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Monday, August 31, 2009

Trust and Obey

Here is my sermon from Sunday:

Slides that Stick

Jan Schultink over at Slides that Stick just shared several of his designs on Flickr. They are great fodder for ideas. Check them out here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Emotions are Powerful for Communication

And humor is a great emotion to use to connect with people and get your point across.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Toward a Theology of PowerPoint #4

John starts his first letter like this:
1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
According to John, he saw himself as a witness to the life of Jesus and he felt he had a responsibility to pass on what he had experienced. The message that John has to share is not simply a philosophy, couched in words, but a lifestyle that can only be understood by experience.

If we are to communicate the good news, the message of eternal life that so captured John, then can we do any less than to offer a whole, sensuous message? Here, I'm not arguing for PowerPoint specifically, but for the practice of expressing the gospel as something to be experienced rather than something to be comprehended.

"Taste and see that the LORD is good" (Psalm 34:8).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Surround Sound Effect

"The Surround Sound Effect" is the name that I have given to technology that can interfere with its purpose.

I learned about this when I was pining away for surround sound of my very own. I listened to a bunch of systems and talked to a lot of my friends and researched all over the internet. Some people recommended the highest quality tuner and speakers with lots of number and letters all proclaiming the awesomeness of the system. Other people recommended the home theater in a box (HTB) set-up so that it would be easy to put together and enjoy.

What I discovered is that the truth was somewhere in the middle. I needed a system that was good enough that I wouldn't notice the poor quality (most HTB's don't fit the bill here), but I also needed a system that wasn't so good that I got distracted by trying to eek out the highest quality sound (i.e. constantly having to fiddle with settings when changing media inputs).

The principle is this: technology is supposed to fade into the background to allow us to experience the media. If your TV is too good or too bad that it's getting in the way, then it's not doing its job. If your PowerPoint presentation, projector, screen, etc. is distracting from the sermon, then it has failed at its job.

I really love technology (always and forever), but we need to remember that the purpose of technology is to allow the media to come through better, not to show off how cool the technology is.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PowerPoint tips and tricks #3

My friend Mick pointed me to an online presentation creator called Prezi that does some really cool zooming and turning effects to give motion and drama to a presentation.

I wanted to embed an example here to show the neat effect, but their software is proprietary and won't allow it. I played around with it a bit and I think it's a great idea for many presentations. It allows you to dynamically zoom in and out on specific elements to take a closer look. So if you have that graph in there and no one asks a question about it, you can stay zoomed out, but if someone wants more detail you can oblige them.

Of course PowerPoint wants to play too, and of course they get the gold star for effort. But their version (pptPlex) has the gist of Prezi without having the style. The cool thing about pptPlex is that you can use it with PowerPoint and adapt your existing presentations to the new format, so it could save a lot of work, but their stock backgrounds and layouts are as bad as anything the Microsoft has put out.

For sheer coolness, Prezi wins. For usability, pptPlex is a bit easier on the learning curve. For sermons I won't use either.

When I preach, the sermon is a living thing and changes from what I practiced. Both of these options require more of a linear flow than I am willing to use in my sermons. I will probably use something like this for presentations to potential supporting congregations as I feel it lends itself very well to that application.

3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Resources that go unnoticed

Of the most important resources for putting together a great presentation, I think the most neglected is pen-and-paper.

When it comes time to sit down and put visuals to your sermon it can be daunting to open a blank presentation and just be creative (ready . . . 1, 2, 3, GO).

When I'm preparing my sermon I spend time with the text and I take notes on what's going on. As images occur to me I jot them down. Sometimes this leads to dead-ends (people just don't remember "King Ralph" though it was a great movie). Other times it provides the foundation of my visuals.

More often than not, however, what I end up getting from my notes is a good start. Then when I start searching for images online things change again - I find a better picture or a different example that just works better.

But it all starts with pen and paper. My notebook is one of the most important tools I have for creating a good PowerPoint.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Q&A Friday

Today it's time for some healthy discussion. What questions do you have about PowerPoint, video, MediaShout, EasyWorship, podcasting, or anything else?

I want this site to be a resource for answering questions that preachers have about all these things - but how will I know unless I'm told?

Fire away!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Toward a Theology of PowerPoint #3

570 years ago Johannes Gutenberg changed the world. With the release of his closely guarded secret, movable type printing came to Europe for the first time. Since then every aspect of our communication has changed.

What was his first product? He printed the Bible. Today, Gutenberg Bibles are rare and prized possessions. However, it has very little to do with their content. Today, Bibles are a cheap commodity, easy to print, easy to obtain.

