I watched Olympic track events this summer, and the ones I watched the most were the shortest ones. The greatest thing about sprints is that there is a winner seconds after the gun goes off. The network only shows highlights from the marathon, because no one will sit and watch an entire marathon on television. Watching an endurance race, you are dependent upon someone else to tell you where the runners are and show you how it all comes out in the end.
It is different for the runner. The person in the race knows where they are, how they are doing in comparison to their pace, and how much farther they have to go. They have mile markers to show them how far they’ve gone and a course map and arrows to show them where they are going. When I completed my marathon, I always knew where I was. The implication for communications:
Know where you are going and
how you plan to get there.
My husband was there to cheer me on. He had the course map and my estimated times. He showed up at certain checkpoints and waited to cheer for me. I was at the first few checkpoints early. I almost didn’t make it to the next-to-last checkpoint. He walked a mile downhill and waited for me, then walked up the hill with me, encouraging me all the way. He was there at the finish line an hour after he thought I’d get there, weary from waiting but glad to see me finish.
Did I just describe your communication? Do you know where you have been and where you are going? Do you know the main points in between? Have you shared that with your audience? Are you making them work to keep up with you? Are they sticking with you to the end, perhaps glad you finally got through it?
Let the audience know where you are going
and how you plan to get there, and then stick to that plan.
The audience used to watching 15 second commercials and reading 140 character tweets is going to be challenged by a 30-minute sermon or 50-minute lecture. If you break it up into shorter segments, moving from point to point and highlighting the major milestones, you make it easier for them to stay connected until the end.
In my last blog post, I teased you with a story I promised to share with you from the motivational speaker before our marathon. Here it is:
John told us about the importance of finishing strong. He reminded us that we would be photographed crossing the finish line, and so we should smile through the pain and run it in. Everyone he has coached has received the same advice. One marathon, at the 26 mile mark, he called out to his group: “Don’t forget to run it in – look good for the picture!” One woman nodded to him, unzipped her fanny pack, took out a tube of red lipstick and small mirror. Never in a million years would John have thought to counsel against this, not being one to wear lipstick. The challenge with applying lipstick at the 26 mile mark is that your motor control is waning around the 20 mile mark, and by 23 your hand-eye coordination is completely gone. At 26, any available brain capacity that manages physical coordination is focused on keeping your feet going to the finish line. This woman’s shaky hand reached up to her sweaty face and red lipstick went from cheek to cheek, lip to chin. Her marathon finish picture looked like The Joker.
I remembered this great advice, and did not bring lipstick with me to the marathon. But I remembered it beyond the marathon experience as a lesson in communications:
Consider the implications.
I realize that you cannot be responsible for everything your audience thinks while you are communicating, but it does not take a lot of extra effort to think through a few of the implications of what you say and write. Sometimes, it is just helpful to bounce your ideas off of people who are different than you – lipstick-wearers, for example.
When planning communications, consider the implications of what you are saying to people who don’t speak Christianese. Consider the implications of an older person, a younger person, a person from a different culture, hearing what you are communicating and interpreting it into their world. To John, “for the picture” means looking strong – to her, it meant looking pretty. Now, John uses that visual illustration to teach an important lesson about the physicality of the race…something I’ll share in my next posting.
In my last post, I mentioned that the motivational speaker the night before the Country Music marathon in Nashville gave us some incredible advice that translates well into church communications.
After asking, “Who here expects to win tomorrow?” (Part I), and encouraging us to run our own race, John “The Penguin” Bingham told us an incredibly hilarious story about a woman finishing a race, but you have to wait for the next installment to hear that story. It will be worth coming back for, trust me.
John coaches runners and runs the race with them. For people like me who are far behind his pace, he stays at the finish line and runs in with them – every one of them. He was there six hours after I started my race, running in the last few steps with me. I was dragging my right leg behind me, having pulled my glute at about the 16 mile mark. John called out, “Run it in!” I replied, almost in tears, “I can’t!” John said simply, “For the picture!” I summoned all of the strength I had left, faked a smile, and lifted my knees just enough to make it appear that I was running as I crossed the finish line.
There is so much leadership advice wrapped up in his act of encouraging each finisher right to the end, but here’s the communication advice:
Figure out what matters to your audience.
At this point in the race, telling me to go faster because it would improve my time would not be motivational. I left my hopes for finishing in 5 1/2 hours at the 16 mile mark. John didn’t say run it in for the win or for the crowd. He told me to run it in for the picture. This is the picture that would be posted on the internet for everyone to see, and you don’t want a picture of yourself dragging your lame leg across the line. Everything in my body wanted to collapse, but instead I ran. For the picture.
What are you doing to figure out what matters to your audience?
In a series of posts, I am going to discuss why communication is like a marathon. Currently, the only physical indicator that I have ever completed a marathon is the 26.2 sticker on the back of my Corolla, but back in 2006, I did indeed finish a marathon. Here is my less than impressive proof:
If you follow the Olympics, you know that the winner of the women’s marathon finished in 2:23. My half marathon time was more than that. But John “The Penguin” Bingham, the speaker at our motivational dinner the night before our marathon, gave us some incredible advice that translates well into church communications.
The first question John asked us was, “Who here expects to win tomorrow?”
No one raised their hand. His response was, “Then what’s your hurry? Everyone who comes in between 2nd and last place gets the same prize. Your medal will look the same whether you finish in three hours or six.”
(Contrary to the sage advice of Reese Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” you can be second, third, fourth, even fifth. Same medal.)
In church communication, we often compare ourselves to other churches and other pastors. I don’t preach like Kevin Myers, write like Mark Wilson, or rap like Troy Evans’ crew, and you probably don’t, either. But here’s the thing: we are supposed to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” not the race marked out for them. It would be ridiculous for me to try to rap people into the kingdom (although I do provide excellent background vocals for Lecrae on my car stereo) or to attempt to mimic Kevin Myers’ preaching (although he says y’all more than I do these days). God has called you and your church to run the race marked out for you. He has placed you at your post and given you your pace. The finish line is the same for everyone – “fixing our eyes on Jesus, <sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”>the pioneer <sup class="crossreference" value="(D)”>and perfecter of faith” – but not everyone is to run it identically.
Run your own race.
How has God designed you to run the race in your context?