I don’t know about you, but I am always a sucker for a good biography!  I love to read and learn about men and women who have become a master of their craft, whether it be in sports, business, leadership, you name it.  If the person in question is a master, Im interested.  While  doing a lot of reading and research on the topic of parenting, I ran across a biography of Dr. James Dobson called, ‘Family Man’ by Dale Buss.  In many circles, Dr. Dobson is considered the resident expert on parenting, as well the founder of the world renowned organization, ‘Focus on the Family’.  I was excited to potentially get some parenting insight from reading his personal story, what I didn’t expect to find was a proverbial treasure trove of insight on effective communication, specifically public speaking!

Dr. James Dobson’s business, purpose and passion for the last 45 years has been educating people across the world on fostering the family, biblical parenting and instilling family values into the up and coming generations. Over the last 45 years, Dr. Dobson has become what I would consider ‘a Master Communicator‘.  Listen to just a few of his credentials:

– Author of 26 books

– Co-author of 10 books

– 10,000+ hours of public speaking to hundreds of thousands of people across the world.

– Made his first film on parenting in the 70’s.  Over 100 million people watched it within 3 years. (before YouTube and blue-ray)

– Has been a guest on hundreds of television talk shows and news shows.

– Founder of Focus on the Family

– Host of Focus on the Family daily radio program for 25+ years.  A radio program that was translated into 12 different languages, broadcast to 7,000 stations worldwide, and heard by 220 million in 164 different countries.

– Said to be ‘The nation’s most influential Christian leader.’ Time magazine

What a great resource to learn how to effectively communicate from.  Dale Buss allots an entire chapter entitled ‘Packing the house‘ to how Dr. Dobson fine-tuned and mastered the craft of public speaking.  Here is a summary overview of how Dr. James Dobson became a master communicator:

1) You need a purpose and a passion to drive your engine. – Dr. Dobson did not enter his career with a belief that he was naturally  a good public speaker.  His passion for the family and family values drove him to work extremely hard on becoming an effective communicator.  One associate said that Dobson ‘worked harder than any other public speaker he knew, but didn’t want you to know it.’

2) Nothing can take the place of Preparation, Practice and PDCA.  – He would spend weeks putting together a talk, then plan small engagements where he could try out certain parts, points, and paces of delivery.  In the beginning he accepted every speaking engagement that came along to get more hours of what Geoff Colvin calls ‘Deliberate Practice’ on his way to the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell says is typically required for ‘Mastery’.  He would drive hours in any direction to speak to 10-15 PTA members.  Dr. Dobson was continually refining his style, or as best-selling author Orrin Woodward says, ‘PDCAing’ (Planning, Doing, Checking and Adjusting).

3) Find and study other Master Communicators and their strengths. –  Dr. Dobson gives recognition to 5 master communicators for greatly influencing his speaking ability and style in Dale Buss’s book Family Man:

“James Dobson’s father had always shied away from emotionalism during his evangelistic messages.  The elder Dobson drew crowds with his humility, prayerfulness, and an integrity that shone through his words.  Dobson Jr. also had observed his uncle, the evangelist Holland B. London, engage audiences; his delivery was the opposite, rapid-fire and heavily emotional, bringing people to the precipice of tears one moment and swinging them to laughter the next.  One technique that Dobson Jr. borrowed from his father and uncle was the use of illustrations every three to four minutes.  Another influence was Rev. Reuben Welch, a Pasadena College professor.  Dobson said it felt like it was just you and he in a conversation when Rev. Welch spoke.  People relate more to someone who ‘talks’ with them rather than one who ‘speaks’ at them.  Dobson also learned a great deal from Jesus Christ who often addressed crowds using parables and stories.  Lastly, Dr. Dobson learned the crucial area of humor from watching Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show in the 80s.  He was always looking to pick up pointers from Carson’s mastery of pace and timing in his delivery.”

Dobson developed his unique style of speaking from studying and using the strengths of others.

4) Master the ability to Prepare, Speak and Teach by way of illustration and story.  He developed his own system for cataloging stories by creating an index of 3 basic categories – Prose, Ideas, and Humor, and putting them in 2 divisions: ‘What will speak’ and ‘what will write’.  He later was able to put his decades of cataloged stories in a computer database to make them easy to search and find like using an internet search engine.  If you think of or come across a good story, take time to jot it down on a notepad, smart phone, or planner, and when you get a chance, catalog them in some way in  your computer or a journal in order  to easily reference them anytime you need a good story to work into a talk.

