Review: HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Public Speaking and Presenting

You probably already realize how much of in-person communication is non-verbal. But did you know that audiences perceive non-verbal signals as having more weight than the words you are actually saying?

Nick Morgan notes as much in his Harvard Business Review article, “How to Become an Authentic Speaker”:

If your spoken message and your body language are mismatched, audiences will respond to the nonverbal message every time.

Why?

You’re probably coming across as artificial. The reason: When we rehearse specific body language elements, we use them incorrectly during the actual speech—slightly after speaking the associated words. Listeners feel something’s wrong, because during natural conversation, body language emerges before the associated words.

Recently in a natural conversation I tried to notice which came first—my hand gestures or the words they accompanied. And Morgan is right!

So if you’re going to script non-verbals into your public speaking, well… maybe just don’t. Those need to be natural, or the listeners will know something is off.

Morgan’s article is in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Public Speaking and Presenting, a compelling and informative read that has already helped me as a preacher.

Here is the list of articles included:

  • “How to Give a Killer Presentation,” by Chris Anderson
  • “How to Become an Authentic Speaker,” by Nick Morgan
  • “Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee,” by Bronwyn Fryer
  • “Connect, Then Lead,” by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger
  • “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” by Jay A. Conger
  • “The Science of Pep Talks,” by Daniel McGinn
  • “Get the Boss to Buy In,” by Susan J. Ashford and James R. Detert
  • “The Organizational Apology,” by Maurice E. Schweitzer, Alison Wood Brooks, and Adam D. Galinsky
  • “What’s Your Story?” by Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback
  • “Visualizations That Really Work,” by Scott Berinato
  • (“bonus” article) “Structure Your Presentation Like a Story,” by Nancy Duarte.

I don’t think there’s a dud in here. Chris Anderson’s lead article is an inside look into the world of TED Talks. As the curator of the conferences, he’s coached plenty of speakers, and here distills some of his advice.

I especially appreciated the focus in a few articles on good storytelling. Even if data is part of a presentation, tell a story about it, rather than presenting it in drab charts and graphs. (Or use charts and graphs, but make them visually compelling.) “What’s Your Story” is about how to frame and re-frame career transitions—especially relevant to the so-called “Great Resignation” happening across workplaces today.

Harvard Business Review and its books have always appealed to me, though as a church leader I often have to translate the wisdom into a somewhat unique context. This particular volume, however, is immediately relevant to anyone speaking or presenting to people.

Check it out here.

C.S. Lewis on Deception

Is it possible to gaslight oneself?

Here is a profound insight on what self-deception (and then deception of others) looks like:

No man, perhaps, ever at first described to himself the act he was about to do as Murder, or Adultery, or Fraud, or Treachery, or Perversion; and when he hears it so described by other men, he is (in a way) sincerely shocked and surprised. Those others “don’t understand.” If they knew what it had really been like for him, they would not use those crude ‘stock’ names. With a wink or a titter, or in a cloud of muddy emotion, the thing has slipped into his will as something not very extraordinary, something of which, rightly understood and in all his highly peculiar circumstances, he may even feel proud.

A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis

We rationalize our actions, even if we might rightly balk at the same actions, were it somebody else. Hard a pill as this is to swallow, I think it’s an important truth to acknowledge—and confess to God.

Two Books I’m Excited to Read

In the mail today

I’ve been eager to read each of these books, for myself and also with an eye to using in a group setting at the church I pastor. They are:

Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege, by Dominique DuBois Gilliard (Zondervan, 2021)

Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice, by Dennis R. Edwards (Herald Press, 2020)

I am likely to share more about these books in this space in the future. If you have read either one, would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Yeah, But He’s *Our* Hananiah: When the One Who Misleads Is One of Us

The Prophet Jeremiah, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

I keep coming back to this arresting passage in Jeremiah:

For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.

