Captivating, Civil, Compelling Communication
By Dr. Diane Howard
Today we need peaceful, civil discourse, in relationships of mutual respect, even when we disagree, more than ever before. As Christian communicators, we also want to include Biblical communication principles in our communication and when we communicate the scriptures, it is important to deliver them in ways that will captivate our listeners and compel them apply the scriptures to their lives.
The Bible has much to say about wise and fitly spoken and written words. Ecclesiastes 12 says, “…the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. 10 The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly…. Proverbs 25 says, “…A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
The Bible also tells us to love our enemies. Luke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Proverbs 25 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22 For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. 23The north wind brings forth rain, And a backbiting tongue, an angry countenance.…”
One of the ways to love our enemies is to respect that with which we agree with them. When we build bridges and communication on common ground, we have more of an opportunity to communicate, be heard, and to persuade. Whether it is written or spoken communication, we need to frame it in ways that will be maximally heard.
The Bible also says in I Timothy 3:16 that “…All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.…” The scriptures have been inspired by God and are written in many literary forms that include the following and more: history, stories, poetry, wise sayings, prophecy, letters, drama, history…
The Bible is great literature filled with rich literary forms and devices for the ear, as well as for the mind, heart, and soul. The auditory appeal of the scriptures helps the listener experience and appreciate the awe of God and provides mnemonic devices which helps listeners memorize and meditate on the scriptures.
Very few speakers of classical texts, especially the scriptures, deliver literary devices with all their engaging power. However, when scriptures are spoken articulately but naturally with understanding of the context and attention to appropriate words to be emphasized, classical text, especially those of the Bible, can come alive for listeners and remain in the hearts, souls, and minds.
A few basic speaking skills go a long way to captivate the attention of listeners and to compel them to apply what they have heard. These basic skills include speaking in the front of the mouth, using the articulators actively, and using vocal variety that involves rich, wonderful, engaging sounds and auditory patterns that enlighten and enrich understanding of words and texts.
The following skills engage and enable listeners to comprehend what they are hearing on deeper levels. These skills that bring what is spoken alive when it is read aloud include the following: using the mouth, head, and body for excellent delivery; developing vocal variations; speaking with Standard American and Elevated English; skillfully delivering literary devices (especially for Biblical texts) and more.
Articulation and Projection
Primarily, audiences need to be able to understand what they read and hear. Communicators should work towards clarity, precision and definition. Speakers should also strive for these as well as for effective vocal delivery that involves vocal clarity, intelligibility, and good articulation.
Vocal articulation involves the shaping of sound by moveable and immovable articulators. The moveable articulators are the lips, lower jaw, tongue, and soft palate. The immovable articulators are the teeth, gum ridge, hard palate, and throat.
Effective articulation involves production of clear vowel and consonant sounds. Clear vowels are produced on open breath, which is unimpeded by articulators and shaped by the oral passage. Incorrectly articulated vowels are often due to not opening the mouth enough. To artfully speak fully open, articulated vowels, think of opening the mouth more vertically than horizontally as you speak. Consonants are produced on breath and shaped by active use of articulators. Properly produced vowels are open, rich sounds. Properly spoken diphthongs and triphthongs, which are compound vowel sounds, are not overly elongated as they often are in Southern American. Properly produced consonants are not overstressed as they often are in the American South.
It is important to articulate each sound in a word correctly and clearly. Each syllable should be spoken effectively so that each word is understandable and pleasant to hear. Some of the following poor speaking habits cause articulation and pronunciation that is difficult to hear or comprehend:
- Speaking in the back of the throat
- Speaking with a retroflexed tongue (pulled up and back inside the mouth)
- Elongating diphthongs and triphthongs (blends of vowels sounds that should sound together like a single vowel)
- Leaving off parts of words
- Adding extra sounds to words
- Slurring sounds in words
A speaker should work to develop vocal variety. As it is informed by the text, vocal variety can be produced with appropriate adjustments and variations of tempo, rhythm, pitch, volume, and quality. Vocal patterns can be symmetrical or asymmetrical to reveal the state characters in texts. For example, they can be asymmetrical to convey anxiety, restlessness or fear. Or they can be symmetrical to convey regularity, formality, or confidence.
