One of my favorite holidays is here! Thanksgiving is when many of us reflect on our blessings and enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. This is also the time of year when many clothing and food collection drives pop up across the country, to help our community members in need. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in one such event in my city – the Bridgeport Rescue Mission’s “Great Thanksgiving Project.” Local residents can pick up coats, turkeys, and other food items to make a Thanksgiving dinner. They can also have someone from the prayer volunteer team pray for them. I had signed up to be a member of this team, along with a few other members from my church. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was SO glad I did participate! It felt good to be able to give back in such a simple, but powerful way that touched many who came through.
While I was not a speaker that day, per se, I know that my words did make a difference for those I had the opportunity to pray with. So I left the event inspired as well. Thinking back on my time there for those couple hours, I do have three observations that can help you with your next speaking engagement:
1. I was initially a bit hesitant about volunteering. Not because I had any concerns about the prayer team itself, but because I wasn’t sure I would have the “right” words for prayer. But, really, there weren’t any specific “right” words I needed to use. It was more about being genuine and speaking heartfelt words to God on their behalf. People can tell when you’re being authentic, and when you’re just speaking for the sake of speaking. Don’t get me wrong; the words you choose matter, but you don’t want to get so hung up on perfection that you lose the connection. Focus on the needs of your listener(s), and the right words will come. Have faith in your abilities. I must have done ok, judging by the hugs I received from some of the residents.
2. One of the suggestions that we were given when first approaching residents was: Instead of asking “Can I pray for you?,” ask “HOW can I pray for you?” I thought this was a great suggestion! It reminded me of what I tell clients when coaching them on how to handle the Question and Answer portion of their presentations. Instead of asking the audience “Are there any questions?,” it’s better to ask “What questions do you have for me?” It’s a slight difference, but it makes a big difference. It almost subconsciously prompts audience members to ask you a question. Wording it this way lets them know you’re expecting them to ask.
3. Now, admittedly – there were a handful of people who I didn’t think would be open to me praying for them. My assumption was based off of the facial expressions they had. If they looked frazzled or like they may not want to be bothered, I was slightly more hesitant in asking how I could pray for them at first. However, I’m glad I was wrong in most cases! Many were receptive. When you’re speaking to an audience, the audience members’ expressions are hard to ignore (not that you’d want to ignore) and you may feel your confidence waning if they look disinterested or if they’re frowning. Looks can be deceiving! That disinterested look may be because they’ve had a very long workday and are drained by the time they hear you. And that frown may be them concentrating on what you’re saying, and processing the information. I remember giving a presentation for a course I was taking years ago, and the instructor frowned 98% of the time. After the class was over, she came over to me. “I really liked your presentation!” I would NEVER have guessed that, going by her expression. Don’t let the audience members’ faces shake your enthusiasm. You can’t control what they may have gone through that day. But you do have the power to affect them positively! I had to remind myself of this at the event.
There is truly a lesson (or three) in everything we experience. Being of service to my community in this way was very humbling, and I cannot wait to volunteer again next year.
May you have a relaxing, enjoyable Thanksgiving with your loved ones!
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