How to Give a Better Dinner Speech

I love my job.

I’m a pastor on staff at a church outside of Kansas City Missouri. Once a month we host newer attendees at an informal gathering which is a strategic part of our next steps process. It works well in connecting people that want to get involved at our church. Our pastors all sit at tables with our new guests, share a meal together, and then each of us addresses the crowd. It sounds like it should be easy but it has caused me a lot of stress. This is to say nothing about the effectiveness of the event itself… just to what I’ve discovered about myself in light of it.

I can get up in front of a large group and speak or have a meaningful conversation one on one with a stranger without issue, but giving a dinner speech at this particular gathering might as well be a request to perform an interpretive dance I make up for them on the spot. Each pastor typically goes around the room and gives a 60-second elevator pitch of their ministry and some other funny quip to break the ice.

Sounds easy, right?

This doesn’t affect all of my pastor friends the same way it has affected me to my knowledge. There’s something about telling the same story over and over, even to a group of people that have never heard it before, that doesn’t seem right. I think I uncovered the issue causing stress though. Although our guests have never heard what any of us have been saying on repeat for the last few years, my peers have.

I could say that I don’t want to just inspire my guests but also my fellow pastors as well, but that would not be completely true. Part of the stress comes from the feeling of being judged by those who know me and know whether or not what I’m saying is accurate or carefully spun to the unknowing. Being seen as a fake or incompetent is just about the worst thought in my mind.

These past two occasions I’ve changed things up with seemingly great success. Instead of telling my story… “Hey everyone, thanks for coming! My family and I moved here three years ago ALL the way from Ohio. Man, would you believe it’s cold there too?!”  Lately, I’ve been telling stories that end up being a why-behind-the-what of whatever it is I want to connect my guests to next.

This is the story I used a few a Sundays ago:

10 years ago, or so, my family and I were hanging out at a mall in Cincinnati the day after Christmas. Altogether, there were about 17 of us; my parents, my brother and his family, my sister and her family, and my family. My now 14 year old middle child was then the youngest at two years of age. It was the tribe watching everyone’s kids and everything seemed to be fine but I’ll never forget my heart dropping when I heard my wife ask, “Where’s Caloway?” I can still hear the metal chairs all push back from the tables across the tiles. In all, it only took 30 seconds to find him. He was on one of those carousels with three horses on it. He was (still is) rail skinny and his little body fit perfectly behind the middle column. There he was just waiting for someone to drop a quarter in it. I had his sticky little hand in mine under much protest for the rest of the day and I’ve not lost him since. The problem was that everyone in my family had one eye on Caloway but nobody had two. You can come to a big church like this for years where many people have one eye on you but getting into a small group means someone has two eyes on you. Let me help you find the people that will not only keep an eye out for you, but will know your name, genuinely love you, and tangibly care for you.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: if my elevator pitch doesn’t inspire me, it’s not going to inspire anyone else either. We all have a story or product we continually pitch. We’re all pounding the table for something. This may be for work or may simply be something you’re super passionate about.

Whatever it is that you’re talking up, remember that it’s wise to change it up. Don’t opt for the less-than-inspiring story about the weather or place of origin. Say something fresh and compelling. Stories like that will naturally and frequently change… just like yourself.

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