Words are cheap. The internet has made it so every yahoo can post their thoughts on a blog (yes, irony is intended) and because of that words proliferate like never before. Gutenberg allowed us to take valuable words and disseminate them en mass; the internet allows us to take the value out of the equation.

Yet value is the key! How do we preach value? How do we teach value? The power of words is fading in the flood of them. For someone who watches TV, texts, and surfs the internet all at once, sitting through a sermon is a boring, valueless experience. What will you do to change that?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Graphic Design for Dummies

PowerPoint, by its very existence, causes a problem: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something.

To put it another way: now that everyone has access to the tools to design and display visuals, there are a whole lot more terrible PowerPoints then good ones.

Seth Godin blogged about this a while back and said:

Ten years ago, you had a wide range of excuses for being a lousy visuals person. Starting with no talent, leading to no skill and going from there.

But now, in a world where it is expected that professionals will be able to make beautiful powerpoint slides, handsome business cards, clever bio photos and a decent website, it's as important as driving. And easier to learn and do, and requiring less talent.

No, you and I will never be gifted designers or breakthrough designers. But there's really no reason not to be really good.

What's your excuse? Are you a professional communicator? Then it's time to start learning how to communicate visually.

Seth suggests spending an hour a day for one month working through the things on this site. After that you should be pretty good at graphic design (and far better than the majority of your peers).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To visualize or not to visualize

My friend Matt has a great post today about the use of images in preaching.

He juxtaposes the neurological research of David Phillips with the homiletic prowess of John Piper (Piper video below).

Phillips says:
What I discovered was when the brain receives sensory inputs, it transforms them into images. In other words, the brain learns, adapts, and is literally re-wired through images . . . We need to communicate in images. Whether it is video clips, or images in our sermon or verbal images, if we want to communicate for behavioral change, we need to communicate in images.

Piper on the other hand says:
I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire.... It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does.

So . . . what do you think? Who do you think is right?

The Conference Table Effect

The Conference Table Effect is a term I use to describe what happens when an idea is discussed too long by the same people with no outside input or critique.

For example, RadioShack is in the process of rebranding themselves as The Shack, giving up on almost 90 years of work under their old name. Saying that customers are already dropping the "Radio" when referring to the company, they decided to embrace it.

I'm sorry, but that's dumb. RadioShack is an historical icon in the electronics industry and they succumbed to the Conference Table Effect. They discussed the idea around a conference table and a bad idea eventually started to seem good.

This is similar to when you were a kid and would say the same word over and over until it sounded weird. Repetition distorts our perception of things. Sometimes we just need a fresh perspective.

When creating a PowerPoint, it is possible to get so into the details of what you're doing that you lose perspective of the whole. Get some external critique. Take some time away from the project. Start slow. Don't be another victim of the Conference Table Effect

Monday, August 17, 2009

Love and Respect

Below is my sermon from Sunday. Click on the play button in the middle to listen to the audio synced with the slides.

Book Review: Envisioning the Word

The book Envisioning the Word: The Use of Visual Images in Preaching has been on my to-read pile for a long time now. Since I'm finally done with the M.Div I get to read what I want to read and not what I'm told to read.

Richard Jensen does a good job of helping to see the issues involved in using images in worship. He traces the issue throughout church history and examines the iconoclastic controversies of the Eastern church and the Reformation. He writes like a theologian/historian, which can be good and bad. He is not guilty of leaving out anything from the discussion, but it can be dry at times.

I'm less impressed with the practical part of his book. It consists of barely digested responses to questions posed to preachers using images in their craft. While there is good information there, he samples very few preachers and does very little to interact with their work. The enclosed CD-ROM includes the full text of the book as well as several images.

He tends toward the modern art side of things, which does little to communicate with me, but it might work for some. I would pick up this book for the theological and historical discussion and skim over the rest for the salient points.

4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 14, 2009

The church you know

The website The Church you Know spoofs the PSA's on TV and gives a satirical take on some church themes. This one on attendance makes me laugh a lot.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is Predictive Texting Making Kids Dumber?

Ok, first of all, I just have to say that I love the visual that went along with this article - I had to bring it over to share.

The linked article above looks at a correlative study in which the use of predictive text messaging is linked to a high rate of speed in completing tests and a high rate of errors on the same tests in a group of Australian students.

The researchers determined that the subjects who used their phones more frequently, especially for predictive texting (the services that automatically complete words), finished tests sooner than other subjects, but with more incorrect answers. Researcher and epidemiology professor Michael Abramson told ABC Science that predictive texting is "training kids to be fast but inaccurate." He went on to explain, "If you're used to... entering a couple of letters and getting the word you want, you expect [the world] to be like that."
So, what does this have to do with PowerPoint in preaching? Well, I have heard similar claims about the projection of Scripture, that it makes people too stupid to use their bibles. Or that when we project images of our examples that it prevents people from using their own imaginations (therefore making them dumber).


