speech training

I am not sure what provoked this memory, but over the last couple of days I have been reminded of the ‘speech training’ sessions we had when I was training to be a Minister. A lovely, patient, humour-laden, expert lady called Liz used to take us for sessions once a week to help us to be better public speakers.

The view from the floor when you are lying on your back in a lecture room.
The view from the floor when you are lying on your back in a lecture room.

I am not sure if they still do this but if you came into Spurgeon’s College when I was there you might well come across a group of students lying on the lecture room floor, breathing in and out at the ceiling. You might hear strange sounds emanating from the lecture room as we tried to enunciate our words. The sessions were always good fun, and were always practical, and helped me immensely. Simple things like standing on your feet rather than on your toes (yes, some do that) helps with being more relaxed. Projecting your voice from your diaphragm rather than amplifying in your throat means that your voice is less tired and also makes your voice louder without you shouting. It means that you don’t have to rely on a microphone to

I think that the point of the speech training sessions was two-fold:  to equip us so that we could speak in public without straining our voices (which are, after all, rather important for Ministers); and to make the listening experience better for those who were listening to us (by getting us to consider tone, volume, inflexion and so on in the way that we spoke). There’s no point in having the most important message in the world if nobody can understand it, or if people are bored by the delivery.

One of the things that I remembered recently was the value of dropping your voice. That is not speaking inaudibly, or so quietly that people can’t catch what you are saying, but dropping the tone and intensity so that it is much softer. That change of tone and intensity can be more effective in emphasising than shouting is. And that has reminded me why I have been thinking about this all.

On Sunday morning I spoke about the Transfiguration in Luke 9, where Jesus was transformed on the top of a mountain and God spoke to Peter, James and John who witnessed it all. I have often thought of God’s voice as big and booming, but it struck me as I looked at the passage that I have read that into the text. All we know is that a voice spoke from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”

Perhaps this came in a gentle tone. Perhaps the inflexion emphasised the Father’s affection for Jesus and the importance of listening to him. Re-read those words imagining them being shouted, and then re-read them imagining them being spoken softly. Which is more effective in communicating to you?

Sometimes when we are seeking to hear from Jesus we want a loud booming voice. But if that was the case, why would we need to focus on listening to him? We’d hear it easily. Listening involves our concentration, attention, calmness, and, if the voice is speaking softly, for us to be quiet. For when God speaks softly we can not only hear the words by we can hear his inflexion and gain so much more from him.

How do we listen like that? It is explained in Psalm 46v10: “Be still and know that I am God. : stop your frantic activity and give God your attention. It is modelled in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah experienced God’s presence in the sound of sheer silence. Come out from where you are hiding and meet God.

Where is that space in your day, your week, your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing

One of my best friends at Spurgeon’s, Steve, wrote a very funny song about the speech training classes – a blues number – which the two of us sang at the College Christmas Concert. We both had guitars but I can’t play any chords so Steve played during the verses and chorus. But we got to the ‘instrumental break’ and Steve introduced my guitar solo. This involved me playing on one open string as fast as I could while pretending to move my fingers on the fret board and in the background Steve was playing all sorts of clever stuff. It was intended as a joke but I was delighted to hear afterwards that one person in the audience genuinely thought I was amazingly gifted! There’s a parable there I think…

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