Monday, January 28, 2013

The Unspoken Problem in Modern Public Prayer

It makes me squirm. And check my watch. Sometimes I even want to make a dash for the door and hope that no one sees me. What am I talking about?
photo credit: Josh Kenzer via photopin cc

Public prayer.

Not the kind recited at ceremonies or large public events. In fact, I think public prayer in and of itself is a GOOD thing. I’m talking about the kind of public prayers you find within small groups of Christians.

You see, most often it seems as if those praying aloud really aren't talking to God at all. It sounds like they’re jumbling together a bunch of ‘Christian’ phrases they think they’re supposed to say. Other times they’re just flexing their Scripture memorization muscles in an effort to impress other people in the room. Or it turns into a King James vocabulary competition. Either way, in these situations my mind constantly goes to the awkward scene in “Meet the Parents” where Ben Stiller’s character is asked to say a prayer before the meal. That scene is funny in part because we've all heard some variation of that prayer on a regular basis in our own lives!

I’m not a prayer expert. Nor am I a theologian. But Jesus had some pretty simple things to say about prayer in Matthew 6. Here’s my paraphrase of these basic teachings:

  • Prayer isn’t a show. Don’t pray to impress others around you. (Matthew 6:5)
  • Don’t babble. Saying lots of words doesn’t make you more audible to God (Matthew 6:7)
  • You don’t need to overly explain things to God. He’s got it figured out. God knows what you need before you even ask him. (Matthew 6:8)
  • When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus shared a REALLY short example. The NIV translation of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 only has 53 words. The version in Luke 11 only has 34 words!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that long prayers are bad. Because they aren't. Jesus himself prayed at length on numerous occasions. I’m talking about the trend in modern church culture that has turned public prayer into an awkward pharisaic show.

In the end, I think we’d all do better by simply talking to God in these public prayer situations. Prayer that includes stumbling and everyday language is more sincere and heartfelt anyway. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

12 Things Every Author Needs to Know Before a Radio Interview

Interviews. They can be enlightening and entertaining. But all too often they're thoroughly irritating for everyone involved. I know about this from personal experience. After producing radio shows for a number of years, I've heard more bad interviews than I'd like to count. So, in an effort to improve the situation for everyone, I've put together a list of thoughts and recommendations specifically tailored for authors being interviewed on radio:

  Prepare and submit 6-8 specific talking points for the interview. These should be the core ideas of your book or article. For the record, talking points are not the same as "suggested interview questions" publishers typically provide. Instead, submit bulleted talking points that concisely convey unique ideas or concepts from your book. They should be as short as possible. No more than one sentence is necessary. Ideally, talking points should tease ideas, but not completely give them away. They should compel the interviewer to WANT to ask their own questions, rather than robotically read questions that have been provided.

  Keep your responses to interview questions to about 1 minute in length. A little less would be even better. Think of it as a conversation over coffee with a friend. If you dominated the conversation by droning on and on, your friend wouldn't invite you to have coffee with them again. If you do that to us, we probably won't invite you back either. Treat the interview like a conversation, and you'll sound great.

  Don't respond to every interview question with "That's a great question!" This is a verbal crutch that often lacks sincerity, and always lacks creativity. The interviewer doesn't need your encouragement. The best interviewees understand that no transition phrase is needed after being asked a question. Simply launch right into your answer and you'll sound much more competent.

  Don't mention the title of your book during the interview. You wrote a book. Congratulations. Now stop incessantly wrenching-in the title of your book into every answer. The more you say things like, "In my new book, ____", the more you sound like you're the host of a cheesy infomercial. Let the interviewer mention your book at strategic points in the interview. Prove your book is good by talking about the IDEAS in it, not by saying the title over, and over, and...

  Don't mention chapter titles or chapter numbers from your book either. This also makes you sound like you're hosting an infomercial. Plus, no one listening can see your book or reference a particular chapter. Let your ideas dominate the conversation. There's no need to mention chapters by name or number.

  The interviewer likely didn't read your book. Dont be shocked by this. On some programs, two to three authors are interviewed per day. That means it's not humanly possible for a host to read the books that will be featured on a particular program. So, don't EVER ask on-air whether an interviewer has read your book. Expect that they didn't.

  Yield to the interviewer. The interviewer is in charge you arent. That means you need to yield to them throughout the interview whether you like it or not. Don't make on-air suggestions, such as taking listener calls. Dont tell the interviewer on-air what you want to talk about "after the break". Don't ignore a question and respond to a different one that you'd rather answer. Get the point? Always let the interviewer lead.

  Provide at least one viable backup number for the interview. Why? Because if you accidentally miss the interview you'll embarrass yourself and the radio station. You'll also force the host to say something on-air to explain why you're not there. No matter how you slice it - it's not going to look good for you. And if you miss an interview you probably wont ever be invited back on the show again. I dont care who you are, how important you may be, or how many books youve sold. You MUST provide a viable backup number!

  Get yourself to a landline phone if at all possible. No matter how good your cell phone signal is, your call will likely have hiccups and momentary drops. This makes you sound like an amateur. If you can't find a landline phone, look for a place with strong cell service and stay put for the duration of the interview.

  Get to a quiet place for the interview. There's nothing more distracting for the host or a listener than hearing background noises. Car horns, loud music, and other people talking should be avoided at all costs.

  Be conscious of how you're holding the phone during the interview. If you smash your mouth against the receiver, you'll sound distorted. If you hold it up by your nose, we'll hear you breathing loudly. If you're yelling (like so many people do when they're talking on the phone), you'll distort your voice as well. There's no one-size-fits-all solution here, as everyone's voice and speaking style are different. Just take time to think through it so you can sound as good as possible.

  Have fun! Even if this is the fiftieth interview you'd done on the subject, it's the first time most of the listeners are hearing about it. Find a way to get yourself re-engaged in the topic. Providing the talking points I mentioned earlier can help with this, because you wont hear the same set of questions in every interview. Remember - If you don't sound interested in what you're talking about, the odds are that no one else involved will be interested either. 

What would YOU add or subtract from this list?