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Avoiding Train Wrecks

December 6, 2012

During your next public talk, there’s one place where you are most likely to lose your train of thought. 

The next time you attempt to move people through a process, there’s one place where people are most likely to get stuck.

If you will identify and prepare for that one place, your talks and processes will immediately improve.

Before we talk about that one place, let me tell you about one of my most embarrassing ministry experiences. It was a public train wreck.

Train Wreck

A few years ago, I was leading Brenton Brown’s song, Jesus You Are Worthy  during one of our Sunday morning church services. I didn’t know I was blindly heading toward an epic train wreck.

Our band could consistently play that song flawlessly. We were completely prepared . . . I thought.

I started the song alone, playing my guitar and singing the first verse. Because I forgot to move the capo on my guitar, I was playing in the wrong key. So when the entire band jumped in, right on cue, immediately it happened. BAM! CRASH! Train wreck.

Embarrassingly, I stopped the song, took a deep breath, and we started over from the top.

Fortunately, I moved the capo up one fret on my guitar this time. Unfortunately, I was supposed to move the capo up two frets. So, I began playing and singing again. Right on cue, the band jumped in and, once again, BAM! CRASH! Train wreck.

I remember playing the song several weeks later in the same service. At the same point in the song, the band began playing and we were in the same key. I looked out over the congregation and noticed lots of people singing and smiling.

Despite being able to play the song flawlessly, we had a train wreck because of what I failed to do during the transition.

Like me, most of your train wrecks happen in your transitions. That is the one place you must identify and prepare for in every talk and every process.

As a speaker and leader, transitions are the intersection of success and failure.

Speakers: Spend more time rehearsing your transitions vs. your main points.

You rarely hear a speaker lose their train of thought while sharing their main points (Rick Perry’s Presidential Primary Debate would be an exception). Most of us hesitate, repeat ourselves, “chase rabbits”, or create awkward pauses during the transitions.

Leaders: Spend more time on steps vs. inspiration

If I inspire someone to consider joining a small group and then they get dropped, forgotten, confused, or discouraged in the process then that’s ministry malpractice.

Whatever you want to inspire people to do remember, the train wrecks happen in the transitions. Work hard to make the steps in your process clear, obvious, and strategic. Focus on the “how” just as much as the “what” and “why”.

So identify and prepare the transitions . . . and . . . move the capo up two frets.

  1. Chuck Grace permalink

    That is a great example. Here is mine. When I was a young believer I was asked by our Pastor to speak a Church in Santa Barbara on the subject of presenting the Gospel to others. I had never spoke in front of a large group before so I wrote down my entire speech on 4×5 cards. When we arrived I was taken aback by how many people were there. A fear like no other I had ever experienced gripped me. I sat in the pew towards the back of the church and read over my notes over and over. When the time arrived for me to speak and they called my name, I put my note cards in front cover of my Bible and began to walk forward. As I made my way to the front, I heard some people chuckling. I thought how rude is that? I climbed the stairs and situated myself in the pulpit. When I looked out over the congregation I saw what they were laughing about. Placed almost in perfect order were my 4×5 cards in the isle where they had dropped out of my Bible that I had picked up upside-down. I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go pick them up, or do I continue without them? Nothing happens by accident and it was the Lord’s way of showing me to totally depend on Him and not myself. I spoke that night and quite frankly don’t remember what I said but before I finished my talk I gave an unplanned invitation with heads bowed. An eight year old boy and an older woman came forward. The congregation stood and applauded as I walked back to my seat picking up the cards along the way. I learned that night that the Lord even uses our brokenness and fear to His glory.

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