These are some odd connections to draw. What is even worse is the illogical assumption that there is a causative effect in these situations. What we are seeing is a correlation between data. I do think that we need to be careful and thoughtful in the ways we use technology - we are affected by the things we do and the ways in which we do them. But technology is not the cause in most of these cases. Technology is amoral not immoral. If you have a problem, look to the person using the technology.

Toward a Theology of PowerPoint #2

"I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." 1 Cor. 9:22

In using images to help communicate during a sermon we are engaging in what Paul did. We are becoming visual communicators to visual communicators so as to save some.

Even if you don't like it, you need to do it. This world is communicating in vastly different ways from even 10 years ago. Keep up or get out. I'm sorry for being blunt, but it is a poor excuse for a professional communicator who refuses to use the tools of communication available. It is even worse when one intentionally neglects methods which are increasingly popular.

If your goal is to keep people in the church happy, that's fine. My goal is the same as Paul's - to by all possible means save some. If I have to learn new technology, so be it. It's worth it to acheive the goal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Brain Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring stuff

Our brains are designed to pay attention to the important things and to ignore the boring things, says John Medina's Brain Rules.

The 10-minute attention span
After an amount of time disappointing to teachers and PowerPoint presenters everywhere, audience attention drops precipitously.

You must do something emotionally relevant at each 10-minute mark to regain attention.
So what does this mean for preachers? Should we only preach for 10 minutes?

What we should do is seek to emotionally engage our audience on a regular basis in our sermons. This can be through humor, passion, shock, anger, curiosity, or any emotion, but it must be connected to the point of our sermon. Some preachers tell jokes to keep people's attention, that's fine, if it supports the sermon. If it's just stand up commedy from the pulpit, there's a problem.

The same is true for our visuals. Just throwing out any old picture to try to have an emotional connect is wrong. But carefully selecting a picture or video that will support the sermon and engage the emotions actually helps people stay with the sermon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PowerPoint tips and tricks #2

Video Clips in PowerPoint:
Video can be compelling and impactful when used to illustrate a point in a sermon.

It can also be one of the most frustrating and agrivating applications of technology in a sermon. PowerPoint does not play well with others - that's the sad truth. If you are lucky enough to be in a larger church with a dedicated media person and you are running software like EasyWorship or Media Shout, then you can just have them deal with the video clip.

But if you are like the majority of preachers in the country, you are doing things on your own. Here are some things I've learned the hard way:

1. PowerPoint won't embed a video in a presentation - if you are e-mailing or otherwise moving the presentation from one computer to another, you need to move the video separately.

2. PowerPoint is finicky about video types. Try to stick to common, Windows friendly, video (.wmv, .avi, .mov files).

3. Test it, then re-test it, then test it again. There is nothing quite so frustrating as having your video not play or play all choppy or have the sound not work. Test everything.

4. Keep it short. If the clip is longer than about a minute, people will drift (they might get too into the movie or something). Unless the video is a stand-alone piece of the service, keep it to a minimum.

What tips and tricks do you have for video in PowerPoint?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Live as Light

Below is my sermon from yesterday synced up with the PowerPoint. This is a cool feature of SlideShare. There are more and more ways to get the word out.

PowerPoint is Evil

Edward Tufte wrote an article for Wired a while back (here) in which he talks about how awful PowerPoint can be.

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Tufte knows a thing or two about the topic since:
Edward R. Tufte is professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. His new monograph, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, is available from Graphics Press (

I got this link from Pastor Daniel's Blog

Friday, August 07, 2009


This is a repost from my other blog:

I have been doing some research on the use of PowerPoint (specifically in sermons since that's my field). Ok, more to the point - I have seen some pretty bad PowerPoint presentations and been prompted to not be "that guy." So I think I've come up with a new word (or neologism for all you nerds out there).

My new word is: cacophoty n. (ka-KA-foe-tee)An image, moving or still, that is jarring and discordant; visual dissonance. As in: That PowerPoint slide was filled with clip art and bright, conflicting colors - it is a cacophoty.

So it's pretty much a rip off of the pre-existing word: cacophony. I applied my stupendous Greek skills and broke down the work into it's parts: caca (evil, bad) and phony (sound, voice). Then I just replaced 'phony' with 'photy' (light). I know, I know, you are amazed at the breadth and depth of my linguistic knowledge.

So go and use this new word - spread it around the globe. I don't really care if I get credit for it, I just think it would be cool to be watching the news in a couple years and hear them use my word.