— Jeremiah 6:13-14

Any declaration of peace calls for discernment. Anyone can say there is “peace” in a place when there’s really not. In fact, folks with positions of power (formal or informal) have a vested interest in “saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

That way they can preserve the status quo (from which they benefit). They can avoid “conflict” (or taking a long, hard look at reality and themselves). They can curry favor with those who love to hear that there is peace (don’t we all?).

In Jeremiah it was prophet and priest who were “dealing falsely,” saying “Shalom!” when shalom was decidedly not God’s word for the people. Shalom did not reflect the hard realities.

I find it sobering to remember that prophet and priest are appointed, sacred offices, established by God.

Yes, even sacred communities are susceptible to the abuse of lying leaders who declare peace where there is none.

A hard truth, but I think the even greater challenge is to think about how these verses might apply to our own settings.

It’s easy to call out Jeremiah’s Hananiah, his nemesis who persuaded the people “to trust in lies.” It’s easy to point at pastors, priests, and bishops who have lied and misled people in other communities. It’s easy to call for the resignation of a deceitful and unrepentant church leader in another faith community (or president of a country). Indeed, we should.

But what about when the false prophet is my false prophet? What about when the fake peace proclaimer is our fake peace proclaimer? What about when the deceit is coming “from inside the house”?

We might try to minimize:

  • Yeah, but she’s been a huge part of our community for decades!
  • Well, he thinks there is actually “peace” here, and he’s prophesying sincerely.
  • They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances; how about some grace?

Or the even more insidious: “Who can even know what peace is?”

It’s harder to navigate when Hananiah is one of us… when we have worshiped with Hananiah… when we have shared meals with Hananiah… when we have done mission together… when we celebrated birthdays and holidays and baptisms together. We might even think that Hananiah has somehow earned the right to be wrong, the right to (occasionally?) misrepresent God to the people. Jeremiah’s Hananiah is clearly in the wrong but my Hananiah gets a mulligan.

Jeremiah 6:16 goes on:

Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

Instead of an uncritical acceptance of our Hananiah’s lying, instead of asking, “How can we even know?”, God calls the people to stand and look and ask. (“Seek and you shall find.”) And then to walk in “the good way.”

And then there is the last line of Jeremiah 6:16—indeed, it often goes unquoted:

But they said, “We will not walk in it.”

May God have mercy on us, for all the times we choose not to walk in God’s good way. And may God give us the discernment and the courage to acknowledge the truth about Hananiah and his prophecies, even when he’s “one of us.”

New Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) Volume: Leviticus!

978-1-68307-403-8Who needs a Leviticus video game when you can now have the book as the newest BHQ volume?

BHQ (Biblia Hebraica Quinta) is meant to supersede the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) as the scholarly, critical edition of the Hebrew Bible.

It’s been a few years since I wrote it, but here I describe the BHQ and its use in Accordance Bible Software.

Here’s a bit more from Hendrickson:

At the beginning of each volume, there is a table of accents, a glossary for the Masorah parva, a list of the definitions and abbreviations used to characterize the readings, and a useful sample page that illustrates the features of the layout. Each volume ends with a detailed yet succinct discussion of the textual witnesses for each biblical book that contains a wealth of helpful information, and the manuscripts and critical editions of the texts are clearly annotated. The volumes read right to left.

And a bio of the editor of this volume:

Innocent Himbaza is a Rwandan-born evangelical pastor, theologian, lecturer, Hebrew language expert, and Bible researcher. He is currently a professor at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and in partnership with the German Bible Society in Stuttgart, he participates in the compilation of the Bible Hebraica Quinta. He lives in Switzerland with his wife, Swiss-born Liliane Mouron, and two daughters, Sarah and Esther.

I recently read Leviticus through in English and wondered how that book got its reputation as the most tedious in the Hebrew Bible. (That honor, with all due respect to God’s holy, revealed Word, belongs to Numbers, I think.) And the Hebrew isn’t as difficult as other books of the Hebrew Bible.

