Communicating with Clarity- TALK SHORTER

Posted on: 06/6/11 1:40 PM | by Jonathan McKee

For the last week I’ve been talking about how to communicate to teenagers with clarity. On Day One I asked the question, “How many minutes will kids actually listen?” …quickly touching on the fact that we might need to make our talks a little shorter (check out the comments that day… some interesting reactions and discussion about that). Day Two I talked about “Communicating with Clarity-Using Stories.” Day Three I talked about “Communicating with Clarity- Only Use Gifted Communicators.”

Today I’m going to specifically address the subject that seemed to get a rise out of some… Keeping it Short. This time let’s really dissect the length of our talks.

Last week some people grew concerned when I mentioned the concept of using 10 minute messages. The comments said it clear:

“We shouldn’t cater to our culture’s short attention span.”

“We need to be teaching the youth that God is deserving of more attention than anything else in their lives.”

It seems that many us are worried that shorter messages mean “watered down” messages.

Is this true? If we shorten our talks, are we sacrificing depth? Or, as I asked in Day Two of this series, “How can we be memorable and clear, yet not so short that we lose clarity and depth?”

Let’s look at the length of some of the most famous and memorable speeches in history. For example, how many minutes was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech?

16 minutes.

How many minutes was Winston Churchhill’s famous “Never Give In” speech at Harrow School on October 29, 1941?

4 minutes, 12 seconds.

How about Abe Lincoln’s Gettysburg address on November 2, 1863? Surely this was a longer talk.

2 minutes.

For such powerful, memorable, life changing speeches… those seem pretty short.

Some might argue that these aren’t Biblical examples. Maybe sharing Biblical truth takes longer. The other day a person commented to Day One of this blog series, “The Bible isn’t made for 5 to 10 minute consumption.”


I admit, I wasn’t there when Jesus gave most of his talks, so all I have of his teaching is what I read in the Gospels. For example, in Luke 8 a large crowd gathered and he told them the parable of the sower. If you read that parable out loud, it will take less than a minute.

Like I said, I wasn’t there. Maybe that was only part of a much larger talk to that crowd. Or maybe he just told that story. Either way, the only thing that Luke wrote down was that short little story. The memorable part of that talk was one story, telling one powerful point.

In Luke 10 a man asked Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Wow. That’s a big question, right? We wouldn’t want to water it down with a short answer.

Jesus answered with a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

The man answers with the greatest commandment. Jesus basically responds, “Correctamundo!”

But the man wants a little more details, so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answered the question with another story. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers…” Again, this story takes about a minute to tell. If you read all of Luke 10, this whole interaction takes about a minute or two. Then, off to another village.

Has anyone ever accused Jesus’ one or two minute response of being “watered down?”

Far from it.

In a simple one-minute-story Jesus hits his audience hard with a point that would never be forgotten. Not only was his story memorable and powerful… he made the most despicable sinner imaginable the hero of the story (imagine telling that story in church today and making Lady Gaga the hero).

Deep? Yes.

Short? About one minute.

The fact is this: the Gospel writers frequently record Jesus talking to people in short, memorable stories. Maybe Jesus was on to something.

My point is simply this: Why say something in 25 minutes when you could say it in one minute?

Any questions?

Communicating with Clarity- USE GIFTED COMMUNICATORS

Posted on: 06/3/11 1:23 PM | by Jonathan McKee

The last few days I’ve been blogging about communicating to teenagers with clarity. If you haven’t read those blogs, I encourage you to jump on my blog page and read both of them (How Many Minutes Will Kids Actually Listen, and Communicating with Clarity-USING THE STORY), as well as the discussion that followed in the comments. Great conversation.

In those blogs, I promised to chime in and cover a handful of speaking principles that have helped me communicate to today’s teenagers. Here’re the principles I’m covering:
-USING STORIES (I covered this Wednesday)

So today I’m going to talk about a principle that should be obvious, but is probably one of the most ignored principles of the bunch…

Only Use Gifted Communicators:
We all have gifts. Paul talks about these gifts in I Corinthians 12. He gives the analogy of body parts. This is a great analogy. Would you try to walk two miles on your eyeballs? Would you try to listen with your bellybutton? Would you try to talk with your elbows? (Okay, so I used a few body parts that Paul didn’t mention. Don’t do this with a jr. high audience… it will surely digress even worse.)

