14 August 2013

Crowdsourcing: communication skills for priests

I'm working on the syllabus for my "Proclaiming the Word" course. Basically, the class is all about public speaking, oral communication/interpretation for the Catholic priest.  We cover how to proclaim the Gospel, conduct lectio divina, teach parish classes, etc.

Think about the priests you know. . .

If you could assign these priests to take a remedial class in public speaking, what would you tell the professor that these guys need help with? 

Think not only in terms of preaching (volume, tone, projection, etc.) but also in terms of how they communicate personally with parish staff, parishioners, etc.  

Think about how they communicate in oral presentations during pastoral council meetings, catechical events, groups meetings, etc.

What do we clergy-types need to improve?

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  1. Anonymous11:12 AM

    Speak loudly and clearly. Don't be afraid to leave the podium but walk around, creating a visual object for the listeners to track. One's hands are an efficient communication tool; the more one moves their hands accordingly with the ideas that they speak of, the more that the ideas seem to take on a spacial sense and so the more easily they are understood. Also, the common visual production of the palms is a sign of honesty, however, don't show your palms too much or the listeners will think that you're becoming defensive. When driving a point home, connect the index finger with the thumb for a visual point of authority (some political public speakers do this, such as Obama). You are as much the speech as the words coming out of your mouth--if you do not have a visual object for the listeners to focus on, then they will lose their attention. The more senses you can capture, the better. Think of a speech like a plot--consider a softer tone of voice to an increasing louder tone of voice to an ending softer tone or the opposite (this can be done with volume, speed of the speech, rate of ideas or experiences, or the emotional content of the speech). Personal stories or experiences are powerful, but too many make the point ambiguous. A joke is a good way to get people's attention, especially if it as at the beginning, middle, and near end. Summarizing your chief points into clear but few numbers makes the points clear and memorable. Attaching an idea, such as humility or kindness or the like, to an action, like opening the door or being honest about yourself, makes the idea more memorable. Examples of an idea clarify the idea itself, but the examples must be relatable. Making eye contact with points of the audience which fails to pay attention will increase their attention. And remember that a prayer is for God, but a homily or sermon is for the listener: consider your audience, meet your audience, and bring them to your vantage point in order to sympathize with your reasoning and love of God.
    These are just some things that they taught in my speech class. Thanks for reading, and I hope they help!

  2. Anonymous12:26 PM

    "Be not afraid" Somehow many of the priests I've come to know these days have changed from becoming the leaders of old to men so afraid of upsetting members of the parish that avoid any subject that would upset members of the parish. I knew one pastor who would go out of his way to avoid parishioners who he felt disagreed with him. Most of the homilies are very good but more leadership is needed.

  3. More than anything, keep it brief. A homily should never be longer than eight minutes unless there is a truly compelling reason why it should be longer. The vast majority of homilies could be shorter and the quality of the homily would be improved, not diminished. Far too many homilies wander all over the place. Concision is the key!

  4. Anonymous12:34 PM

    Make your point and STOP. Don't ramble. There's one priest - I know we're lucky to have more than one in our parish - that I actively try to avoid because of his poor homilies. He rambles. He makes a point, then keeps going for another five minutes of disconnected stuff.

    Not fond of the pop quiz homily either, and it's worse when it's about something secular. I hate it when they try for interaction with the congregation ... or maybe it's that this particular one always seems to be forcing it...

  5. 1. Projection - I know most places have voice amplification, but not all do. The ability to speak loudly and clearly in any situation is a must. And breathe - really, kind of important when one is speaking.
    2. Prepare and be confident - some can successfully wing it, some are naturally gifted readers, but most can not and are not. I have heard many otherwise good orthodox priests say incorrect or confusing things during a homily due to lack of prep - speaking without something written in front of them. If you aren't good at or comfortable speaking publicly practice and "fake it til you make it."
    3. Watch your body language. I realize I am more tuned in to body language than most, but when speaking one must be aware of common body language "cues" and why to do or avoid them. ie: crossed arms, eye contact, leaning forward, facial expressions, slouching, etc.... It is always good to know what you do when you become nervous or lack confidence - I, for example, reach up and brush my cheek with my fingers when I'm doing something which makes me uncomfortable - and work to be aware of and able to either control it or to use it as a cue to yourself.
    4. Vary what you say and how you say it. Recognize if you use one word or group of words repetitively - can you use another word? Read more to expand your speaking vocabulary. Only use jokes and stories if they fit in "organically" and actually add to or reinforce the homily or talk.
    5. Small group settings: listen, act like you are listening, and listen. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Write it down or ask someone to write it down for you. Know both sides, try to understand the reasoning behind both sides, and acknowledging your understanding of such will go a long way. Know that you cannot please everyone, but knowing and being able to clearly articulate "why" will be a very useful skill. Remaining calm when attacked verbally, knowing when you are getting defensive and how to diffuse both a situation and yourself if this happens. Learn how to stand your ground without being aggressive - assertiveness.
    That's just off the top of my head.

  6. If you follow the advice given above, you will look like Tony Robbins in a dress. Priests and bishops who wander away from the pulpit turn the sanctuary into a stage. When they descend from the sanctuary to show themselves 'just one of us', they are engaging in a slightly different form of distraction, but the matter of "Look at me! me! me!" remains a constant. When the priest or bishop takes twenty minutes uninterrupted by commercial breaks to meander physically and verbally around his self-referential point, it just makes the talk show metaphor less hidden. Every Father Friendly with a wireless mic is a Jerry Springer with nothing interesting, or edifying, or holy- heaven forfend- to say. The best homilies are invariably those delivered by a deacon, priest, or bishop who, by staying in place physically, is able better to stay on point homiletically, and thus to keep his congregation attentive.

