Contact, communication, communion
HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - June 14, 2016 - 12:00am

It's a basic rule in public speaking that the speaker should keep eye contact with his audience to establish connection and effective communication. Otherwise, no matter how brilliant the speech or talk may be, without this contact, the attention of the audience would likely stray.

Obviously, this concern for contact is not and should not be an exclusive responsibility of the speaker. The audience also has to do their part, because no matter how the speaker strains to keep contact with them, if they don't do their part, the communication process would fail.

In my effort, for example, to train some students in my school to be readers at Mass, this is what I emphasize. I practice them minutes before the start, and with that I was led to discover certain practical details.

Among these discoveries is the realization that readers should try to internalize the words they are supposed to read. I tell them, it is God's word. Then I ask them, what would you feel, and how would you think you should read it in proclamation when you deeply realize it is God's word meant to nourish people's soul?

Of course, I have to give them many background information about the verses, and I encourage them to meditate on them, so that they can internalize them and would have a good idea of how to say them-what pace, tone, volume, etc. they should have.

Obviously, this requirement is an ongoing affair. It's not a one-shot deal, nor just a modular affair. Like it or not, it invites those concerned to deepen their theology, and even more, their spiritual life. The mouth can only speak out of the abundance of their heart and soul.

Their heart should be attuned to what they are saying or reading. The speakers or readers should know the meaning of the words, always aware of whose words they are, and to whom they are addressed, etc.

It's this running consciousness of these data that would help the speakers or readers to behave properly during the delivery.

With these items taken care of, it would be easy for them to do those glances at the audience. Those glances become natural, meaningful, and felt. They become convincing.

It's when readers just mouth the words, with no heart and soul to them, that the eye contact that they try to do would feel fake and artificial. The delivery becomes mechanical and hollow. Worse, everyone would notice it, though out of civility, they may just keep quiet about it.

And so, everyone has to realize that it's not just a matter of eye contact. That eye contact that is so fundamental in public speaking should spring and be accompanied always by heart contact, that is, a heart-to-heart contact with the audience.

Speakers and readers should cultivate the skill of entering the heart of God and the hearts of those in the audience. This is not easy, of course. But it can be done if one has the right attitude and disposition.

We need to be humble to be observant and to register things as objectively as possible. Besides, we often commit mistakes, and if we are not humble, then we cannot progress. With pride, we get stuck at a certain point.

We need to be truly interested in the people, ever widening our heart to accommodate the tremendous variety of personalities, characters, cultures, etc., we can find in the field. For this, we have to cultivate a certain kind of discernment that allows us to penetrate into the hearts of people, without getting stuck in the externals.

The mind should be broadened. Social graces should be polished. Thus, I was a bit disappointed when in a recent visit to a seminary, I found the seminarians and even some of the priests significantly lacking in these social skills. How can they become effective preachers if they are like that, I asked myself?

There is no short-cut to this goal. It has to be pursued not only when one prepares to give a speech. It is an all-time affair, an abiding love affair with God and the people. Otherwise, the artificiality of the delivery will just show.

A certain kind of inner hunger for God and for souls should be developed. And for this, nothing less than the grace of God is needed. On our part, what is needed is that we pray, asking for this gift, so that in the midst of our earthly affairs, we wouldn't fail to enter the spiritual life of the people.

All this business of eye and heart contact, of effective communication, is just an aspect of a deeper reality, which is communion.


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