Oh, and don't have cacophotous PowerPoints they make me want to scoop out my eyeballs with a soupspoon.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Edit your Images Online

Lifehacker recently covered several online image editing tools (including Photoshop). The really cool thing about doing things online is that you don't have to buy really expensive software and keep it up to date (for example I can no longer use my copy of Photoshop Elements because of my new Windows Vista laptop). They have several listed in the post, but Aviary Phoenix came out on top.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Enlarge Images without Making them Blocky

Lifehacker is on a roll today with the image tips. They point out the new program SmilaEnlarge which can help take those small images and make them bigger.

So if you just can't find a version of the picture large enough to project without it looking all grainy and distorted, perhaps this can help.

Below I show what a couple minutes of dinking around can accomplish. It's not perfect, but it sure looks a lot better.

Finding Photos

The good folks over at Lifehacker detail some neat changes in the searching options at Flickr.

When you search for photos by keyword on Flickr, you get a grid of thumbnails, each of which pops up full-sized versions in-page. (No more having to click to a new page to see what the image looks like close up and other stats.) You can set how big the thumbnails should be, and also sort results by Flickr's magical (and very useful) "Interestingness" rank.

To find Creative Commons-licensed photos only you still have to click on the "Advanced Search" link; but you can bypass that step with a little URL hacking. Append &l=cc to your search keyword shortcut to limit Flickr results to re-publishable images. Firefox keyword bookmark users: the full Flickr CC image search bookmark URL should be (Use &l=commderiv for images licensed for commercial use and derivative works.)

Thanks, Gina, for the tips.

Slide Share

There is a cool web service called Slide Share where users can upload PowerPoint and other visual presentations. It's like Youtube for PowerPoint. You can check out my Slide Share page here. Note, I've grown a lot in my skills, and I continue to grow. I don't necessarily post these as examples of what to do, but just examples of what I have done. I'll try to keep this up to date with the sermons I'm currently preaching.

Below you can find one of my sermons on Romans 8.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

11 ways to use images poorly in slides

The excellent website: Presentation Zen has an article up today about ways to NOT use images in slides.

I've seen all of these example in actual presentations, and it's not pretty (I've also done a few of these - oops).

As digital cameras have become ubiquitous, and cheap (or free) photo websites plentiful, more people than ever are using images in presentations. Images are not appropriate for every kind of talk, but even when images are appropriate (such as keynote/ballroom style presentations), people are still making the same common mistakes. So here are some things to keep in mind if you use images in your next talk
1. Image is too small
4. Image is of poor quality
6. Image is stretched horizontally and distorted
9. Clip art is chosen (see above)
10. Image is lame and and has nothing to do with content

How NOT to use PowerPoint

Thanks to Cal Habig for this link.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Until Christ is Formed in You

This is one of my early PowerPoints. There are a few things I like about it, and there are things that I would avoid doing now. I've grown and changed a lot since then (2006).

I'm proud of the way that I used images to communicate the example of being formed. Note: the images of the painting, and baby faded smoothly without individual clicks in between.

I like the non-verbal way of showing Christ coming into focus toward the end of the show.

I used way too many words in this show. I'm ashamed of all the bullet points and text up on the screen. I've grown a lot since then (as you'll see in other presentations I post).

Please critique this for me.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

When looking at using PowerPoint in preaching it can be overwhelming. There are so many things necessary to well at incorporating visuals into your preaching: hardware, software, graphic design, etc. It is very easy to feel like a beginner, all over again. Preaching feels awkward and forced when visuals are first introduced.

So, what's the solution? I have a few pointers that I hope might help.

As much as possible let other people be the experts. If you have people at your church who are great with technology, use them to set up the hardware and software system and to train you on how to use them. Hire a graphic designer to create some logos for your church so that you can create some brand recognition. If you have a photographer at your church, see if they will help out with some images for you.

Add things a bit at a time. One of the things that makes it feel overwhelming is to feel like you have to be an expert at all of it right away. You don't and you can't. Start simple and then build on that. Maybe the first time you use visual you just have one slide or one video clip in your sermon. That's fine. Do that until it's comfortable and natural, then start adding other elements.

Observe people who do it well. The best way to learn is to see what other people are doing. Visuals are an extention of the sermon and as such should reflect your personal style. Watch others and then incorporate what they do into your own style. Don't forget to ask questions. Most preachers will be happy to share with you about how the use visuals.

What tips do you have?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Presenting with Text

Not every presentation needs to have fancy pictures. Text alone, if well used, can make powerful points. To quote Mark Parker: "PowerPoint. The name says it all. Make it powerful. Make a point. Most presentations do neither." Thanks to Mark for the link to this presentation.