So why do we constantly try to force people into molds that they don’t fit?

Sadly, some people don’t realize that they are not a “mouth.” They see a mouth and they think, “I’d love to be able to do that.” Problem is… they’re a foot. And the more a “foot” tries to be a “mouth,” the more it looks like the blooper real on American Idol tryouts. Everyone in the room sees it… except the “foot!”

My wife Lori is amazing. Anyone who meets her readily admits, “Jonathan, you got yourself a winner there.” Or the people that know me and finally meet her say, “Okay, now I know where the strength in this marriage lies.” (Nice!) She’s truly remarkable.

Lori is a behind-the-scenes person. She’s great at organizing and handling minute details. She’s administered 1,000-person events without a glitch. She’s a huge asset to whatever team she’s a part of.

Guess what? She hates speaking in front of a crowd. She gets quiet, turns as red as a turnip and she second guesses everything she says. Communication isn’t her strong suit.

Does that make her a lousy team member?

Heck no. I need a “Lori” on my team. (Actually, I need about 10 “Loris.”)

It would be silly to try to make Lori into a speaker. This doesn’t mean that Lori shouldn’t ever have to learn to communicate her faith to others. Lori’s done that. In fact, she’s fantastic one-on-one. She’s discipled plenty of girls and even led a Bible Study (80% facilitation, 20% talking and leading). But I’ve never tried to force Lori into speaking.

The church needs to become better at helping people find and use their gifts. Sometimes that means having some uncomfortable conversations—like telling Chuck that you’re not going to be using him to speak to the high school kids anymore. This doesn’t mean you need to be mean.

“Chuck, you suck!”

Far from it. But someone with the gift of discernment needs to take Chuck aside an help him find his gifting.

“Chuck, I really appreciate you being willing to communicate to the high school kids every week. But let me tell you something that I’ve observed. I’ve noticed that you are amazing at hanging out with the fringe kids in our group. You have a radar for “outcasts.” The other night I saw you watching the crowd and you noticed that new kid Brian wearing all black and sitting in the back. It was awesome watching how you sat next to him and started a conversation with him. You have so much compassion for those kids. I think that’s your gift Chuck. Speaking isn’t.”

It takes a certain person to be able to initiate these conversations. (Yes, that ability is also a gift)

The church needs to become better at helping people find and use their gifts.

How do you find and develop speakers in your ministry?
1. Try out different leaders sharing their “story” for 5 minutes in front of the group. You’ll notice who feels natural up front and who doesn’t. If they are a natural communicator, affirm them in that ability.

2. Ask those “natural communicators” if they’d share a 10-minute talk a few weeks later. Give them the content for that talk (maybe a book called, 10-Minute Talks) and see how they do. Not all natural communicators are good at developing content. That is a learned skill.

3. If they do well with the 10-minute talk, then take the next step and talk with them about developing content. Give them a book that talks about how to develop Biblical talks. One of the best books ever written on the subject is Dr. Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching. Ken Davis’ book, The Secrets of Dynamic Communication is another great one. Help them develop some simple, short talks and give them an opportunity to deliver these talks in a safe environment.

Before long, you might find a handful of communicators in your midst… and Chuck will experience great results using his gifts where needed.

Communicating with Clarity- USING THE STORY

Posted on: 06/1/11 1:36 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I asked the question in yesterday’s blog and heard some great feedback from a bunch of you. “How many minutes will kids actually listen?”

Many of you indicated that you keep talks short.  Others incorporate small group time so that young people can process and discuss what they’ve learned. Some of you try to change it up to kill any monotony. Still, some seem to be resisting short teaching time, in fear of “watering down” the message.

I guess that’s really the big dilemma: I want to keep it short enough to be memorable and clear, yet not so short that we lose clarity and depth.

It seems that most of us would agree with seeking “clarity” in our communication. No one would complain if kids walked out with a clear understanding of scriptural truth. The question is, What methodology best accomplishes that goal?

Or let’s think about it in terms that many youth workers can relate to. 23 kids are gathered in the small junior high room in the church basement on a Wednesday evening. Several wiry 6th grade boys roll on the floor wrestling, while a handful of older boys run the foosball table. Across the room a gathering of 8th grade girls whisper and giggle with each other. Adult volunteers are interacting with many of the kids. A few sit alone. Soon, a youth worker announces, “Come on everyone, let’s bring it together.”And after some shuffling and herding, the students are gathered into a small audience facing the front of the room. Announcements, maybe games… but sooner or later, regardless of format, we share a message of truth.
We’ve got a message to communicate, we’ve got a captive audience… how can we communicate that message to young people most effectively?

