This is when a speaker saturates their lecture with doe-eyes, pursed lips, long pauses, and often a particularly breathy speaking tone. This style can make for great pillow-talk, but when it happens from the podium it can feel syrupy in the ears of much of our culture. The real tragedy (since I assume that these speakers are in fact sincere people) is that this style can actually have the opposite of the intended impact. To many, it can feel like emotional manipulation.
If Super Sincerity persuades through empathic appeal, Power Speaking utilizes constant dramatic emphasis. Each phrase (sometimes every word) comes at the listener with such strength that they lose any sense of a narrative arc. IT IS THE RHETORICAL EQUIVALENT OF WRITING IN ALL CAPS. IT CAN BE TRYING. IT CAN BE OVERWHELMING. IT CAN FEEL LIKE BEING YELLED AT.
I heard a speaker recently, who had outstanding things to say, but delivered every line punctuated with piercing passion. If every line is forcibly important than no line is. Where is the build-up? Where is the subtlety? Where is the dramatic rise and fall? The person with an authenticity antenna can feel riddled by this style, when they may instead want to be wooed.
Most all of us do this. It is hard not to try to slip our accomplishments, successes, stunning stories, and fame-encounters into everyday conversations with friends and co-workers. However, when resume accomplishments are slipped into a spiritual speech, it can seriously undermine the speaker's authenticity and credibility.
I recently heard a famous Christian speaker who gave a great talk that included stories of failure and doubt … and yet all along the way he would unnecessarily slip into the sermon famous people he knows, initiatives he has begun, and the size of his followership. The authenticity-antenna interprets this as self-serving. Many of us employ this, but from the pulpit it can erode credibility.
The "Vulnerable Straw-Man"
Many religious leaders desire to model vulnerability in order to connect with their audience. However they struggle, like all of us do, with a desire to be perceived as impressive, enlightened, and having their junk all figured out. To accomplish these two seemingly mutually exclusive goals, some choose a technique I call the Vulnerable Straw-Man. They choose to share an issue they struggled with long ago, or a mistake they made somewhere in their distant past. This issue can be illustrated with great passion and regret … but the secret is to choose something for which the speaker has now fully recovered from, defeated, and corrected.
Mission accomplished: vulnerability and spiritual arrival. The only problem is that many authenticity-antennas now pick up on these "vulnerable without being truly vulnerable" techniques and may dismiss the speaker's otherwise important message.
Okay, so that should get the conversation going. Again this article is about styles and techniques, not about content. The assumption is (and my observations have been) that folks have great hearts and important messages, but any communications teacher will tell you that how you say something is just as important as what you say.
Also, a culture of authenticity requires that I acknowledge that I utilize all of the above techniques (and many more) … and, if I am honest, my motivations for doing so are rarely pure.
Tony Kriz is a writer and church leader from Portland, Oregon, and Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College.
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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