Clarity of speech is not not just about enuciating your words carefully, although some preachers would benefit from a visit to a voice coach, or even a Speech and Language Therapist. Nor is it the same as clarity of writing, although many speakers seem to think that their task is to write an essay and then read it out in public.
Don Sunukjian has written a helpful article on ‘Skills of Oral Clarity’, in which he spells out some rules that will help the preacher to keep the attention and interest of his hearers.
1. Regular repetition
In written communication, we try to avoid verbal repetition. The main points can be set out as headings and sub-headings, and the reader can not only go at his own pace but also go back and re-read anything that did not sink in the first time.
But in oral communication, the speaker must make a real effort to make the main points stand out, and the reader must go at the speaker’s pace, and cannot go back and re-listen to anything that failed to make an impact at first.
So, whereas in written communication we often look to vary the phraseology, and use lots of synonyms, in oral communication we should aim for repetition of key words and phrases. When preaching from Ephesians 5, then, about being filled with the Spirit, the preacher introduce his three main points like this:
- What does it mean?
- What does it look like?
- How do we get it?
Each of the main points has been announced in the same way, and the hearer knows exactly where he is.
And repetition is helpful not only when announcing the main points, but also when elaborating them. One obvious place to do this is when each point. (John Stott was a master of this). ‘So, what does being filled with the Spirit mean?…what does it look like?…how do we get it?’
2. Negotiate transitions by using rhetorical questions
When moving from one point to another, try planting questions in the hearer’s mind that will refocus his attention and arouse his interest. ‘So, we’ve explored what it means to be filled with the Spirit. But what difference does it make? How do we recognise it? What does it look like?
Such transitions connect with hearers by acknowledging the kinds of questions that may well be lurking in their minds. They also allow ‘re-entry’ opportunities for those whose attention may have lapsed.
3. Restate, restate, restate
We have emphasised the effectiveness of saying different things in the same words. But, conversely, there can be great usefulness in saying the same thing in different words. Here’s where a rich vocabulary and the ability to pile up synonyms and parallel phrases comes into play. (Donald MacLeod is a master of this). Say the same thing in different words. Find other ways of getting the same idea across. Vary your language as you hammer away at the same point.
4. State before you explain
The sub-points in a sermon should either lead up to the main point, or flow from it. If the former, then it’s inductive preaching, and the point should be made at the end of that section. But if the latter, it’s deductive preaching, and the poinwer should be made at the outset.
5. Before reading Scripture, say what to listen for
Don’t assume that what it took you hours of study to discover will be obvious to your hearers in a few short moments. Don’t just say, ‘This is illustrated in verses 17 to 24.’ Instead, say something like, ‘Let’s see how Paul was tempted by Satan straight after a moment of spiritual victory. Let’s read verses 17 to 24.’
6. Use physical movement to keep the listener’s attention
Some speakers are naturally much more physically expressive than others. But even simple movements, such as counting off your main points with your hand, moving from right to left (that is, from the listener’s left to right as when reading), can help.
Loosely based on this article in Preaching Today. There is also relevant discussion in Don Sunukjian’s Invitation to Biblical Preaching (2007).