Have something valuable to say, and say it authentically in your own way.

Having started listening to the audiobook of TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingI not only answer “Yes, we can,” to that question, but “Yes, we must.”

I’ve only listened to the first two hours of the seven-hour book, but I’ve already learned some valuable lessons that I hope to incorporate into future sermons, lectures, and addresses.

Given the unparalleled success of this format for the verbal communication of ideas, it’s not surprising that there’s much to profit from for anyone whose calling is focused on the spoken word.

On every page, Chris Anderson, the author and founder of the modern-day TED Talks, shares what he has learned from watching many epic TED talks; and also some epic fails.

One of the main points he makes in his introduction is: “There is no one way to give a great talk.” That’s so encouraging for preachers and teachers everywhere. Sometimes we think we have to copy a certain successful speaker, or preaching style, but, as Anderson warns, “Any attempt to apply a single set formula is likely to backfire. Audiences see through it in an instant and feel manipulated.” Yep, been there.

As the key part of any great talk is freshness, Anderson encourages readers to see the book as offering a set of tools designed to encourage variety. “Your only real job in giving a talk,” he says, “is to have something valuable to say, and to say it authentically in your own unique way.

As Christian preachers and teachers, we certainly have the former. But, in the Reformed world, we often lack the latter. There’s almost a fear of being oneself, of being authentic, of letting one’s character or personality shine through or shape the message in any way. Such Reformed Robots rust out pretty quickly for the hearers.

I’ve seen men full of lively and lovely personality become bore of the year in the pulpit. A lot of that is fear of man and the desire to conform to a certain “type” or “image” of what a preacher should be. But it’s deadly to effective communication of our message.

I was talking to a student about this recently and he shared that what had helped him in this area was Tim Keller’s little book The Freedom of Self ForgetfulnessThat’s the key to this. It’s not about acting; it’s the very opposite. It’s about stopping acting. It’s about closing the Reformed clone factory. It’s about being yourself, your unique self, which only happens when you forget yourself.

Have something valuable to say, and say it authentically in your own unique way.

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

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  • Daniel Funke

    Spurgeon has much to say that would agree with your (and Chris Anderson’s) central point here in ‘ Individuality and its Opposite’, a conference address published in ‘An All-Round Ministry’. I hope someone will find the following paragraph from that chapter as helpful as I have:

    ‘We should consider, in the fourth place, our personal adaptation, desiring to keep it ever in the best possible condition. There is not only a work ordained for each man, but each man is fitted for his work. Men are not cast in moulds by the thousand; we are each one distinct from his fellow. When each of us was made, the mould was broken—a very satisfactory circumstance in the case of some men, and I greatly question whether it is not an advantage, in the case of us all. If we are, however, vessels for the Master’s use, we ought to have no choice about what vessel we may be. There was a cup which stood upon the communion table when our Lord ate that passover which he had so desired to eat with his disciples before he suffered; and, assuredly, that cup was honoured when it was put to his lips, and then passed to the apostles. Who would not be like that cup? But there was a basin also which the Master took, into which he poured water, and washed the disciples’ feet. I protest that I have no choice whether to be the chalice or the basin. Fain would I be whichever the Lord wills so long as he will but use me. But this is plain—the cup would have made a very insufficient basin, and the basin would have been a very improper cup for the communion feast. So you, my brother, may be the cup, and I will be the basin; but let the cup be a cup, and the basin a basin, and each one of us just what he is fitted to be. Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody. The very worst notes in music are those which are untrue; each true sound has its own music. In my aviary are many birds, and they sing very sweetly; but there are among them three grass paroquets, which do not sing, but imitate the other birds, and very effectually spoil the concert. Their imitation seems to drown the natural music of the rest. Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men’s notes. Say what God has said to you, and say it in your own way; and when it is so said, plead personally for the Lord’s blessing upon it.’

    • David Murray

      I love this, Daniel. Thanks for sharing it with me. I will use it in my lectures.

  • HeritageHelper

    A friend pointed me in your direction. I’d love to dialogue with you around this topic. Feel free to touch base whenever the inclination pulses…

    Devin Dot Marks At myTEDtalk Dot com

    Happily, I happen to have a client with the #1 most viral TEDx talk in the history of the org–a talk now clocking 16M+ views (logging in as #14 of TED.com’s most viewed talks). As a recovering seminarian I’m digging deeply into how the TED model applies to the pulpit. I’d really appreciate hearing your take on things.

    • David Murray

      Hi Devin, I’ve sent you an email.

      • Devin

        Just noting this note, Dr. Murray. Let’s give it another go. Devin.Marks [at] gmail .com