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…

ding dong (quietly)

Janitor DoorbellOur doorbell doesn’t work very well. Actually, it does function exactly as it was set up to work, but that was not well-thought-out.

The chime is in the kitchen, which is at the back of the house. It’s a gentle ‘ding dong’ sound. If you are in the kitchen and the doorbell goes, that’s great, you can hear it. But there are a couple of problems.

Problem number one is that you can’t really hear it from outside, so people often assume it hasn’t rung. It happened just now when the postman rang the bell and shortly afterwards knocked loudly on the door so he could hand over a parcel.

Problem number two is that because the chime is situated at the back of the house and because it is a gentle ‘ding dong’ you can’t always hear it if you are in a different part of the house, especially if there is some extra sound (TV, radio, music, computer game) in the part of the house you happen to be in.

I’m not so sure that they are problems. They are more like fundamental flaws. The idea of a doorbell is to let you know that there is somebody outside the front door who would like your attention. If the people outside don’t know whether they have got your attention they may assume you are not at home and go away again. If you don’t know that there are people outside the door who want your attention you may miss them and they will have to try again (or you’ll have to trek across town to the delivery office).

In some ways I think Christians can be like our doorbell. We make a gentle noise that cannot always be heard over the ambient noise of daily life. We’re polite and would rather not disturb anyone thank you very much. And if we are not heard, well at least we tried.

On Sunday evening the preacher looked at the prophecy about John the Baptist in Isaiah 40. He was described as ‘a voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”‘* If you read the gospel accounts, John was not timidly whispering or gently encouraging, he was definitely calling.

So, I ask myself, this Christmas will I be more like our doorbell, or a voice calling…?

Be blessed, be a blessing.


*In Hebrew and Greek they didn’t have speech marks so it could also be ‘a voice of one calling, “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”‘