lots of kids get sponsored. And I imagine God smiling as He reminds me once again that I can’t make anyone do anything. That’s oddly freeing.
11. Results may vary.
Because of #10, none of this stuff may work for you. It may not work for me some nights either. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. So, most nights before I speak, I pray and ask God to change my plans. Then I shut up and listen. Sometimes – most of the time – God’s silent. But other times a new idea that shouldn’t work floats into my head. Sometimes I try that new idea and discover it came from the burrito in catering and not from God at all! Other times I ignore it and kick myself for a few days because my perfect plan flops. But sometimes I don’t ignore it and the near-miraculous happens.
So, pray. Listen. Be flexible, willing to ignore any and all of these tips if you have good reason.
And no burritos before the big speech.