To engage audiences and to keep them captivated, speakers should establish justified vocal patterns that include variations. A pleasing voice has the following characteristics: flexible, relaxed, colorful, strong, liquid, expressive, and varied. Vocal patterns should not stay static but should build in intensity in the rising action of scenes. Vocal patterns establish the following issues: setting, style, emotion, mood, and scenic development. Effective vocal delivery provides room for appropriate pauses, silences, or holds for laughs.
It is critical to use correct, standard grammar that is accepted by educated people. Good writers and speakers should study language rules. There are three important, basic elements of good writing and speaking: ethos-credibility, logos-logic, and pathos- emotion. Nothing can hurt credibility more than using incorrect grammar.
It is important for credibility and engaging speech to pronounce words correctly. Various guides in standard dictionaries for correct pronunciations of words include: diacritics (marks that clarify sounds), transliterations (words spelled like they sound), and/or listening to standard audio dictionary pronunciations. Using correct grammar and pronunciation facilitates speakers’ credibility, influence, and persuasion.
Effective speakers realize that vowels and consonants can sound differently in various contexts and combinations of sentences. They strive to accent stressed syllables in words. They are aware that some letters should remain silent. Effective speakers realize they can’t rely on spelling alone for correct pronunciation for many reasons.
- The English language is not spelled phonetically
- Spellings of English words do not necessarily correspond with the sounds of words
- The same sounds are not always spelled the same
- Vowel and consonant letters do not have consistent sounds
- There are more sounds in the English language than there are letters in the alphabet
Good speakers understand that not all phrases and sentences are equal in terms of importance. Further, they understand which phrases, clauses and sentences to speak with vocal stress. Skillful speakers determine which words, phrases and clauses are keys in the sentences of their texts and stress only those key words, phrases, or clauses. They also comprehend that some words, phrases and clauses are less significant and function as modifiers, fillers or as parentheses. The key words, phrases and clauses are spoken more slowly and deliberately as they are stressed. Modifiers, fillers and parenthetical comments can be spoken more quickly with less emphasis.
Standard English Speech
It is best to use standard English speech for media for universal understanding around the world. Standard American, English speech is free of regionalisms, colloquialisms, and slang. It is also referred to as neutral, non-regional, General American, or Broadcast Standard speech. It is marked by standard, educated and acceptable pronunciation.
Elevated English Speech
To determine voices for characters and narrators, speakers should consider if the form of the voice should be conversational, literary, ceremonial, or formal. A speaker, who uses Elevated Standard American English Dialect, can produce a voice that sounds formal, classical, educated, or trained. Elevated American English Speech is also referred to as Stage, Classical or Trans-Atlantic Speech. Scholarly texts that are rich with literary devices and written for the ear can be artistically and engagingly delivered in Elevated American English Speech. In using Elevated American English Speech, speakers should carefully heighten the literary and oratorical devices so that they can be enjoyed and appreciated by listeners.
The Elevated American English Dialect falls between a Standard American Dialect and Standard British English Dialect. It has softer r’s and rounder a’s. It has a heightened, educated, formal sound and is focused toward the front of the face and mouth. To produce softer r’s, keep the tip of the tongue resting lightly against the back of the lower teeth and keep the back of the tongue relaxed. To speak rounded vowels, especially a’s, keep the inside of the mouth open (think more vertically than horizontally open) and avoid bright-sounding vowels that are produced when the inside of the mouth is too closed.