You can check out Leviticus BHQ here. For the rest of today (Friday), Hendrickson is offering 45% off with the code LEVI45.

Delta: What Changes, What Doesn’t

My former love of mathematics came in handy the other day.

I was in a clergy meeting, and we were talking about the delta variant of the coronavirus. And I remembered using the “delta” sign in math equations. It’s a triangle: ∆. Whenever you’re taking the delta of something, you’re finding the difference, or the amount of change.

So the delta between 5 and 3 is 5 – 3, or two. ∆x (“delta x”) is the change of a variable, x.

Delta is change. It’s difference.

As I came out of this math flashback, I spoke up in this clergy meeting, talking about how the delta variant, this change in the trend of coronavirus cases, surely means a change—again—for how we do church, for how we are the church. It’s like “Delta Church” now.

This felt like a deep insight, until I said it out loud, when I saw a bunch of other pastors staring back at me on Zoom, as if to say, “Uh, yeah, Pastor Abram. We already knew that delta means change.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What we don’t know is what kind of changes this new wave of coronavirus cases may require from us. More patience, for sure. More trust, yes. More caution? You bet. A vaccine booster, even after you’ve had two shots? Yes, that, too. A vaccine as soon as it’s available, if you’re younger? Yes, please.

Delta is all about change. It’s about things being different. And here we finally thought things were done being different, with the cases dropping a few months ago and vaccinations on the rise. It seems we’re back into an unclear present. And it’s hard to keep perspective, when we don’t even know where we are anymore!

Changeless

Enter Joshua.

At end of the book of Joshua, Israel’s great leader sees the end of his life approaching.

He leads the people of Israel in a covenant renewal at Shechem in Joshua 24. Joshua seems to sense that, as faithful as this group of people wants to be, they are only a generation away from abandoning the LORD.

So before he leads them in a declaration of trust in God, in the uncertain present moment, he has them look back.

They reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past, to remind themselves that God is a faithful God, not just in the past, but also in the present, and that God will be faithful in the future. God provided for the people in the past. He’s going to do it again today, and he’ll do it again tomorrow!

Think about your own life—whatever kind of moment you’re in, however uncertain you feel, however scared this new delta variant has you, whatever the rest of your life feels like right now… think about your past, and how God has been present to you. Think about how God has healed you, how God has provided for you, how God has shown up to you.

Joshua walks through this important act of remembering with his people.

He recaps the history of this people in the presence of all the leaders and judges and officials and tribes. He begins with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then goes on to Moses, Aaron, and how God parted the Red Sea and brought the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt. All praise be to our liberating God! Other nations fought Israel, but through God they prevailed. God says through Joshua in verse 13, “I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”

In other words: I, the LORD, gave you what you have.

Even so, Joshua presents the people with a choice, in verse 15: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.”

Will a faithful, loving, generous God in the past be enough for God’s people today, and well into tomorrow?

Yes, God gave us water from the rock, but… can he do it again? Yeah, God has literally defied the laws of physics to save us, but… what if he forgets how to do it again? Sure, God has done miracles in our past, made a way where there is now way, but what if God gets stuck this time?

It’s not going to happen. There is no delta with God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” God is good… not some of the time, not off and on, but God is good… all the time!

That doesn’t mean God is unmoved by our challenges. He weeps with those who weep, and he knows what it’s like to be tempted, to suffer. God knows what it feels like to be swept up by a storm at sea, or surrounded by contagious sickness.

But there is no delta with God, no change. No such thing as a God who is here today but gone tomorrow. With God, it’s not just faithfulness and provision up to a certain point. God is who God is yesterday, today, and forever.

Joshua leads the way in recommitting to this changeless God: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Mater the Tow Truck

In an uncertain moment, in a season of drought, or in-between-ness, it can be tempting to say, “Well, everything is kind of on hold right now, so there’s nothing we can do. Let’s wait till things resolve, and get back to it then.”

