YOU may have worked hard on your talk. You may have informative material. The logic may be sound. You may be able to deliver it fluently. But if the attention of your audience is divided—they listen only to snatches of what you say because their minds frequently wander to other things—how effective is your presentation? If they have difficulty in keeping their minds focused on the talk, is it likely that you will reach their hearts?
What could be at the root of such a problem? A variety of factors might contribute to it. Most frequently, it is failure to deliver the talk in an extemporaneous manner. In other words, the speaker is consulting his notes too often, or his style of delivery is too formal. These problems, however, are directly related to the way the talk is prepared.
If you first write out your talk and then try to convert it into an outline, you will likely find that it is hard to deliver the talk in an extemporaneous manner. Why? Because you have selected the exact words that you plan to use. Even if you use the outline for delivery, you will be trying to remember the words that you used in the original version. When something is written, the language is more formal and the sentence structure is more complex than in everyday speech. Your delivery will reflect that.
Instead of writing out the talk in detail, try the following: (1) Select a theme and the main aspects of the subject that you are going to use in developing that theme. For a short talk, two main points may suffice. A longer talk may have four or five. (2) Under each main point, note the principal scriptures that you plan to use in developing it; also make note of your illustrations and key arguments. (3) Think about how you will introduce the talk. You might even write out a sentence or two. Also, plan your conclusion.
Preparation for delivery is very important. But do not go over the talk word-for-word with the intent of memorizing it. In extemporaneous speaking, preparation for delivery should put the emphasis, not on words, but on ideas to be expressed. The latter should be reviewed until one easily follows the other in your mind. If the structure of your talk has been logically developed and well planned, this should not be difficult, and in your delivery, the ideas should come freely and easily.
Consider the Benefits. An important advantage of extemporaneous delivery is that you will be speaking in the down-to-earth manner to which people most readily respond. Your delivery will be more lively and thus more interesting to your audience.
This method of speaking allows you to have maximum visual contact with your listeners, which improves your communication with them. Since you do not rely on notes for the wording of every sentence, your listeners will be more inclined to feel that you know your subject well and that you sincerely believe what you are saying. Thus, this type of delivery lends itself to a warm, conversational presentation, a real heart-to-heart talk.
Extemporaneous delivery also allows for flexibility. The material is not so rigidly set that you cannot make adjustments in it. Suppose that early on the day that you are to give your talk, there is an outstanding news report that directly relates to your subject. Would it not be appropriate to refer to it? Or perhaps when you are speaking, you realize that there are many school-age children in the audience. How fine it would be to adjust your illustrations and application with a view to aiding them to appreciate how the material affects their lives!
Another advantage of extemporaneous delivery is the stimulation to your own mind. When you have an appreciative, responsive audience, you yourself warm up and then enlarge upon ideas or take the time to repeat certain points for emphasis. If you notice that the interest of the audience is waning, you can take steps to overcome the problem instead of simply talking to people whose minds are elsewhere.
Avoid the Pitfalls. You should be aware that extemporaneous speaking also has potential pitfalls. One is the tendency to run overtime. If you insert too many additional ideas during the talk, timing may be a problem. You can deal with this if you make notations on your outline as to the time allowed for each section of the talk. Then stick closely to this schedule.
Another danger, especially for experienced speakers, is overconfidence. Having become accustomed to speaking publicly, some may find that it is not difficult to throw together some ideas and fill the allotted time. But humility and appreciation of the fact that we are sharing in a program of education in which Jehovah himself is the Grand Instructor should motivate us to approach each assignment prayerfully and to prepare well.—Isa. 30:20; Rom. 12:6-8.
Perhaps of greater concern to many speakers who are not experienced in extemporaneous delivery is that they might forget what they wanted to say. Do not allow this prospect to cause you to hold back from taking this forward step in effective speaking. Prepare well, and look to Jehovah for the help of his spirit.—John 14:26.