  7. Having a point.
    Sticking to that point.
    Remembering the point you meant to have at the end of the sermon.

    As someone who spends an average of 105 hours of mixed lecture/discussion time per semester (and much heavier on lecture below the 300 level) I can barely sit through some the of meandering glances at todays Scripture readings I hear.

  8. Anonymous7:15 PM

    The best, most memorable homilies have real-life applications or examples. The very best I've heard have come from the priest's own life and there was usually some humor in there as well. And, I know, there are those who think we should never crack a smile at Mass but well-placed humor is very effective. I don't mean a clown suit but a wry comment (and I've heard some great ones) can make a huge difference. And, please, if you know and love Jesus, please talk about that.

  9. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Know your audience. Pray before during and after. People can tell when you haven't been praying. It's not a lecture, it's not a bible study, you are in persona Cristi, if you're going to preach do so as Jesus on the cross. Show your passion for Jesus. Show your love for HIS love and his saints and Our Mother. Remember Matthew 10:20.

  10. Anonymous10:12 PM

    Many good points here! Engage the audience. An engaged speaker will cause the listener to feel as if they are involved in the process. Random eye contact is great. Cause the assembly to be active listeners. Succesful leaders must be able to communicate their vision. They must motivate and empower.

    Jokes are ok if they are few and far between but you had best be sure it is a winner or you will look like a rube. Besides, too many jokes and you may as well break out the hand puppets and tambourines.

    DO NOT wander around with a portable microphone. If you cannot be convincing from the pulpit wandering around isn't going to help.

    Be animated and confident.

    Prepare, prepare, prepare. Be the master of the material you present. The best lectures I have ever delivered have resulted from an index card with maybe 8 or ten key words to keep me in line.

    Believe and convince me why I should.

    BTW Friar, when you are in Summit for a visit make sure someone gets you to Jimmy Buff's in Kenilworth. Nearby and the best Italian hotdog on the planet.

  11. Oh, please, no jokes. They are usually very badly told and the priest is not there as entertainer. Whatever you say, say it with conviction. If you don't appear to believe it no-one else will. Try treating your congregation as adults and don't just repeat word for word one of the readings. Once in while, talk about sin - yes, the usually unmentionable - and how it alienates us from God and how we need regular Confession. There's usually a hook in the Gospel or second reading. And, please, please, never ever wander around the nave waving your arms. You are not a windmill. Say what you have to say and stop, even if it's only six minutes. Quality, not quantity, the exemplar being Christ Himself.

  12. I would recommend work on accent reduction. Many of our foreign born priests are good men and have good things to say but I have a very difficult time understanding what they say.

  13. Cathy D1:54 PM

    Have a point to your homily. I should be able to summarize it in one or two sentences.
    Ideally it should include some tenet of the faith.

    Amen to accent reduction. I think people just tune it out when they have to work so hard to understand...

  14. Anonymous4:20 PM

    I would also say: keep homilies brief and focused! Even if a priest makes a lot of good points during a long, rambling homily, my brain often gets worn-out trying to follow his train of thought. Then, my mental tiredness in turn makes it a lot harder for me to be prayerful and attentive on the rest of the Mass.

  15. After talking with a priest today at lunch, something he said made sense: it is good to have someone who will be honest with you and give you feedback about your homilies OR at least someone, another priest perhaps, to bounce ideas off of. As future diocesan priests, these seminarians might have to seek that out . . . even if it is just some random person on the internet who has no problem giving honest feedback ;-).

    One on one and small group communication skills are vastly different from homily-delivering skills. Our pastor is actually pretty good at the small group meetings, but he fails at follow-through. And that lack of follow-through has many convinced that he doesn't care - which I don't think is the case. Remember that communication doesn't stop when the meeting is over. Have a good administrative assistant/receptionist, etc....! That is key to good communication in a parish.

  16. Anonymous9:59 PM

    If you have a computer, search some of your ideas for homilies to see if they are the top 10 heresies of the century!

  17. Anonymous11:43 PM

    1. Have a deep spiritual life. For the priest, the preaching should be the fruit of his contemplation.
    2. Speak clearly and slowly.
    3. Do not broadcast the news.
    4. Have a clear opening and closing. (Most of the priests are good in the opening on their homilies but so vague on their closing statement).
    Hope it helps.

  18. ohio Annie6:18 PM

    Never leave the ambo. Priests who do that flirt with licitness (there has to be a better way to express that).
    Speak clearly, enunciating the consonants. Allow for the delay in a church that was built for music. The delay in our church is about two seconds.
    No jokes. Ever.
    Don't try to entertain.
    If you have any kind of speech impediment, see a speech therapist.
    Don't be afraid to use punctuation. We have one priest who speaks with audible semicolons and m-dashes.
    Don't be afraid of the Methodist 3-point sermon if the material needs it.

  19. Anonymous5:22 PM

    Pastoral and office settings:
    1. Listen - learn how to really listen.
    2. Meet people where they are. If you don't listen to people, you won't know where they are.
    3.Follow up promptly.

    1. Please do not restate the Gospel. We already heard it and chances are good that Matthew/Mark/Luke and John said it better.
    2.When there are several good points to make it is tempting to talk about all of them. That doesn't work in a homily. It is better to focus on one and do it well than bring up a lot of different points.
    3. Knowing how to end a homily is important. A lot of great endings have been ruined because the priest or deacon kept talking.
    4. Know your sound system.
    5. Go over the petitions - especially the names of the deceased - prior to Mass.
    6. For foreign priests, please work on your pronunciation.