When I attended seminary years ago, I heard it said, “A good pastor is ready to preach, pray, or die on a moment’s notice.” What’s funny, is that when put on the spot, the third option sometimes feels the most favorable. Public speaking can be nerve-racking, and it is even more anxiety provoking when there isn’t sufficient time to prepare.
However, this year I have discovered a simple trick that helped me grow as a speaker. This simple advice is summed up in two words. I am grateful to Adam Smith, who gave this recommendation at the beginning of the year. His suggestion was, “Be quotable.” Being quotable involves taking one’s message and fashioning it into short, memorable statements. Although this is a lot of work, it’s well worth the effort.
Here is how being quotable helps:
- Being quotable helps others get the “meat” of the message.
In college, I had a professor who would talk about the “irreducible minimum” of his courses. This master teacher would trim down his message to a few key ideas. He would require his students to know these concepts forward and backwards in order to pass his course. I remember one class where this teacher passed out the final exam during the first night of class. The exam was not for us students to take. It was for us to study!
Now just to be clear, this particular exam was exceedingly difficult. A large part of the test required the rote memorization of complex terms. Yet, our teacher’s strategy worked. While I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast last Thursday, fifteen years later I’m still able to recall the word-for-word definitions that I memorized in Dr. George Golde’s course. In fact, a few of his quotes are included in my latest book. Now that is powerful teaching!
Dr. Golde is a master teacher, who refined the key points of his message into quotable statements and repeated them often. These quotes became the foundation of his classes.
Teachers who refine their message make learning easy. In his book, “The Seven Laws of the Learner,” Howard Hendricks states, “To teach, is to cause to learn.” Hendricks suggests that if the students have not learned, it is because the teacher has not taught. I realize that this statement is somewhat controversial–especially among high school teachers who have the incredibly challenging job of trying to engage some very checked out students.
Nevertheless, if you are quotable, you take your message and work the main points into short, memorable statements, and you repeat those key statements frequently. When you do this, you will discover that it is almost impossible for those around you not to learn. Quotable teachers are an enormous asset to their students.
- Quotable teachers make teaching easy for themselves.
This past week I had the privilege of doing my first radio interview. This interview was by far, some of the easiest speaking that I have done. I attribute much of this to following Adam’s advice.
Being a quotable writer is a lot of work. Quotability requires deep thinking. It is time consuming and frustrating. Being quotable involves taking a hand-full of words, and reworking them repeatedly, until the message is just right.
Yet, this process has a huge pay-off in the end. A good quotable statement is easily recalled weeks, and even years later. Striving to be quotable in my writing is making speaking easier. I’m finding that when I am put on the spot, key statements from blog posts and books quickly come to mind. Speakers who are quotable never have to speak off-the-cuff. Instead, they are able to draw from a reservoir of quotable statements in a moment’s notice. As it turns out, quotable statements are not only easy for students to remember, but the teacher easily recalls them as well.
If you would like to communicate confidently on a moment’s notice, the best advice that I can offer is to be quotable. Narrow your message down to the irreducible minimum. Fashion and refashion your words into key statements. Then, repeat those statements often. When the teacher is quotable, the students learn. In addition, you will reap the benefit of being prepared to share your message on a moment’s notice!