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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When to NOT Use PowerPoint

I love visual presentations. Mostly I love them because they offer a much better chance that the audience will retain what has been said. A little effort on the visual side of communication can help cement a message far more effectively than simply speaking alone.

But is PowerPoint (or a similar slide program) the best way to communicate?

That's a great question. It's clear that using visuals that connect with your message in a meaningful way adds to the overall retention and comprehension of your message. It's also clear that when you simply recite words printed on a slide that actually reduces the retention and comprehension of the message (in that case you'd be better off just letting people read for themselves).

But what is less clears is which types of visuals give the strongest boost to retention and comprehension.

Are you ready for this?

It's a whiteboard.

Not slides with bullet points. Not slides with fancy pictures. A simple whiteboard.

Now, not all presentations are conducive to using a whiteboard, but when you can you should probably choose it over a PowerPoint presentation.

According to a recent study, the use of whiteboard illustrations in a presentation were more memorable and more persuasive than either standard PowerPoint presentations or the type of presentation championed by Garr Reynolds in is book Presentation Zen

There are a few things to note about the whiteboard presentation efficacy.

First, the visuals are still key. It's less about writing out what you're saying and more about creating a visual framework for people to use in encoding what you're saying. Draw pictures, relate terms visually, call out what is most important.

Second, the engagement with the message is, in part, due to the perceived participation of the audience in the creation of the presentation. Slides are, of necessity, static, while the whiteboard represents a dynamic space where anything can happen. The audience doesn't know that you have pre-determined what will go on the whiteboard so it feels like they are watching and helping to create the visuals.

Finally, you must rehearse your whiteboard presentation as much, if not more, as your presentation. Static visuals, like through PowerPoint, are easier to use. Giving a whiteboard based presentation takes effort, creativity, fluidity, and a full command of your topic so that you aren't distracted by the details of drawing on the whiteboard in the middle of giving a presentation.

Here are a few tips:

  • Pre-draw your examples to make sure they work. 
  • Use different color pens to indicate topical ideas (e.g. red is always for action, blue is for concepts, black is for side notes). 
  • Create meaning through space. So if you want to show that one idea is central to your theme, put it in the middle of the board and show how all the other ideas radiate out from it. 
  • Less is more. Just as with PowerPoint presentations, don't try to do too much on the whiteboard. Write in large letters so people in the back can easily see. Only put the key concepts on the board. 
  • Don't turn your back to the audience. This seems difficult and it takes some effort to learn to write with your body at a 90-degree angle to the board, but it's important to keep your audience engaged with you. 
  • Move out of the way when you're not writing. Give the whole audience a chance to see the board and to incorporate what you're saying with what they're seeing. 
  • Leave room for spontaneity. One of the best things about the whiteboard is that you can adjust it on the fly based on your audience's reaction to what you've been saying. 
Do you use a whiteboard for any of your presentations? How has it helped you? What would you add to this article?

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Does the Future Hold?

If you follow this blog, you've noticed a marked lack of posting here of late. I used to post here several times a week, but that's dropped off lately. It's not because I've stopped writing, but because I've stopped writing on this topic as much.

I've been writing marriage books, novels, bible studies (and other bible studies), so I have plenty to keep myself busy for now. For the time being I'm going to put this blog on hiatus (officially). You can find me and what I'm writing about now

On my website

On by blog

On Facebook

Through Twitter

Or on Amazon

Friday, May 02, 2014

God in Art or Visio Divina

Rublev's icon depicts the Trinity at a table together.
Art is a powerful communication tool that often transcends words. Luckily God and the bible have inspired art throughout the centuries.

The Orthodox tradition uses icons to help focus prayer through a practice called Visio Divina or "divine seeing." It is a counterpart to the practice of Lectio Divina which uses scripture as a source of meditation and contemplation.

I like connecting the body back to ancient ways of looking at the bible and it's a helpful way to find applicable visuals for preaching through a passage.

For example, recently I preached about the woman caught in adultery in John 8. I found several paintings depicting the scene and was able to use one of them to start some conversation in the church on the topic.

Another benefit to using paintings is that they are often public domain images. When projecting an image in church we need to be aware of the copyright situation and only use works for which we have the copyright. Public domain and creative commons images have an open license that allows you to use them without having to pay royalties. You can also find royalty free stock photos (both free and paid).

You can use Google's Image search to sort the images by license type.

Typically I'll start with Google Images and look for the passage I'm preaching through. Then I'll start to narrow things down by using the name of the pericope (like "woman caught in adultery" rather than just "John 8"). Then I might need to add the word "painting" to the search string to refine the results.

Usually I'll come across a great renaissance painting of the passage that will serve as an illustration for my text. I'll often use this as the title image for my sermon. It give the audience a chance to get into the passage without giving away too much of my sermon.

This image uses dark and light to illustrate the conflict of John 8:1-11
Connecting my preaching with classic paintings helps to keep the visual people connected, reminds the church that we're part of a great cloud of witnesses who have been thinking about these passages for millennia, and gives me high-quality visuals that are public domain for no cost. 

That's pretty cool to me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Simple Visuals

Notice how the text and the image work together to make a point. 
When presenting it can be intimidating to add visuals, especially if you don't know a lot about design. I'm working on my skills, but I'm still far from being a professional. My profession is putting words together, not images, but I can't afford to spend lots of money on design work nor can I afford to ignore the visual aspect of communication.

