Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Speaking of Religion - Part II

Last week, in Speaking of Religion - Part I, I put forth a question about how speakers handle religion in their speeches. The response I got was interesting, to say the least.

Religion vs. Spirituality

Some argued over the term religion, and suggested spirituality was a better point of discussion for inclusion in speeches. Nina John, from the Chenai area in India, quoted one of her students, who made a profound remark "where religion ends spirituality begins".

This argument seemed semantic to me, but many felt strongly that religion and spirituality held very different territories - religion demarcating spirituality into smaller territories and more specific belief systems which made adding to a speech more problematic. Spirituality was more general, and allowed greater leeway.

Know Your Audience

The overwhelming recommendation came in the statement: know your audience. fellow speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite suggested asking yourself - "how does it benefit the audience, or provide value and tools relevant to the topic, to include your personal religious beliefs in the presentation?" - and suggested "different kinds of presentations allow for different kinds of personal expression."

Is your audience in need of hearing about your convictions for your to get your basic message across? Will you offend people? My friend Amelia put it this way - If I want a new hairstyle, I'll go to a salon. If I want to preach or be preached too, I'll go to church. I do not force my religious principles on others, and I do not appreciate others forcing theirs on me. I feel the same way about politics. 

Change your Language

Can you change spiritual language to a less 'charged' vocabulary and make the same point? Instead of invoking God, many invoke creator or universal force. Instead of mentioning Jesus, they say 'the Prophet' or 'the Great Storyteller'.

David Goad mentioned making a small change in his speech - from "Sometimes God sends us reminders that we are not alone" to "Sometimes we receive reminders that we are not alone." - which he felt made it more accessible. Still others said that ADDING scriptural references increased the impact of their speeches.


This post also brought out a large contingent of Atheist discussions on my Facebook page. Comments ranged from "It doesn't bother me" to "why should I have to hear your spiritual views when I can't express my atheist views without being attacked."

My Thoughts

I can certainly see the value in the perspectives listed above. They make sense, particularly from a business standpoint. In particular, knowing your audience is a vital component to being a successful speaker. 

But I'm going to suggest that the solution to this issue begins earlier - that is, Know Your Self. 

Judi Rogers commented on Linked In: My mother used to quote Shakespeare to me: "To thine own self be true.." and I believe that includes your feelings on religion as well. It is very hard to ignore when it's so much a part of your life..and shouldn't be denied. It's part of our being and certainly our walk! However, you can include it in a non-threatening way...perhaps by saying something like "have you discovered that wonderful peace in your life??" You are not accusing or blaming, just speaking on a personal basis. Whenever I have done this, it receives nothing but positive feedback. It is hard to deny your own PERSONAL story! Or the repeating of someone else's story. If doesn't have to point out any particular denomination or persuasion--just the positive influence on your life or the "hero of your story."

Whether the matter at stake is religion, spirituality, or atheism, you must know yourself well enough to determine what you want to do with it as a speaker. Do you feel called to speak about it in your speech, regardless of the consequences? Do you feel compelled to share your God no matter the situation? Do you feel it is your mission in life to stop others from wasting their time in a false belief system about some old man in the sky? Then talk about it.

Its unlikely that many of us fall into the above categories. We are surrounded by teachings of political correctness and tolerance (two terms Lisa Braithwaite accurately describes as mocking true acceptance of actual differences), and are often uncomfortable with putting our beliefs on display in everyday life in general, much less on stage.

Even those of us with strong evangelical backgrounds worry about sabotaging our careers by talking about our faith, and unless we're in front of a faith-based audience, can easily justify sticking to the topic without adding any spiritual spice.

But until we come to terms with our own 'calling', our own take on how we share our theism or atheism, are we really being true to ourselves

Not everyone is called to evangelize their point of view - but if you ARE - that should be OK, and should be your first consideration. It may cost you business, and it may give you challenges when adding it into presentations, but it will ultimately give you more satisfaction knowing you are being true to yourself as a speaker.

Crazy advice, I suppose, in the eyes of most. But it all depends on what is most important to YOU to Speak & Deliver.

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