“We have a special guest in our service today. She is our very own global worker and she’s going to take a few moments to tell us about her work.”
Most of us have faced a congregation or group of people after a similar introduction. We usually have, literally, a few moments to tell of a life work. Sometimes we are merely covering the past few years and our plans for the next term, in 90 seconds. This is a trend in churches, to give returning global workers only a brief time before the congregation or a class.
A colleague phoned last week to ask advice on how to use the three minutes a supporting church has given her to report to the congregation. It has been four years since she last reported in person.
Here is a simple plan to make the most of such short presentations.
The LEGO Block Message Plan
1. Prepare a one to three sentence statement that tells the WHO, WHERE and WHAT of your ministry: who you are, with whom you work, and what you do.
2. If the church or audience supports you, say “Thank you”.
3. Prepare blocks of information to add to the first statement, so that you can build it seamlessly into a one minute, two minute, or longer presentation.
4. Say, wear, or do something that sticks in people’s memories.
5. For the best building block, tell a brief story about one person on your field, a story which connects emotionally with your supporting audience. Have several such stories ready, in case you speak more than once, with at least one story for children. These stories need to be tellable in 15 seconds to one minute or so.
Block One: The First Words From Your Mouth
First, prepare your brief statement of Who you are, with whom you work, and What you do. Reduce that to one or two sentences. That is the ideal. Practice saying it.
Here are some samples of opening statements:
“Hello, my name is Paula Cowan, and I work with Women of the Harvest. We encourage and strengthen global worker women around the world to help keep them whole and healthy, and stay effective on the field.”
In my case, it is important to tell what my organization does. I will give details of my job later if there is time. If I worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators, it is obvious what the organization does, so I would zoom right in on my role.
You can use your short opener to begin a longer message, but it stands alone with information complete if that is all that you get to say. It is also handy when you are speaking to an individual. Often, all you get is a ragged swatch of conversation in a church foyer. Use it well.
Be ruthless and force yourself to stick with getting the vital Who, What, and Where across before you say anything else in this kind of a short message. If you insert another thought, which may lead to another, and maybe another, it makes a complicated sentence at best. Beware of wandering into details and never telling the vital overview of Who you are and What you do.
Block Two: Thank supporters
Say “Thank you”. Genuine, straightforward, non-effusive. The fewer the words, the better.
Block Three: Add a Memory Magnet
If you can add some spice or say something memorable to the bare opening, do it. I often say: “Hello. My name is Paula Cowan and I have the best job in the world. I work with Women of the Harvest. We encourage and strengthen global worker women…”
With a full minute you can add even more. To my opening above I often add: “The basis for my work with global worker women is Hezekiah 3:16: ‘If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.’ To keep good global workers on the field, we need to keep Momma happy.”
When my husband speaks for both of us, he says: “In frontier days they said that Texas was hard on women and horses. Well, so is any mission field. My wife, Paula, works with Women of the Harvest, to encourage women in hard places.”
For his own memory magnet, he does wild animal calls from our mission field, with a tie-in to our work. When we served in Canada, a half-day’s drive from our home church, we would point to a distant mountain and say, “We live and work straight on the other side of that mountain. Every time you look at it, pray for us on the other side.”
These are just samples of attention hooks. You have better ones of your own. Find something that will stick in people’s minds, but use some judgment and test your comment on a few trusted (and honest) friends. Saying anything unusual enough to stick in people’s minds is always risky, so check it out to see if others find it appropriate before saying it to a live audience.
Block four: Add a Story
A short story is usually the best, and it adds emotion, if you can tell it in 30 seconds or less of your minute. For example you might say, “Last week I held a woman dying of AIDS in my arms.” Or, “In two months I’ll be back in 100 % humidity wishing for a moment in an air conditioned place like this, but I wouldn’t trade it for the opportunity to tell university students about Jesus. Jaime was a hate-filled Marxist who is now a love-filled disciple of Jesus. You sent me to Jaime. I hold your hand here and Jaime’s over there. What a privilege to link you two, though you may not meet until heaven.” (The Jaime story takes 26 seconds).
Block five: Connect Emotions
Try to link supporting people emotionally with people whom you serve. If you tell a story, it is almost always best to tell about one person. Stalin’s cynical comment still holds true, that one death is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic. People cannot relate to a million, but they can to one.
A wise boss of ours once said, before my husband spoke to our board of directors, “Make them laugh, make them cry… but don’t bore them.” An emotional link with a supporter is better than full information on what you do, though that is hard to believe. Stories link emotionally, but keep them simple, without too many characters.
The Crucial Sixth Block: How Am I Moving People Toward Christ?
Most supporters want to know how their giving moved people closer to Christ. Tell them.
We are caught up in the process of missions, in the mechanics, administration and logistics of moving people to Christ. Hardly any supporters want to hear about that part, vital as it is. They want to hear of the end goal of that effort. Tell supporters how your role in your mission organization’s total effort serves to move people toward Christ. That is legitimate, and may even help you see your role as it truly is.
So, if you do secretarial work or technical support, it is legitimate to tell of a villager coming to Christ, and to say that you provide the essential base work for the field global worker to lead that person to the Lord. Again, have someone else review your presentation so that you are not overstating your case nor appearing to claim something that is not true. But to the extent that your work is essential to keeping people on the front line, say so.
Longer Messages: Three to Five Minutes
For the three minute and five minute message, I would strongly recommend that you tell a single story about an individual. Now you have more time to bring the emotion of that individual into the story. Connect your supporters emotionally with the people whom you serve. This is not manipulative; it is how human beings relate to each other.
Five minutes is really quite a bit of time. Depending on your work, with the three minute and five minute options, you can add a bit about your future plans or the next project, hopefully tied well to your story.
Keep a clean line of thought straight through the whole presentation. Do not clutter your talk with unconnected details. Even in a five minute talk, tell people one thing, one point. For example, tell the story, give a momentary pause just enough not to “step on” nor take emotion away from the story, then say, “And that’s why our next project is…”
Close with a Powerful Ending
The most powerful ending is to finish with the emotion of an individual’s story. Paul Harvey has made a living out of “The Rest of the Story.” An excellent structure for a short message is to tell part of a story, insert a bit about your work that ties to the story, then end with the climax or a twist on the story.
A huge mistake is to tell a great story and then ruin it by commenting on it, preaching from it, or explaining it. If it rivets attention, do not distract your audience by saying more. Leave the audience with that image or sound or emotion as their last strong impression of you and your work. Quit talking.