Using Literary Devices
As skillful speakers deliver classical texts in Elevated American Speech, they bring interest to the sounds of the words, as well as to the ideas and thoughts. They know how to perform vowels, consonants, syllables, and phrases artistically and intelligently. They are able first to identify literary devices and to heighten them in their appeal to their listeners’ ears. Such literary devices include the following:
- Alliteration –recurrence of similar sounds (often the same letter at the beginning of each word or initial consonant sounds) in phrases or sentences
- Assonance- recurrence of vowel sounds in phrases or sentences
- Onomatopoeia- words that sound like what they mean
- Consonance – matching, ending consonant sounds
- Simile- words that make comparisons using the words like or as
- Metaphor- words making comparisons without the use of the words like or as
- Hyperbole- words in sentences that exaggerate to make a strong point
Using Rhetorical Devices
Rhetorical devices can be artfully spoken to provide examples, emphasis, interconnections, and clarity to spoken texts. In using and speaking rhetorical (effective speech) devices, determine where the key points and stresses should be in a passage. Key words identified with rhetorical devices should be spoken with a little extra energy to enable listeners to apprehend what is being said and emphasized. Common rhetorical devices include the following:
- Analogy– unfamiliar thing clarified by a reference to a related familiar thing
- Antithesis- opposing words or phrases that are juxtaposed to bring meaning to the second phrase, which should be spoken with more emphasis
- Appositive- words or phrases set off by commas that add extra definition or description to the earlier words or phrases and should be spoken with more emphasis
- Parallelism- various patterns of words and phrases repeated or built one upon the other in climbing, marching, or climatic patterns with subsequent related words or phrases spoken progressively more slowly, expressively, and deliberately
In reading or speaking poetry, especially of the Bible, it is important to emphasize the thoughts and the sounds. Do not stress the meter and rhyme. Perform the meter in an understated style so that it undergirds the ideas and sounds like heart beats. Observe punctuation, especially ending punctuation. Do not automatically stress ending syllables, as some endings are feminine and continue to the next lines and some are masculine with completed thoughts that are stressed at the end. Perform poetic devices appropriately. Observe ideas, sounds and emotion, heightening them in a natural way. Deliver poetic imagery with wonder. Give human emotion and will to personification of objects.
Our Lord used parables to capture, captivate, and compel listeners. The word “parable” is from a Greek word meaning “to compare together.” Our Lord compared natural objects familiar to His listeners to teach. He taught Truth in appealing and captivating ways that appeal to minds and hearts by referring to captivating visual images. He also appealed to the senses of His listeners.
Jesus’ stories and those of other Biblical storytellers, such as the Prophet Nathan and King David, engaged, sustained and maintained the attention of listeners, as well as motivating them to take appropriate, significant action.
Effective stories begin with critical experiences or turning points for the main characters. These crises commonly involve counteraction of the characters’ desires. Conflicts with the desires, intentions or motivations of the characters can come from within, from others, or from the characters’ environments. Opening, critical scenes usually create in an audience suspense and a desire to follow the story through the outcome. The focus is always on the characters. The stories reveal the characters’ struggles. They describe action. The storytellers are careful with dialogue. They must know where the problems or tensions are for the characters. The storytellers develop scenes, which visually show the struggles of the characters. These scenes are ones of crisis and of significant action.
Effective stories have emotional appeal to hearts, consciences and morals. Effective storytellers appeal to the senses and imaginations of audiences. Good storytelling builds in intensity to the critical turning point of the story and ends with a strong point that will have a lasting, important impact and will motivate significant change for eternal good.
It is important to observe effective communicators. Speaking models can be found on educational sources: public television, public radio, videotapes, audio resources, and national news via television, radio, and the Internet. Those who are looking for good media speech models should be careful with speakers who use local and regional speech, rather than Standard English that has wider, universal appeal.
Clearly hearing and understanding God’s perspective from His Word and being captivated by it is critical for readers and listeners to find God’s plan for their eternal lives. Throughout the Bible we are admonished to speak the Word and are given examples of skilled and persuasive speakers. Here are a couple of examples. Romans 10: …14 “How then can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? …” Acts 17: 2 “As was his custom, Paul … reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women…
It is up to Christian writers and speakers, especially as they use Biblical texts, to wisely use arts of skillful persuasion to maximally captivate and compel readers and listeners.
Proverbs 4 says, “… Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you…Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.”
Editor’s Note: Dr. Diane Howard is a media speaking coach on-site, via Skype and over the phone. She can accomplish much with clients in as little as half an hour. She is the author of the following and more: Speak Skillfully and Successfully: A Guide to Developing Diction and Voice-Over Excellence (Amazon, McGraw-Hill, 2005) and Speak Clearly and Creatively On Film, Television, Radio, E-Media, & Platform (Amazon, 2017) . See dianehoward.com .