Dr. Dobson said, “Always be watching for human stories and keep a record of every poignant one, and then when you speak, tell the stories and ask yourself, what concepts they illustrate.  Then you throw in a few concepts.  That’s how you influence people!”

Chris & Terri Brady are some of the best I have ever seen or heard at using stories to communicate, deliver and teach powerful principles that could otherwise be rather difficult to teach and hard to follow.  They are co-founders of Team and LIFE are an absolute pleasure to listen to and learn from.

5) You’ve got to keep it interesting, personal and humorous. – Dobson says, “You have to entertain them, reveal a bit of yourself, and have some humor.”  He recommends that you grab people’s attention in the first 2 or 3 minutes of your talk, and every 3 or 4 minutes there after you must have something in your speech that is really worth listening to.  He says that most speakers aren’t willing to pay the price to keep the talk interesting, personal and humorous.  The price of preparation, practice, and PDCA.

Another great example of a master communicator who is able to grab and keep your interest the entire time is Mr. Claude Hamilton.  He always keeps it interesting with stories and examples, is very transparent to add that personal touch, and is full of humor.  The reason I mention this is because I just listened to an audio of his last night, and was laughing, smiling and learning the entire length of  the CD.

Dr. Dobson states that he has developed a barometer in his head that measures people’s interest level while he is speaking.  It measures surface noise (shuffling, texting, time checking, talking, and coughing) in the audience to indicate whether you are connecting or not.

I trust these 5 points have been helpful, knowing that we are fully vested in the information age and what author Robert Putnam calls the age of ‘Social Capital’, or measuring wealth in relationships.  An age where we can’t afford not to learn how to communicate effectively. Public Speaking is a vital component of heralding the message that furthers your passion and your purpose!  I hope you have enjoyed learning from Dr. James Dobson, one of the master communicators and statesmen of our time!  God bless, KB

About Kirk Birtles

Follower of Christ, loving husband, father of 4, TEAM/LIFE leader, community builder, entrepreneur, difference maker, and fun loving outdoorsman.

13 responses »

  1. Joe Marchbanks says:

    That was very helpful. I am always eager to learn how to communicate more effectively and really believe that you too are one of the best in the LIFE and Team circuit. I always enjoy listening to your style as well as those you mentioned. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Maribel Damphousse says:

    Very informative, thanks for this great post!

  3. Daniel Pinkelman says:

    Kirk,
    I am amazed that you are able to be so dynamic in all the topics you present. I’ve listened to so many of your audios and have been following your blog since the first posting. Everytime I learn and am inspired to put the lessons into action in my life. Thanks for this, most everything I’ve read or learned on this topic to date has been technique but you have brought the principles to light and that is a great foundation.
    Dan Pinkelman

  4. Len Troast says:

    Good stuff. Everyone who does any amount of public speaking will benefits from reading and implementing the five points in this blog.

  5. Aaron Thomason says:

    Kirk…if anyone reads this and they implement these 5 tips they will be exponentially better at public speaking. Thanks for letting us in to the secret of being better as we look to convey this message to the masses.

  6. Chris Brady says:

    Terri and I have been huge fans of Dr. Dobson, his books and his organization for years! Thanks for a great post about a great leader and teacher!

  7. Jason D Wilson says:

    Awesome post!! This is another example of a person putting in the effort to master a given area. I love to read about such people and how they became so effective. I am so thankful to be plugged in to such an awesome group of people!!
    thx KB

  8. Andrew Rockwell says:

    This post does a great job of taking the things that we all enjoy from our favorite speakers and organizing them in a way anyone can understand and duplicate! This will definitely help. Thanks!

  9. Kim Morisett says:

    Great blog post, Kirk! I learn so much from your talks and your writings. It seems you are always communicating exactly what I need to hear!

  10. Krista Beach says:

    Rex and I love Dr. Dobson’s books and Focus on the Family! This post is wonderful in understanding the key things that helped him successfully speak in front of so many! Thank you, Kirk!

  11. Kirk,
    Great post. Since everyone influences people in some way, we should all try to follow these steps to make sure we can do the best job we can.

  12. seltrib says:

    Dr. Dobson has been right on for many years. It’s time for us all to spead the good news and become the leaders the world so badly needs…Great blog.

  13. Kim Decker says:

    Thank as usual for another great post…This does makes so much sense now its another point for us to focus on when relating to others whether an actual speech or just the plan…Go TEAM for LIFE

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