So, I work from a stance of simplicity.

In many sermons I'll have one slide per major point. I do that so I can still move and flow within the sermon and have something visual to help connect my ideas for the people who learn best that way.

If you're just starting out take your three point sermon and turn it into a five slide deck.

Slide 1: Title Slide - this is the title of your sermon. This slide will be up while you introduce things, read scripture, etc. It should be mostly the title of your sermon and an enticing image that invites people into your text without giving away your point.

Slide 2: Point 1 - This should be a full-bleed image (it takes up the whole slide) with one or two words that define your first point.

Slide 3: Point 2

Slide 4: Point 3

Slide 5: Title Slide - Return to your title slide for your closing remarks (and so you don't have the black screen with "End of Slideshow" at the top). Ideally there should be a sort of ah-ha moment as the image you chose clicks for the audience.

You can find some good sources for images here.

You can find some good tutorials on using PowerPoint here.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I recently wrote an article about my experience writing Like Mind, my first novel. The whole idea of the article was about the collaboration of storytelling that exists between authors and their audience.
We readers and writers must work together. It’s our art form, not just the writers’ alone. Together you and I make something that neither of us could make on our own. Together we tell stories.
That same dynamic is at work in all public speaking, especially in preaching. You don't simply speak words into the void and have them fall on unsuspecting ears. Rather you work together with a community of God's people to discern God's word and work in his world.

If I, as a preacher, am not listening to the church and the word, I've failed at my task.

That's a bold statement, so bold that I'm not sure I'm willing to apply it to anyone but myself. But it fully applies to me. I cannot, in good conscience, speak to God's people without listening to them.

I've preached at churches as a guest speaker before. That's been fun, and a good experience, but I'm still trying to discern what it is that the community is saying and what they need to hear.

I suppose I see my role as a translator. I listen to both God and his people and I try to mediate the conversation while at the same time getting out of the way. I can't help either side of the dialog if I don't listen attentively.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why to (Not) Trust Authority

One thing about preaching -- and presenting in general -- that is tending to put people off more and more is the idea that the preacher is in the position of power and the whole audience must listen to this person in authority. Most young people aren't huge fans of positional authority figures. Those are the people that have authority because of their position: the principal or the boss or the preacher.

I live in this weird space between the millennial distrust of authority and earlier generations' inherent trust in authority. I like being able to bridge the gap, but I don't fully understand either side.

The trust of authority is a trust in the system that gave that authority. Essentially it says that the system that made someone a boss or a teacher or a preacher must have sufficient checks and balances to prevent bad or unqualified people from getting into authority and promoting good and qualified people into the best positions for them. While there are exceptions to the rule, in general, that rule tends to hold (or so authority-trusters think).

The distrust of authority is the distrust of the system. The exceptions that litter the landscape prove that the checks and balances are not working and that the organization has failed to promote the right people into positions of authority. At its furthest extent, this distrust of authority assumes that if a person has been put into authority by the broken system then they are deserving of distrust until proven otherwise.

So what options exist? How can those who distrust positional authority and those who trust positional authority come together on anything?

At this point it's incumbent on the person in authority to show that the position isn't the source of their authority -- to both those that offer and withhold trust. One can't simply take the position of teacher or boss or even preacher and assume that everyone will accept that authority. Established or relational authority requires both submission and connection.

First the person in authority needs to demonstrate that they are submissive to an authority that is other than themselves. That is to say that they need to align with those under their authority as one who is also under authority. The boss is responsible to corporate just like her employees are. The teacher is responsible to the principal, just like his students are. The preacher is responsible to a higher authority as well.

Preachers must submit to scripture and to the community. Everyone in the church is in it together. They all must be obedient to the bible, they all must learn to be disciples and they all must make disciples. If the preacher -- or any other member in the church -- decides that they aren't under that authority, then they lose all credibility.

Second the person in authority needs to show a connection to those who are supposed to follow. The distrust of positional authority is rooted in the idea that organizations will abuse people to achieve their own ends. The only way to overcome this mistrust is through personal relationship, personal connection, and over time.

Are you in a position of authority? How do you facilitate connection and submission?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Google Image Search by License

I'm a fan of using Google Image Search to find pictures for my PowerPoint presentations. But there are legal limits to what I can use -- defined by the license on the photo -- so I need to be careful. For a long time Google just slapped a generic warning on the search results that alerted you to copyright issues. Caveat Emptor, or something like that.

Bing -- Microsoft's most recent search engine attempt to dethrone Google -- has had the ability to search images and filter the results by license since December, but now you can do the same thing in Google.

When you do an image search in Google you can filter the results by clicking on the "Search Tools" button above the results. From there you can filter by image size, color, type, time and now license type.

If you aren't getting paid for the use of the image you can use the least restrictive license type: Labeled for Reuse. From there the restrictions add up, you can have something labeled for reuse with modification, for commercial reuse or for commercial reuse with modification.

So if you want to edit a photo to use in selling your next book, you'll need the images licensed for commercial reuse with modification, but if you're giving a presentation at a non-profit and you don't plan to edit the picture you can use the images licensed for reuse.

Here are some other presentation resources that might be helpful.