I love to read biography, and one of my favorites was the series, “The Last Lion” about the life of Winston Churchill, arguably one of the most eloquent and persuasive speakers of the 20th century. Reading some of his speeches is nothing less than inspiring, especially when you realize the situation he was speaking into.
I’ve been a public speaker for the better part of 20 years and have NEVER considered myself eloquent in the least. I’m pretty down to earth, say it like it is. But reading this morning in Pascal’s “Pensees”, the idea of eloquence took on a new meaning for me… this is #16 in his collection of thoughts…
Eloquence is an art of saying things in such a way—(1) that those to whom we speak may listen to them without pain and with pleasure; (2) that they feel themselves interested, so that self-love leads them more willingly to reflection upon it.
It consists, then, in a correspondence which we seek to establish between the head and the heart of those to whom we speak on the one hand, and, on the other, between the thoughts and the expressions which we employ. This assumes that we have studied well the heart of man so as to know all its powers, and then to find the just proportions of the discourse which we wish to adapt to them. We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us, and make trial on our own heart of the turn which we give to our discourse in order to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we can assure ourselves that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to surrender. We ought to restrict ourselves, so far as possible, to the simple and natural, and not to magnify that which is little, or belittle that which is great. It is not enough that a thing be beautiful; it must be suitable to the subject, and there must be in it nothing of excess or defect.
I am convicted. How much of my own speaking and preparation to make presentations has been done with this kind of intentional effort in mind?
Some of the speaking I’ve done has hit on some of these ideas… but I fear far too much of it was less than what it should have been.
Notice some of his main points:
- listeners should actually ENJOY the presentation.
- listeners should actually BE INTERESTED in the presentation.
- listeners’ heads and hearts should be ENGAGED with our thoughts and expressions.
- the one presenting needs to have STUDIED WELL the heart of man.
- the one presenting must put themselves into the place of the listeners to evaluate if his presentation “fits” them and will bring them to “surrender” to our appeal.
- the presenter should include only what is suitable for the subject, nothing more and nothing less.
As I read these words I come to realize that as human beings who are charged with making a God-honoring and God-appointed difference in the world, we have the responsibility to move others to action along with us… and my thinking about what eloquence is changes.
I find myself realizing that eloquence is not a talent given to a few, it is a stewardship given to all.
We Christians ARE to persuade others…
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. – 2 Corinthians 5:11
We are to persuade them about…
- their need for forgiveness and relationship with God.
- their need to make the most of the life God has given them.
- their need to live in a way that brings glory to God.
and many other things.
I’m going to be thinking more about this issue of eloquence, and doing what I can to improve my skill in it. I want my communication to be beneficial, practical, a tool that meets people right where they are and leads them someplace better.
I can get better in WHAT I say and HOW I say it. I’m sure that’s true for my writing as well.