When the Speaker Mauls The Listener

(Acts 20) 

Even for the great speaker, there are off days when things go south. 

Consider the dynamic voice of Apostle Paul, who starts churches, writes a big portion of the New Testament, and will even one day speak in front of Caesar. Nevertheless, Paul talks too late into the evening in Troas and a youth named Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12), perches on a window to get fresh air, falls asleep, and then falls out of the window to his death.   

Talk about a rough way to make a first impression. 

First of all, have you ever overshot the landing strip? Have you ever spoken too long that you overwhelmed the listener and diminished the impact? Have you ever inadvertently missed the mark and brought about the listener’s demise? 

Reading the Temperature of the Room 

The Apostle Paul, known for his passion and strong voice, carries the view of many speakers with this idea of providing as much content into the heads of the listener to thereby fulfill the task in front of him. 

Communication begins with listening, however, and the capable speaker must really discern who his audience is, first, and then cater his message to hit the target. 

In Paul’s defense of going long, he knows that this may be his only opportunity to speak to them. From Luke’s account, also describe an environment in which the lamps have created a hot, stuffy, environment in which passing out is a likely scenario.  Check the temperature of your room beforehand, in more ways than one. 

The youth was not grasping the message and escaped to find sleep. 

Consider also, this is one of the first references in the Bible of believers meeting on the first day of the week to coincide with the Resurrection of Jesus (Acts 20;7).  Work schedules meant working on Sunday at the time, so this group is meeting in the evening instead.  Naturally, many are tired by this point, but Paul goes into marathon mode still.  

“Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”

(Acts 20:8)

The Audience Perspective

From the vantage point of the listeners choosing to spend time with Paul, they are “at the mercy” of the speaker and the room conditions they are in. 

Sadly, according to Luke’s account, the focus of Paul’s teaching is not the most memorable part of the evening, but rather the traumatic calamity of the evening. Eutychus falls from the third floor likely regaining consciousness momentarily midfall in shock and then is miraculously revived by the Holy Spirit. 

From the perspective of Eutychus, does Paul leave an impression upon him?  Likely, yes. Yet, how might these bruises have been avoided? 

Paul continues to dialogue with this church until daybreak.  By this point, the gathering is now fully energized out of concern for the sleepy teen.

The Takeaway

What can we learn from Paul’s stressful experience? 

Consider the following time factors in speaking to a group:
  1. Level of interest and level of maturity—  Consider the audience and the level of maturity that you are addressing, to keep their attention for the long haul (Acts 20:9).
  2. Room Environment – What a great reminder Luke gives in this section to take into consideration room dynamics like room size, temperature, and humidity (Acts 20:8). 
  3. Relationship with the Audience – Yes, while this may have been Paul’s first and last time to visit, isn’t that all the more reason to create a positive first impression and leave people wanting more in order to keep the relationship open? 
  4. Main Idea – What was Paul’s main idea from the evening?  Sadly, it’s not recorded as there was so much commotion surrounding the disruption.  Keep to your main idea and stay the course.   
  5. Taking regular breaks—When speaking at long intervals, taking regular breaks keeps the attention of the group for the long haul.   Sense when the audience is ready for some rest, and provide a breather so that they can return with more vigor.  

Finally, keep the message tight.  

Leave. Them. Wanting. More. 

You’ll leave your listeners eager to hear back from you next time.