Seven keys to compelling presentations.

We all present, whether in meetings, explanations, or conversations. Each time we present, we’re wielding influence. Here are seven ways to strengthen your influence.

1. Know your stuff. The meaning, reasons, details, background, challenges, exceptions, and weaknesses. You don’t have to share it all, but you should know it. Uncertainty voids authority, and you can’t slake interest without substance. John Boyd, the influential military theorist, prevailed in presentations because he did his homework, didn’t sling half-baked ideas, and never used imaginary statistics. When you know your stuff, no one can discredit your argument.

2. Speak truth. There’s no point to presenting if you can’t be trusted. When you tell the truth, people respect you, even if they disagree. People who disagree can work together. People who don’t trust each other can’t.

3. Tell the story. We live, dream, and relate in story. We aspire, create, and prevail through story. We perceive, grieve, loathe, and love by story. Story is the universal language. It defines and divides us, motivates and sustains us. Seth Godin, marketing guru, observes about story, “People like us do things like this. There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this.”

4. Develop a style that serves your audience. Style speaks more loudly than words. Are you selling? Spinning? Posturing? Hiding? Fast-talking? Boring? Listeners don’t mind conviction, persuasion, emotion, velocity, or gentle pacing — as long as you’re speaking to them and serving their interests. Present as if to those you love.

5. Don’t wing it. Most people are smarter than you realize. The more prepared you are, the more respect you convey. Nearly everyone will endure respect. Few will abide condescension.

6. Feature the big news. Signal your bold strokes. Preparing the stage is fine, but don’t build the theater before platforming your point. The longer you wait, the smaller your audience.

7. Believe it. Even if you’re presenting for the thousandth time, delivering bad news, or running on no sleep, remember why you’re doing this. How it makes things better. That your message is the very thing someone needs. This will keep you alive in the process, and life is contagious.

Humility in writing and pastoring

The greatest challenge with wielding influence is getting out of the way. Whether I’m writing, teaching, or praying, my focus often drifts back to me — and I am not the point. Brett Lott references this theme in Letters & Life, his slim volume on being a writer:

I saw, suddenly and fully, that a story was about the people involved. I saw that embellishment brought to the table an unwanted intruder: the author. . . . [that] I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. . . . To be a writer is to be humble. To be a writer means to get oneself out of the way” (pgs. 105, 108).

Moving others toward their Lord requires stepping back. Making room. As it turns out, spiritual renewal is preceded by receding.

You see, the only life that pleases God and that can be victorious, is His life — never our life, no matter how hard we try. But inasmuch as our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His, we can never be filled with His life, unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death. And in that we must co-operate by our moral choice” (pgs. 25-26, The Calvary Road, by Roy Hession).



Maturity is about hitting stride.

Writers mature as they develop their voice, honor the reader, and deliver the goods. It’s not about complexity or creative energy. Such things are add-ons. Maturity is about being complete. It’s the essence of what was meant to be.

So — what does spiritual maturity look like? How is it distinct from the wisdom of age, experience, or influence? And how is it developed? If a woman in her twenties meets with a woman in her fifties, is the elder more mature? Or if three thirty-year-old guys are talking, are they identical in spiritual maturity?

As we train pastors and recruit leaders for churches, it’s important to focus on what makes a person right for the work, not just old or experienced enough for the job.

Point of view is not what divides us

Let’s say we’re opposites. Faith, politics, morality, lifestyle. Does that make us opponents? I doubt it. I heard from three outspoken souls last week. Two shared my convictions; the other did not. Here’s what happened:

— One ranted.
— One criticized.
— One engaged my interest and made me think. Even though we disagree.

Our convictions don’t polarize us. It’s how we communicate that drives us apart. Whether writing, speaking, or conversing, be generous with respect. It’s the surest way to make your point — and a friend.

Earned reputation

I sat in a meeting yesterday with three faculty members from Moody Bible Institute. We were exploring a complex, divisive issue. Each spoke with clarity, grace, and respect, and I felt privileged to partner with such fine and distinguished men. They left the room towering figures in my book.

How to strengthen your case

Whether or not I agree, I’m honored to be part of the conversation when you . . .

  1. Represent the opposition accurately (no straw men)
  2. Speak with confidence (no defensiveness)
  3. Address me as a peer (no talking down to the reader)
  4. Remain calm (no shrill crescendos)
  5. Treat me with respect (nothing uncharitable)
  6. Give me something to chew on (no platitudes or generalities)
  7. Paint your boundaries as broadly as possible (distinctive is preferable to sectarian)

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Sermons

(1) Interest and time are inversely proportional. The greater my interest, the shorter the sermon.

(2) Interest and investment are directly proportional. The more you put in, the more I take out.

(3) If it’s where I live, my attention is yours to lose.

(4) The more you care about me, the more I’ll hear.

(5) If I should care but don’t, pursue me. Work at opening my eyes. Draw me in.

(6) Anyone can read a passage and restate it in his own words. (See #2.)

(7) It’s better when God is involved. Ask Him what I need to hear, ask Him how to say it, and ask Him for my attention. I don’t want to miss a word if God is behind it.