In today’s world there are so many forms of communication, and there are pros and cons to each. Even though we have increase our venues of communication (TV, radio, newspaper, online, text, chat, blog, presentation, coffee house, small group, large gathering), they all boil down to two… written or spoken.
When we read through the mission of Paul, we read a lot about him speaking to crowds and astounding them with his teaching, but of course most of what we read, is not his speeches, but his letters… his written word to the churches he had started on his missionary journey.
Although we don’t have recordings of his speeches, or even many written transcripts, we do have a glimpse of a comparison between his written and spoken styles. “For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” ” (2 Cor 10:10) Now while I find it very difficult to believe that his speaking really amounted to nothing, but the point was that his written word was much more powerful.
So lets compare the two formats.
When you speak live to a person or group, you have the ability to read the non-verbal queues from your audience, and they have the ability to see the emotion or passion in you. For the dynamic or charismatic person, this live presentation style is a plus, they can engage with their audience and add emotion and emphasis in all the right places with well used non-verbal communication. Their voice, eyes, gestures and attitude (VEGA) can add way more to the context of their words that a printed transcript would miss.
On the other hand, to a less charismatic person, their VEGA can actually detract from their message. Even a dynamic speaker with a non-verbal ‘hitch’ can distract the audience from the message. Too much hands, bizarre facial expressions, too much movement on stage, too little movement… all of these can draw attention away from the actual words of the message.
With written text, you have time to formulate your thoughts in a more articulate way. You can word and re-word your thoughts or responses for potential maximum input. If the purpose of your written communication is that of teaching or correction (as was many of Paul’s letters) you can perhaps be more direct and bold than you might be in person. If boldness is what is needed this can be good.
However, sometimes that exact same boldness, without the emotion in your eyes, can come across very negatively in written form. Tough love messages are easier to take when the person or people can see the love in your eyes, versus only reading the tough part of your message.
The bottom line, is there has and will always be a place for both. Even in our world of Facebook posts (ironically since that’s how you’re reading this) or twitter feeds, the face to face live form of verbal communication is still highly valued. And even in the age of sound bites and video clips, the written word can still trump.
So where does that leave you? Learn to master both, Paul obviously did. At times, it was his spoken word that inspired others to follow his as He followed Christ. And at times he resorted to letters to gently but boldly correct behavior in the people he loved. Each form has a place and a time and the most influential communicators have learned when and how to use each effectively.