Friday, December 9, 2011

Get to the Point! Pro-Life Speaking Without Losing Your Mind [Scott]

I just finished the manuscript for a book that, for the moment, goes by the above title. Release date is roughly June 1, Lord willing. Below is the introduction.

In his “No More Excuses” seminar, pro-life apologist Gregg Cunningham asks this question:

“Are any of your fears about pro-life speaking worth the price of unborn lives that could have been saved if you were more courageous?”

If you are pro-life, you’ve just been summoned to speak. But now what?

The thesis of this book is that engaging pro-life speakers are not born; they are organized. They march into a speaking event knowing exactly what they will say, how they will say it, and why it matters to their audience. With a little sweat, you can be that organized. You don’t have to be cool or clever. You don’t need a graduate degree. You just need to be clear. This book will show you how. In short, my objective is to turn you from a quiet pro-life Christian to an effective pro-life communicator—whether your audience has seven people or seven hundred.

Notice I said “effective” not “professional.” Put simply, mastering this book will not land you a keynote address at a major Christian conference, or even a pro-life one. It will not get you noticed or paid—at least right away. A professional conference speaker fine-tunes his craft for years, and reading a short book like this will not make you a pro.

But it may start you impacting the very audiences most at risk for abortion. Let’s be honest: Most people attending major Christian conferences aren’t contemplating killing their unborn offspring. But three blocks over is a Catholic high school with 400 students, half of them secular. Two blocks beyond is an evangelical one filled with kids who struggle articulating a biblical worldview on a host of topics, including abortion. And in between are 20 church youth groups, almost none of which have ever featured a pro-life presentation. The keynote speaker at the Christian conference won’t be reaching those kids.

But you might.

Let’s take a closer look at your audience. Inside that Catholic school is a frustrated religion teacher who knows that many of his students are not buying church teaching on abortion, but he’s clueless how to change things. His own surveys reveal that only 25 percent of his students think moral truth is real and knowable. The rest are full-blown relativists. He’s looking for reinforcements, but the previous pro-life speaker bored the kids to tears with statistics and a disjointed personal testimony. He won’t schedule you for a full assembly until he sees what you can deliver, but he’ll let you try your stuff with 21 kids in his tenth grade religion class. You bite. This book will prepare you for what happens next.

Down the street, an evangelical youth pastor laments the loss of critical thinking in his students. He worries that once they graduate, the secular university will devour what little faith they have. Your pro-life talk is 40 minutes, but he wonders if they’ll listen beyond the 140 characters allowed by Twitter.

Is serious pro-life content dead on arrival in the age of social networking? Should pro-life speakers sacrifice truth that requires students to think? The correct response to Twitter is not surrender, but equipping. Pro-life speakers must present compelling arguments that can compete in the marketplace of ideas. It stretches the mind, but kids can take it. In fact, they want it. My own experience confirms this.

Each year I speak to thousands of students at Catholic and Protestant high schools. My talks run 60 minutes and other than a short DVD clip depicting abortion, I skip all media gadgetry. Instead, I engage students with a robust defense of the pro-life position. Almost always the schools want me back. Meanwhile, college students are showing a growing interest in pro-life apologetics. In 2011, I delivered a keynote address to collegians at the annual Students for Life of America Conference in Washington D.C. Roughly 60 students attended the 2004 conference. The 2011 conference sold out with over 1,800 registrants from 150 campuses. Twitter or not, these students appreciate clear thinking presented in a winsome manner.

Admittedly, this book is nowhere near an exhaustive treatment of public speaking. It’s more like an expanded outline, having only two major divisions. Part one gives you principles for organizing, then delivering, persuasive pro-life content to students in Catholic and Protestant high schools. Even if you’re a rookie, you can deliver a solid pro-life talk if you do five things right:

1. Ask five essential questions before you speak
2. Organize your scattered thoughts into a razor sharp focus
3. Say it well so people listen
4. Graciously use abortion pictures for maximum impact
5. Invite yourself to speak

While pro-life Christians everywhere can use these principles to great effect, pregnancy centers enjoy a unique advantage. They already enjoy excellent reputations in their communities, making access to the students easier. My hope is they will capitalize on that advantage.

Part two applies those principles to debates and is addressed primarily to pro-life college and graduate students, right to life staffers, and apologetics geeks. At the edge of town sits the state college. A student from the campus pro-life group is organizing a debate with a local Planned Parenthood official and he wants you to represent the pro-life view. I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, speaking to a 10th grade religion class at the local Catholic high school is challenging enough. Doing a debate in front of college kids is simply out of the question.” Oh? Why would you think a thing like that? First, debates are an excellent way to reach students at public universities. Second, you can engage abortion-choice advocates in a public forum—and live to tell about it—if you follow eight steps to a successful debate:

1. Define Victory
2. Negotiate a Good Format
3. Frame the Debate with Your Opening
4. Narrate the Debate with Your Rebuttal
5. Expose Bankrupt Arguments
6. Ask Good Questions
7. Take Good Notes
8. Train Harder than Your Opponent

Consider Gregg’s question again: “Are any of your fears about pro-life speaking worth the price of unborn lives that could have been saved if you were more courageous?”

If the answer is no, it’s time to turn the page on timidity. It’s time to get organized.

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