The oft-quoted advice of St. Francis is “Preach and if necessary use words.” Sometimes words are very necessary, but we are reluctant to use them. The first time I was invited to speak to catechists at a national convention, I didn’t think I could do it. As an extreme introvert, I needed time to ponder this. Besides, according to a newspaper article, public speaking is the number one human fear. A friend counseled, “If you can teach, you can talk.” I said yes to the invitation. I managed to speak without fainting on the stage, and I continue to speak to audiences. Admittedly, for the first few times before a talk, I was awake all night, filled with dread. I still have nightmares that I’m facing an audience and my prepared talk is missing! Once when Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere was addressing a large audience, his microphone fell to the floor. He remained as cool as a cucumber. Afterwards I commented to him on how comfortable he appeared speaking compared to my stage fright. He said, “Look at it this way. Those people are ready to love you.” This helped. Now speaking has become one of my main ministries, and I actually enjoy it.
You don’t have to be a national speaker to be called upon to speak for Christ. Opportunities abound. Witness talks on retreats, reports at meetings, presentations to a group of students, mission appeals, Bible studies—all require us to address people. One tip is to be thoroughly prepared, so that you know more than your audience. It’s been said that imagining that the people in the audience are all vegetables or are in their underwear. That has never helped me. Rather, I find a face in the audience that is receptive, smiling, and I focus on that person. Also adding humor to your presentation warms up the audience.
It takes courage to speak to a group, but sometimes it is equally challenging to speak to one person. Recently a friend told me that no one in her family was about to speak to her niece about a wrong decision she was making. This friend took on the task of sitting down with the girl and talking over her plan. In cases like this, I have only one piece of advice: Pray to the Holy Spirit.
It is also challenging to introduce Jesus into a conversation. We’ve been told never to discuss religion or politics at a meal. In the age of new evangelization, though, we are called to let our faith show and invite others to join or rejoin us in following Jesus. After all, he orders us to go out and tell the good news.
What thoughts or strategies have helped you speak to a group or an individual?