I asked a few questions about the situation on the base. Exactly who would be at the breakfast? What challenges were they facing? How is closing down a base different from their usual assignments?
After a 20 minute chat, I went to my room and tossed out the talk I had planned. It wasn’t right. They didn’t need it. I changed my talk from what I wanted to say to what they needed to hear.
Yogi Berra famously said “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can also hear a lot by listening – and asking questions.
It turns out that speaking effectively has more to do with how much you listen than how well you talk.
3. Acknowledge Your Ignorance – But Don’t Dwell On It
I’m not an expert on the military. So I didn’t pretend to be.
People with expertise can spot a poser. As a minister, there are fewer things more cringe-worthy than hearing a non-minister speak at a pastors’ conference who spouts all their spiritual bone fides to impress the room. It never works. Do what you know and leave the rest.
But don’t spend too much time there. Your acknowledgement of ignorance can be as simple as a sentence.
Be honest with your audience. Saying “I don’t know” can create as much trust as sharing what you do know.
4. Find Common Ground
I was a civilian speaking on a military base, so that made me a stranger. But I was speaking to Americans who had chosen to attend a Prayer Breakfast. God and country. We had that in common.
Once you find common ground, it’s a short step to the next principle, which is…
5. Speak from Your Strengths
If they’ve asked you to speak, it’s because they think you have something of value to say.
For me, the invitation was because of my book, The Grasshopper Myth. So I was there based on my work in a small church and with small church pastors.
Their military base was closing down. It’s one thing to work hard for growth. It’s quite another situation to work hard to close something down.
Working hard, but seeing shrinking numbers. Hmmm… I wonder who else might know what that feels like?
That’s why I was there. Not to speak about small churches or to small church pastors (although the chaplains in the room qualified for the title) but to speak from my experience into their experience about how to handle the emotional toll of working hard, but seeing shrinking numbers.