Monday, April 25, 2011

Speaking of Religion

Over the past few days, the worldwide Christian community celebrated Easter, and were vocal about it. Happens every Christmas, as well, though I find Easter tends to be more 'religious', as a general rule. While I rarely post religious posts, I went out on a short limb Friday on Facebook, posting a link to "Six Hours One Friday", Max Lucado's book on the Crucifixion, and then a "He's Alive" posting on both Twitter and FB on Sunday.

Regardless of which religion you are in, which god you follow, which holy book you read, which doctrine you follow - evangelism is often a piece of your spiritual puzzle. After all, if you're right, you should want to let your family and friends in on the deal. What about your clients? The readers of your blog? And speakers, what about the members of your audience?

What place does your faith have in your speaking? Some of the great motivational speakers of the last hundred years commonly referenced the Bible and Christian principles, from Brian Tracy to Jim Rohn to Zig Ziglar. Ziglar actually has a few tape series on living a Christian life, and has been known to offer an 'extra' session following his sales talks, where he preaches the gospel.

Nowadays, with political correctness and tolerance being preached, and diversity awareness at full throttle, those speakers may be 'grandfathered' in, but what about new speakers? Can we still get away with mentioning biblical stories to prove a point? Should we balance our Christian references with Buddhist, Islamic, Judaic, and Sikh references (among others)? Or should we take the religion completely out of our vocabulary, sticking to solely secular stories of success?

This conundrum has been bugging me for years. As a virtually life-long, non-denominational, evangelical Christian, living the life (which is often difficult enough for the average soul) also means preaching the Word - letting others know what I believe and why. I've considered being a preacher in the past - but there's a lot more to preaching than speaking, and I've never felt my personality would lend itself to the entirety of the job. As a speaker, all of the principle I speak about have some basis in the Bible - but I never actually link them to religious origins. Success factors in general can often be traced to virtually any religious text or prophet, with people ready to argue as to who said it first and best, and in what context.

Does NOT bringing up religion constitute denying it? If we're deliberately taking religion out of our speaking so as not to offend, are we still being true to our beliefs? If we use religion and offend some in our audiences, thus reducing our hireability in the future, is that 'persecution'? How much is too much? Where is the line?

Lots of questions - and I'd love to hear your answers. I've got some ideas about this, but I'd really like to get YOUR feedback, and come back with another post this week. How do YOU handle religious references in your speaking? Please post your comments below - or email me at rich@richhopkins,.net with your thoughts. Privacy will be respected if requested.


  1. Sometimes just a simple word choice can help. For example, I changed a line in my current contest speech from "Sometimes God sends us reminders that we are not alone" to "Sometimes we receive reminders that we are not alone." Makes it more accessible to everyone, even the atheists :)

  2. My first question would be: How does it benefit the audience, or provide value and tools relevant to the topic, to include your personal religious beliefs in the presentation? If they've come to hear a business presentation and you start proselytizing, that will likely alienate some audience members, and not just because they don't share your beliefs, but because that's not the purpose of the presentation.

    However, if you are merely expressing your own belief or practice ("I prayed about it..."), then I would not find that inappropriate, as it's just a sneak peek into your life, and audiences generally are interested in some personal details about a speaker.

    Even a Bible story wouldn't offend me if it's presented like any other allegory or example that makes a point -- and if the stories are varied and not all from a religious viewpoint.

    Different kinds of presentations allow for different kinds of personal expression, as well. A motivational speech, an educational training, and a sales presentation are three different animals entirely.

    Whether or not it's "PC" or "tolerant" (two terms that I despise because of their primary use to mock true respect for and acceptance of differences) to talk about religion in a presentation has less to do with potential offense than whether it's appropriate for the topic and audience.

    When I attend *any* presentation where the speaker makes generalizations or assumptions about the audience (everyone is a beginner, everyone has read his book, everyone understands his jargon and acronyms), I find it annoying and insulting.

    As a Jewish atheist (and I don't say this every day!), I would find it equally annoying and insulting for a speaker to assume everyone in the room is Christian.

    Lastly, I would think twice about using the word "persecution" to describe someone not wanting to hire you because your presentations are too religious. It just means that you haven't found the right audience, not that you are being systematically mistreated, harassed or subjugated by a larger group because of your beliefs. Jews know a thing or two about persecution. ;-)

  3. I don't "do" religious speeches, but I had a fascinating time in the WCPS competition two years ago field testing an uplifting conclusion.

    First draft: "If you ever have the great fortune.." fell flat

    Second draft: "God grants us small miracles.." was judged too "preachy".

    Third draft: "I'm not the most spiritual person, but I do believe that God in his mercy sometimes grants us small gifts that could rightfully be called 'miracles'...." was a major home run with the secular and religious crowds.



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