As a pastor—the pastor of a church living through almost two years of transition now, as the pastor of a church without a meeting space, without a church office, and at the mercy of the elements for if we can meet in person or not—I confess that this temptation is real for me, too. It’s the temptation to say, “Let’s just survive and get through this so we can go back to being the church, for real.”

But we are the body of Jesus Christ in the city of Boston right now. Do we need a building to be the body? In some ways, yeah, it really helps! Do we need to be able to attend large gatherings without masks and be back to where we were two years ago, before any of these changes came? That would be awesome! I would love that.

But that’s not our reality. Reality has changed.

Who we are in Christ Jesus has not changed.

We are still the congregation, the people, God has called us to be.

The same God who has led us “where (we’ve) been” is going ahead of us into a future we cannot see. This future is crystal clear to God. Muddy for us, totally in focus for God.

Consider Mater the Tow Truck, from Pixar’s Cars movie. Mater declares himself to be, among other things, “the world’s best backwards driver.”

He shows the race car Lightning McQueen his skills. He uses his rear-view mirrors to look behind him and quickly drive backwards through town and over various obstacles. To an amazed Lightning McQueen, Mater says, “Don’t need to know where I’m going, just need to know where I’ve been.”

“Don’t need to know where I’m going, just need to know where I’ve been.”

And that’s a good thing, because, ask me what I know about the present? Ask me what I know about next week or next month? Shrug of the shoulders.

But that doesn’t mean we’re on hold. God’s Spirit is living and active among us, and we get to be the body of Christ in the city right now in a world where everybody else is feeling anxious about all of the delta changes ahead. Do we know where we’re going? We’ll still make plans, but no, we don’t really know where we’re going. But do we know where we’ve been, how God has walked with us? You bet!

What if this tough, in-between time is vital work God is doing in is right now to shape us into the church he needs us to be for the future?

What if our building-less summer and fall means we’re an even more public witness to the city, as we worship in full view of the public at the park?

What if we were like Joshua, and led the way in helping our friends, families, and neighbors remember a good God who has always been faithful? What if we said to others, I believe that this loving and generous God is not going to give up now!

What if our faith and trust in God, even in this “delta” season, inspired others to trust God, too?

Friends, let’s say with Joshua, loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear, “But as for (us) and (our) household, we will serve the LORD!”

I adapted the above from a sermon I recently preached.

Amusement Parks on Fire’s “Thankyou Violin Radiopunk,” Reviewed

It’s been more than 10 years since Amusement Parks on Fire’s last LP. They’ve just announced a new one, An Archaea, set to release on June 25.

In the meantime, their 2017 and 2018 EPs were beautiful, and May 2020 saw an EP of rarities, which I review here. It’s called Thankyou Violin Radiopunk.

One of the things I love about Amusement Parks on Fire is that their songs are just as good, whether they consist of fuzzy, distorted guitars, or whether it’s all acoustic. The first track on Thankyou Violin Radiopunk proves that. It’s called “Firth of Third,” which has been listed under Michael Feerick’s name on YouTube for quite some time. It’s one of those YouTube videos I find myself watching on a regular basis. I think it’s one of his best songs.

Next is a “rustic,” reworked version of “Venus in Cancer,” which is just as hypnotic as the louder, heavier version APOF released on their self-titled 2005 album. APOF proves here that it’s as much about the songwriting as the sound. (I love this song’s chord progression, and how it doesn’t resolve to the tonic until the very end.) The tempo in this version is slower than the original version, too, showing that a great song can work in different styles and even at different tempos.

Then, track 3 is “Come of Age,” which reminds me of their 2005 “Blackout,” the first song I ever heard by the band. This song has been on the YouTubes since 2016, apparently. How did I miss it? How did it not make it onto an LP already? It’s a treat to have a song this good on a rarities collection.

Track 4 is a demo version of “Water from the Sun,” from 2010’s Road Eyes. Track 5, “Young Flight” (New Wave) is further proof that APOF’s songs are strong enough to sound great no matter how they arrange them.

