Had the interesting pleasure of experiencing a black preacher in a predominantly white church today. Last week I observed a white preacher make a joke that had racial undertones that I thought was completely out of place, and made me feel uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what his effect was on those of another color or creed. I’ve seen speakers where a racial, social, political, or perceived divide did just that — divide — and other situations where it gives credibility and meaning to the message. Today was the latter.Ignoring an obvious difference in demographics between a speaker and the audience is not normally a good thing to do. If a “chronologically advanced” speaker addresses a crowd of high-schoolers, there is a credibility issue, and bridging that gap is not incidental to the message, it must be done or there is no message. George Bush walks into this situation all the time. Bill Clinton did before him. Audiences tend to focus on the differences more than a speaker ever would, so the ability to address that gap with aplomb and gain credibility that meets an audience need is critical.So the speaker today — who has enough paper credentials to talk to anyone — doesn’t crack jokes about the racial divide, doesn’t imply that one side or another is missing out, and doesn’t make anyone feel out of place (I’ve seen black speakers make a black audience feel completely out of place, and others who have made a white audience feel disconnected — in both secular and religious environments). Instead, he speaks with conviction and from personal experience. He was frank about the fact that he grew up in a different setting than he was currently in, but it wasn’t done in such a way to draw attention to the difference as much as it was that was able to speak from a position of experience, and he quickly drew that to many points that had direct and impactful meaning on his current audience. I couldn’t help but think that this would be the case regardless of the audience.The one thing no audience can deny a speaker is the speaker’s personal experience. Once that has been established — good or bad — then it’s the speaker’s job to relate that in a meaningful way to the current audience and give them value and inspiration.
Don’t give your audience any reason to dwell on the gap that exists between you and them. Establish an experience and move that to lessons that apply to the current audience.