Whether speaking on the job, to the public, preaching to a congregation, or just talking to a group of friends, I found the info in this article by Larry Moyer entitled “The Five Most Dangerous Assumptions in Preaching” to contain some useful points.
Here’s a summary [with a few personal tweaks]:
A group of high-wealth explorers took to the Aussie outback. While there a kangaroo jumped out of the brush and was struck by their Jeep. To have some fun, they put the driver’s expensive Gucci jacket on it and took a picture. Just as soon as they did, the kangaroo jumped up and hopped into the brush. You can imagine the driver’s regret when he remembered his keys and wallet were in the jacket.
Lesson: False assumptions can be costly.
1- “People are dying to hear me speak.”
Avoid pride: Pride is an area where every speaker is vulnerable. Instead amazement with self, try being overwhelmed with the privilege to speak. Focus on how fortunate you are to have your people, instead of the opposite. Instead of thinking, “I can do anything,” heed God’s warning, “Without me you can do nothing”.
Prepare: Examine your introduction, make sure it strikes a need and properly orients people toward the text. Be abundant in your use of illustrations to keep people’s attention. Have a healthy sense of humor that makes what you say enjoyable and meaningful.
2- “People don’t care how long I speak.”
People feel restless when you go beyond 30 minutes, and hence what they retain decreases dramatically. Ask yourself three questions to correct this misconception.
– First, “Who do you enjoy the most: a speaker who stops before he had to, or one who goes longer than you wish?” Practice being the person you enjoy hearing.
– Secondly ask, “What would help you be a better communicator: taking as long as you want, or taking everything you want to say and figuring out how to say it in 30 minutes?”
– A third question is, “Which encourages people to come back: a speaker who stops before you expected him to, or a speaker who went longer than you wanted him to?”
3- “People think I’m a good communicator.”
Speaking is not the same as communicating. Speaking is when the words of my mouth enter the openings of your ears. Communication is when what’s understood in my mind is understood in yours. Some speakers do well in speaking but they don’t communicate.
[Remember that God said “We have not sent a Messenger except with the vernacular of his people so that he may clarify the message to them” Abraham, verse 4]
To find out how well you’re communicating, here’s a helpful exercise: Choose two people to explain back to you what you explained to them in your message. Ask the “average”people. Just because you communicate with your elders doesn’t mean you communicate with your people. [Don’t preach to the choir, and certainly don’t ask them for critique if you do!]
4- “People never have trouble following my train of thought.”
No one wants to be regarded as “Christopher Columbus” in speaking. When Columbus started out, he did not know where he was going. When he got there, he didn’t know where he was. And when he came back, he didn’t know where he had been! More may regard you as a Christopher Columbus than you might think.
One reason many feel this way but do not mention it is because they’re accustomed to listening to confusing speakers, so they tend to think their confusion is normal. It’s also why, when they hear one that’s easy to follow, they talk about him for days. He or she stood out.
When people see you as difficult to follow, it’s largely because of two reasons.
– One is that your thoughts seem disjointed.
– Two is that speakers lose people in their transitions. They move on, but they don’t take the audience with them.
Again ask “average” listeners for input, and accept advice with a broken spirit, you’ll become a better preacher by improving in an area where you’re weaker than you thought.
5- “People have a pretty good understanding of the [Topic].”
In my experience, the older the preacher, the more he explains his terms and speaks simply, because he’s discovered over time that people are never where we think they are in their knowledge. Those fresh out of box often preach over the heads of their people.
How do you overcome this assumption? Interact with your people. In a non-threatening way, take the time to find out how much they know. Many will feel honored if you ask them, because it indicates a real interest in them as individuals. Secondly, when you speak, err on the side of explaining too much about what your listeners need to know. Do not assume they already know it.
Assumptions can be costly. Avoiding dangerous assumptions can be rewarding. Only when you know what the assumptions are and how to avoid them is communication enhanced. Don’t let our impact on people be hindered through false assumptions in our preaching.