Other speakers allow excessive concern about wording to hold them back. True, an extemporaneous talk may not have the choice wording and grammatical precision of a manuscript talk, but an appealing conversational style more than compensates for that. People respond most readily to ideas that are presented in words that they easily understand and in sentences that are not complicated. If you prepare well, appropriate phrasing will come naturally, not because you have memorized it, but because you have reviewed the ideas sufficiently. And if you use good speech in everyday conversation, it will come naturally when you are on the platform.
What Sort of Notes to Use. In time and with practice, you may be able to reduce your outline to just a few words for each point of your talk. These, together with a notation of the scriptures you plan to use, may all be listed on a card or sheet of paper for easy reference. For the field ministry, you will in most instances memorize a simple outline. If you have done research on a subject for a return visit, you may have a few brief notes on a piece of paper inserted between the pages of your Bible. Or you may simply use an outline from “Bible Topics for Discussion” or material found in Reasoning From the Scriptures as a basis for your discussion.
However, if you have been assigned to handle several meeting parts within a few weeks and possibly to give public talks as well, you may find that you need more extensive notes. Why? To refresh your mind on the material before handling each of those assignments. Even so, if you rely too heavily on the notes for wording during your delivery—looking at them at some point during nearly every sentence—you will lose the benefits that characterize extemporaneous delivery. If you use extensive notes, mark them so that you can conveniently refer only to the few highlighted words and scripture citations that constitute your outline.
While the delivery of a talk by an experienced speaker should usually be predominantly extemporaneous, there can also be advantages in incorporating other forms of delivery. In the introduction and conclusion, where good audience contact needs to be coupled with strong, carefully worded statements, a few memorized sentences may be effective. Where facts, figures, quotations, or scriptures are used, reading is appropriate and can be used with telling effect.
When Others Demand an Explanation. At times we are called on to explain our beliefs without opportunity for advance preparation. This may occur when someone we meet in the field service raises an objection. Similar situations may arise when with relatives, at the workplace, or at school. Government officials may also demand explanations of our beliefs and our way of life. The Scriptures urge: “Always [be] ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.”—1 Pet. 3:15.
Notice how Peter and John replied to the Jewish Sanhedrin, as recorded at Acts 4:19, 20. In just two sentences, they clearly stated their position. They did so in a way that was appropriate for their audience—pointing out that the issue facing the apostles also faced the court. Later, false charges were laid against Stephen, and he was taken before the same court. Read his powerful impromptu reply at Acts 7:2-53. How did he organize his material? He presented events in historical sequence. At an appropriate point, he began to emphasize the rebellious spirit shown by the nation of Israel. In conclusion, he showed that the Sanhedrin had manifested that same spirit by having the Son of God put to death.
When you are called on for impromptu explanations of your beliefs, what can help you make your comments effective? Imitate Nehemiah, who silently prayed before he answered a question posed by King Artaxerxes. (Neh. 2:4) Next, quickly formulate a mental outline. The basic steps might be listed in this way: (1) Select one or two points that the explanation should include (you may choose to use points found in Reasoning From the Scriptures). (2) Decide which scriptures you will use to support those points. (3) Plan how to begin your explanation tactfully so that the inquirer will be willing to listen. Then start to talk.
Under pressure, will you remember what to do? Jesus told his followers: “Do not become anxious about how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour; for the ones speaking are not just you, but it is the spirit of your Father that speaks by you.” (Matt. 10:19, 20) This does not mean that you will have the miraculous “speech of wisdom” that was given to first-century Christians. (1 Cor. 12:8) But if you regularly avail yourself of the education that Jehovah provides for his servants in the Christian congregation, holy spirit will bring needed information back to your mind when it is required.—Isa. 50:4.
Without a doubt, extemporaneous delivery can be very effective. If you practice it regularly when handling assignments in the congregation, then giving impromptu replies when needed will not be difficult, since similar outlining procedures apply. Do not hold back. Learning to speak extemporaneously will help you make your field ministry more effective. And if you have the privilege of giving talks to the congregation, you will more likely hold the attention of the audience and touch their hearts.