Several years ago, I was interviewing a motivational speaker. I was focused on learning about how to improve as a preacher and asked for any advice. He told me that you can learn the most from watching comedians. Their job is simple: get up and make the audience laugh for an hour.
I’ve since heard the same advice from at least one pastor, so I make it a point to watch comedians. I note their timing and delivery. I pay attention to their content. I really lean in when I get the chance to hear a comedian speak about their craft offstage. Such is what happened last night.
I happened to be listening to a radio interview with Ron White last night. The interviewer asked if he had any advice for young comedians gleaned from his many years of comedy. He said (not an exact quote, as I was scrawling notes on a receipt I hastily fished out of my purse), “I’ve noticed that the closer I am to who I actually am, the more power there is to it…The common denominator of all great comedians is that they are true to their nature. If I tell a story about something I do, even if it’s not true, it needs to be something I would do.”
Such advice is gold for speaks of any kind, especially pastors. We are more powerful and engaging when we’re ourselves. We can be our own worst enemies when we try to be someone else. People can sniff out dishonesty. They recognize when a speaker isn’t being true to his nature or when they’re holding something back and they disengage.
I noticed this in my preaching class. In the beginning, several of us didn’t know who we were so we preached like someone we respected. As we developed, it was fun to watch people preach very differently on the same passages. Some people were intellectual. Some were great storytellers. Some people were passionate. Some soft-spoken. Some were creative. The more we preached, the more we got to see each others’ personal styles develop. Every one of us became increasingly powerful as we learned to tap into who were were and run with it.
The first challenge I have as a speaker is to learn how to be true to myself, but the second challenge is just as important: to have to courage to be honest about myself.
The last time I spoke, I was honest and it cut me like a knife. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I told the truth about how God was teaching me, but it felt worse than letting people think the best of me. I walked off the stage and told my husband that I would never preach again as I hid under my desk. I wondered whether people judged me. I wondered if they would still like me. If they didn’t, it was because of who I really was, which hurts all the more.
As I prayed about it, I could see with clarity that there is an inherent risk in being myself as a speaker, but I will never be able to accurately handle the message of truth if I can’t courageously present how God is using it to change me.
I continue to pray for that courage as I prepare to speak again in a couple weeks. God, may I hear your voice reassure me, (to quote Margaret Feinberg), “You be you and you be mine.”