I have no idea where track 6, “Hopefully Yours,” comes from, but the layering of room-filling, distorted guitars on top of piano hints (maybe!) that listeners can expect further sonic experimentation from this band in the future. Track 7, “Lasts Forever,” feels like a bookend to “Firth of Third.” Think: Smashing Pumpkin’s “Spaceboy,” but with way better guitar tone and vocals.

I confess I don’t really understand how the final track, “Tape Grip Addition (Prerise)” fits with the rest of the songs. If I read this album like my philosophy professor taught me to read a text, and I ask, “What’s the author doing now?”, that question is generally clear to me throughout even this hodgepodge collection of rarities. Until the last track. My best guess is this may be some kind of setup to the forthcoming LP, a “call” whose “response” is coming soon.

So glad this great band is sharing music with the world again.

You can listen to and purchase Thankyou Violin Radiopunk here.


Many thanks to the band for download access so I could write the review.

Gossip Destroys, Especially When We Think We’re Not Gossiping but Really Are

From HBR, via ICHIRO/Getty Images
From HBR, via ICHIRO/Getty Images

I recently saw a survey given to young people that asked them something like, “Do you use your computer inappropriately?” The number was low, 10% or so of respondents answering yes. The next question was something like, “Do your peers use their computer inappropriately?” The number was much higher; if I recall, close to a majority of respondents said yes. In other words, I don’t do that, but they do.

I suspect that pattern holds with other destructive habits. Take gossip, for example. Deborah Grayson Riegel points out that in her coaching work, her clients often deny participating in workplace gossip, “with a look on their faces that indicates that they are insulted to have been asked such a question.” But when Grayson Riegel reframes the question, the response changes:

When I ask them whether they have ever participated in a “confirmation expedition” — whereby they 1) ask a colleague to confirm their own negative or challenging experience with a third colleague who is not present, or 2) welcome a similar line of confirmation inquiry from another colleague about a third colleague who is not present, most admit that this is, in fact, a regular part of their daily work life.

She talks about the importance of naming gossip (or a “confirmation expedition”) as such:

First, call gossip “gossip” to stop it in its tracks. If you are engaging in “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present,” — especially if the aim is to confirm your experience rather than get constructive solutions — then you are participating in gossip.

The intertestamental book of Sirach goes further than just calling gossip “gossip.” It says, “Curse the gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many” (Sirach 28:13, NRSV). Gossip destroys the well-being of persons and disrupts whole communities.

The apostle Paul also warns his first century churches about “gossips,” which in Greek sure seems like an onomatopoeia: psithuristēs (whisperer). Think: “whisper networks,” but not the good, truth-telling kind that rightly bring down folks like Harvey Weinstein et al.

One of the dangers of gossip is that it seeks to confirm information (or at least claims to), but it risks getting reality wrong, because not all the involved people are in the room, including folks who may know more about a situation at hand. Not to mention that such furtive whispering is hard to hear, and often inaccurately conveys information when passed from one person to another (as happens in the kids’ game of “Telephone”).

Grayson Riegel has excellent advice for what to do about this dynamic (see her Harvard Business Review article here). I especially appreciate her “Let people know that you have a policy of ‘if you have a problem with me, please tell me first.’” (Although I think we need to be ready for the unfortunate possibility that some may simply ignore this request.)

I would add this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24, which could help us avoid doing what we are sure only others do:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

“Backpacks,” by Leslé Honoré

I came across this beautiful and heart-wrenching poem this morning (via): “Backpacks” by Leslé Honoré.

It starts like this:

When black boys are born

We mothers kiss their faces

Put them in carriers on our chest

Twirl our fingers in their curls

Show them to the world

Our tiny black princes

And when they start school

As early as 3

We mothers

Place huge back packs on their backs

And we slowly fill them with bricks

Read the whole thing here. Or watch and listen below.

BACKPACKS by Leslé Honoré from STOPTIME.LIVE on Vimeo.