Is there one answer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. (Yes, these thoughts are nothing new. This is the reason I wrote the book, 10-Minute Talks. I’ve noticed this glaring need for “clarity” in communication for a while now.) As promised, this week I’m going to blog some of my thoughts about principles that might help ministries communicate better to a generation with a short attention span. Here’re some of the principles I’m going to cover in the next few days:


I want to start by talking about the power of the story.

I’ve always loved stories. As a kid I loved bedtime stories. Around the campfire my brother and I loved it when my dad told scary stories. Whenever he would finish, we’d yell, “Another one! Another one!”

When’s the last time someone yelled that when you finished your talk?

Stories are powerful.

I learned the power of a story a little over 15 years ago when I started speaking in the public school. By God’s grace, a campus ministry I was a part of started bringing out a couple hundred kids weekly. These weren’t church kids by any means, and the last thing on their mind was sitting down and listening to a sermon. Most of them were there for basketball, friends and food. But every week I was determined to share some truth with them. So I began ‘cutting my teeth’ at the skill of speaking. (If you ever wanna learn how to communicate to young people, try speaking to 200+ kids that don’t want to be preached to, sitting in school bleachers.) I quickly learned what works and what doesn’t.

Some of the biggest lessons I learned:
1. You’ve got about 30 seconds to grab their attention, then the rest of the time to keep it.
2. Stories work.
3. Humor is a plus.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I stood in front of a few thousand kids in a school auditorium. Guess what three principles I still use? (yep, same three)

I’ve seen a lot of speakers with a lot of gimmicks. I’ve seen speakers that required all kinds of technology, PowerPoint and props. Some of these tools can be very effective. But when I speak, I want one thing: a microphone that works (usually one with a cord- the chances of it working increase greatly). Why? A simple fact: I’ve got stories, and kids love hearing stories.

Using stories is nothing new. Do I even need to bring up Jesus’ use of stories? From what we read in the Gospels, Jesus was a master communicator. Secular philosophers even attest to his effective teaching style. His use of parables not only used stories, but they punched the audience in the gut with convicting truths that they needed to hear. Stories can help us communicate truth with clarity.

To this day, I still use talks that are simply stories with a wrap up.

If you peek at the left hand column of this blog, you’ll see the book I mentioned earlier titled, 10-Minute Talks (you can actually click on the book and read one of the talks in its entirety including the small group questions I provide). This book is a collection of a bunch of talks that I’ve used over the years with great results. Why? They are all stories with one point and one scripture passage. If you read those talks, I think you’ll find that they are simple, clear… and far from watered down.

Don’t underestimate the power of a story.

A few years ago a Youth for Christ group flew me out to speak to a bunch of middle school students at an all night event. When I was introduced, I was staring at an unruly crowd of 1400 middle school students who made two things clear. 1. They were ready for a night of fun. 2. They didn’t want to be sitting in an auditorium listening to me. When they handed me the microphone, a kid in the front row literally said, “Who the Hell are you?” No one else in the room heard, because they were all involved in their own conversations.

I reminded God that I needed him (okay, yes, I reminded me), and then I began telling a story.

“When I was 18-years old, I gave my friend $12,000 dollars. Actually, it didn’t start that way. I had to almost kill him first… but more on that in a minute. It started with me and four of my friends showing up to his house at 6 o’clock in the morning to celebrate his birthday. His mom let us upstairs into his room, and…”

Within 30 seconds, they were hooked.

About 25 minutes later I gave an invitation and over 100 kids came forward and received Christ.

I didn’t have a podium on stage. No PowerPoint. No notes. Here was my outline:
– Greg story
– House on the rock- Matthew 7
– What is your foundation?
– Invitation

Yes, you better believe I worked hard on nailing those transitions between each of those points. But the fact remains, that talk was simply one story, one scripture, communicating one simple point.

Don’t underestimate the power of a story.

Let’s hear from you! Comment: How have stories helped you communicate? Have you ever tried using just one story, one scripture, communicating one clear point? How do stories help communicate with clarity, without sacrificing depth?