My grandfather, Dr. John Lincoln Brandt, was an orator of the old school—a great writer, teacher, preacher, and lecturer. He really knew the language and grammar, style, and oratory. He was an artist at public speaking. Whenever he gave a speech or lecture, sometimes standing in the dark on the platform, pointing to pictures of his travels or this or that, which I was showing on a slide projector, he never used a note.
So I asked him one time, “Grandfather, how are you so fluent? You manage to cover all these points, sometimes in one-two-three-four order and go on and on with various illustrations and stories”—he was very systematic and analytical—”yet you never seem to forget anything. You’re never at a loss for words. You hardly ever pause. It just pours out! How do you do it?” And he told me something I have never forgotten—and I thank the Lord for it, because I’ve used it ever since.
He said, “David, I do my studying beforehand. I read, study, think, pray, and get totally full of my subject, so when I stand on the platform, I can speak out of the abundance of my heart (Luke 6:45). If you’re ever going to do any public speaking,” he added, “that is my advice to you—get full of your subject. Then when you get up before an audience, don’t worry about notes or anything. Just speak out of the fullness of your heart. God will inspire you.”
That simple bit of advice has worked for me all these years. I do my studying, reading, and note taking beforehand, so by the time I get up to give a talk or class I’m so full of my subject that I won’t have to stop to look at notes or collect my thoughts. It just rolls out by inspiration!
If you’re full of your subject, inspired of the Holy Spirit, and ask God to help you in your speaking, you’ll speak out of the fullness of your heart. Your mind is like a computer, and by the time you get up to speak or teach, your memory cells should be packed with information, illustrations, and stories.
Don’t worry about perfection. Try to organize it if you can, but don’t spend days and weeks on it. If you want to have a little subject outline in front of you of points you want to cover, fine, but then let it flow naturally, as much as you can. The thing is to be natural. I’ll say to you what they said to the man who had just been hired by the circus as a clown and asked what he was supposed to do: “Just act natural.”
People like pictures. We’re all like children in that respect. Illustrations and stories are more interesting and easier to grasp than facts and figures and theories. Word pictures help people learn and remember more easily. If you’ve read the Gospels, you’ve seen how Jesus used stories to illustrate the points He was making—parable after parable. It says that He never taught without using a parable (Matthew 13:34). He was a great storyteller.
So in your speaking, make it simple, speak out of the fullness of your heart, speak from experience, tell stories, give examples, paint word pictures that they’ll remember.
Tell them about your own experience. Some people may not listen to anything else. They may never listen to all the rhetorical, erudite teaching that you think they might need, but when you start telling your life story, instantly you have their attention and they become fascinated. People are interested in people.
If you’ll notice, nearly every time the apostle Paul began to preach to a new crowd, he started with his own personal testimony. “This is what happened to me. …”
When you’re witnessing, by all means give your personal testimony. Then it’s like being a witness in court: People have to decide whether or not to believe your testimony when you say, “This happened to me.” They have to decide whether you’re a true or false witness, whether you’re telling the truth or lying, and nine times out of ten, if you say it with sincerity and in the power of the Holy Spirit with real earnestness, they will believe that you are telling the truth. Your testimony is one thing they cannot deny.
I have talked to people who said, “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in the supernatural. I don’t believe in anything.” But after I told them my own testimony they wound up saying, even though they claimed they were skeptics, agnostics, unbelievers, and everything else, “Well, if you say so, I believe you. If you say it happened to you, I believe it did happen to you.”
And the moment they acknowledge that it happened to you, they have to concede that it could happen to others. If it happened once, it could happen again—even to them. When they admit the possibility, there’s a spark of faith; a tiny seed of faith has been planted and can begin to take root.
I once talked for eight hours to a man who said he didn’t believe in God. But when I was finished, he had to confess, “I know one thing—you believe it.” There was an admission that if I had faith, there must be such a thing. He knew I believed, and he had faith in my faith—vicarious faith—therefore there was a definite possibility that he too could have faith. If he could believe me, he could believe in God.
That’s why, as I’ve said, in witnessing you have to sell yourself first. You have to win people to yourself. When they see your own happiness, they will want what you’ve got that makes you that way.
Talk about how it happened to you or how it happened in other cases you know about, but allow that it may not always be that way or may not be exactly the same for them.
It’s like the story of the five blind men and the elephant, when each man was asked to feel the elephant and try to figure out what it was like: One grabbed the tail and said, “Behold, an elephant is like a rope.” The next man grabbed a leg and said, “No, the elephant is like a tree.” The third felt his side. “Ah, no, the elephant is like a wall.” The fourth grabbed the trunk and said, “No, the elephant is like a serpent.” The last man grabbed an ear and said, “No, the elephant is like a leaf.” They were all right, but no one was completely right or the only one who was right. The elephant was like all of these things, but to get the whole story you’ve got to put everybody’s story together.
This is what you must remember: Be tolerant of the opinions of others and qualify your lessons. Say, “Maybe this won’t work exactly like this in your case, but this is how it happened to me and So-and-so, therefore this is the way it will probably happen.” Get away from dogmatism. Get away from formal, rigid conventionalism. You must allow for difference and freedom of thought and opinion.
Above all, no matter what you say or how you say it, speak the truth from the fullness of your heart. Pray for the inspiration of God. Ask God to help you give people what they need. Before I begin to record a talk or lesson or write a letter, I pray, “Lord, give me what those who will hear or read this need. Help me to feed Your sheep” (John 21:15), and I believe He answers those prayers. If I ask for a fish, God is not going to give me a serpent, and if I ask for bread He’s not going to give me a stone (Matthew 7:9-11). If I ask God to lead me, He’s going to tell me the right thing to say.
If your heart is full of Jesus and the truth, that’s what you’ll give people. That’s the sum and substance of it all: Fill up your heart, and then out of the fullness of the heart the mouth will speak. Trust God that He has given you the right message, pass it on, and leave the results to the Lord. Fill up your heart and trust God!