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Friday, December 31, 2010

Learning Well: Styles

When you set about the task of learning or teaching it's important to know about learning styles. While everyone in the world begins as an infant using imitation to mimic what they see around them, we all grow older and develop a preference for how we will take in and process information. There are three main types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Basically you like to see it, hear it, or do it to learn it.

Figure out what your learning style is (if you don't already know). You can take a quick assessment online here. Once you know your learning style you can select learning activities that will best suit you. If you are a visual learner, then you probably need to read books and watch videos. If you are an auditory learner then you probably do well listening to podcasts and other recordings. If you are a kinesthetic learner, you need to get your hands dirty working with the lesson.

How do you learn best? What strategies do you employ to cater to your learning style?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Learning Well: Imitation

Yesterday I talked about how being a visual preacher often requires you to be a Jack of all trades. Mastering all of the separate jobs involved in being a visual presenter takes time and effort - both of which seem to be in precious short supply. Because of that I want to focus on how we can learn new things and do it well. If your worst fears are true and it will take hours from your life every week to improve your presenting skills, then, to be honest, something is wrong.

Every human being learns by imitation. We have specialized brain cells called mirror neurons that light up when we see (or hear) someone else doing something. Then when it comes time for us to recreate what we saw, the same neurons fire in the same neural pathway as when we were just observing. Watching and listening to experts will rewire your brain to be able to do new things.

Surround yourself with what you want to know. Observe people who are experts. Imitate and learn.

In the coming year I'm going to put together some tutorials, videos, and screencasts to walk you through visual presenting. I plan to organize my content around these themes:

January – Finding and Selecting High Quality Digital Images
February – Inserting Media into PowerPoint (Music and Movies)
March – Photo Editing Basics
April – Presentation Skills: Speaking Visually
May – Sharing the Gospel with Technology
June – Video Editing Basics
July – PowerPoint Animations and Transitions
August – Theological and Technology
September – Audio Editing Basics
October – Technology and Gear
November – Web Based Tools
December – Putting it all Together

Do you have any suggestions or specific tutorials you'd like to see?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jack of All Trades, Master of None (part 2)

One of the dangers of being a preacher is that you need to be very good at several disparate skills. It can be overwhelming and dissuade people from wanting to do it. I covered a few strategies to deal with this in a previous blog post. Basically you should let the experts be the experts, add new things slowly, and learn from the experts.

Now I want to talk about some learning strategies. Again, this can be overwhelming to consider. Not only do you need to study to prepare your sermon for next Sunday, but not you're supposed to learn a new skill set too. It hardly seems possible. But learning new skills isn't accomplished like a snake eating - we can't unhinge the jaw of our mind and swallow things whole. Our brains work more like a chipmunk that nibbles a bit at a time.

Break the skill you want to learn down into bite-sized chunks and tackle each one of those separately. Now's a good time to look at a New Year's resolution. Maybe by the end of the year you want to be proficient at using PowerPoint. Look at one small part of that next week. For example practice your image searching skills for one hour. Just one hour.

At the end of the year you'll have mastered 52 new skills. How do you plan to learn new things?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wordle Web App

I found the Wordle Web App recently. Basically it allows you to insert any text you want or a link to a blog feed (mine is shown below) then it generate a word mosaic from the information. You have a pretty fine level of control over what words are included since you can right-click a word that you don't want and specifically remove it.

When you're done creating your Wordle there isn't a good save option. I had to click "Open in Window" then maximize that window and use the "PrntScrn" or Print Screen key then copy the image into a photo editor to crop and save it. It's a bit of a hassle, but other than that a dead simple way to create word mosaics.

This might be a good end of the year display for church events. How would you use this tool?

Wordle Image

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cramming for Sunday

Saturday night I sat in a room with four preachers and their families, the glow of Christmas had faded into a warm contentment and the glow of laptop screens had replaced it accompanied by the clackity-clack of keyboards tapping. It struck me that the scene was not unlike that in a college dorm the night before exams. We were cramming for Sunday.

When Christmas is on a Saturday and you have family around all week, I expect the Saturday night special sermons. That's a normal and natural thing. But when it comes to a weekly preaching habit I have to strongly advise against it. Cramming for your sermon every week just isn't healthy. You and I both need time to sit with the text and to reflect on what God is saying through his word. My goal is to have the sermon completely done by Friday and to not even look at it on Saturday. Then I run through it on Sunday morning before preaching.

What practices do you use to keep from cramming for Sunday?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas. I'm going to take a break from the blog until after the holiday is over. While I'm gone, enjoy the first Christmas tree my wife and I had (pictured).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Visualizing the Gettysburg Address

I found this video to be fascinating - it applies video effects to the audio of the Gettysburg Address given by Abraham Lincoln. What strikes me is how the words take on a different meaning when the visuals are applied.  Words that seemed to be inclusive of both the Confederate and Union soldiers who had died became a rebuke to the slave-holding practices of the South when the visuals were applied. I also felt that the end of the speech is made cynical by the subtle visual effect employed (can you spot what I did?).

Using images is a powerful way to augment the spoken word. But more than just augment, it adds another layer of meaning that can drastically change your final point. How could you use images to change your message?

Gettysburg Address from Adam Gault on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Free Video Converter: FreeMake

I came across this crazy-simple video converter: FreeMake. It offers a one-click interface to convert your videos from just about any format to just about any format. This can be very helpful if you receive a video that you want to include in a PowerPoint presentation but it's not in a format that plays nicely with Microsoft products (which, unfortunately, is most of them). Grab the software and point to your source video then click the button on the bottom row that corresponds with the video format you want to output. For PowerPoint the WMV (Windows Media Video) format will be compatible. That's it. You're done. Now you can link to that video in PowerPoint and it should play without a hitch.

Merry Christmas to you.

Freemake Video Converter 2.0 from Freemake on Vimeo.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Internet Consumption Catches up with Television

Slashdot reports that recently the number of hours people spend on the internet has drawn even with the number spent watching TV. This is due, in part, to the rise in dual-use time where people will sit and watch TV while surfing the internet on a laptop, phone, or tablet (e.g. iPad). So TV consumption hasn't really dropped, but internet consumption has skyrocketed.

A couple implications for church and preaching come to mind. First, people are becoming more and more accustomed to consuming multiple channels of information simultaneously - asking them to sit and merely listen is leaving a huge cognitive gap. How will you fill that gap?

Second, people are becoming overwhelmed by information so they may need some training to help them reduce the input and spend time focusing on Bible study and worship. How can we invite people to slow down and pay attention rather than drinking from a fire hose?

Friday, December 17, 2010

God is Not a Man - Gungor

I enjoy this song by Gungor about how God is not defined by our human labels. I also enjoy the visualization that is creative and somewhat literal. What do you think?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Embrace the Mystery

I have to admit that I'm very tempted to explain it all away. I love to know the right answer to the question - any question - and I love to share that answer with anyone who will listen. That's not a big problem when we sit down to play Trivial Pursuit, but it become difficult when it's time to talk about God.

God is bigger than any answer I have to give. I can talk about him, and say true things about him, but my words can never confine God. God is a mystery, not to be solved (by meddling kids or otherwise), but to be embraced and dwelt with.

Sometimes when I preach I'm tempted to offer the right answers to the deepest questions about theology. I want to explain why bad things happen to good people. I want to describe how God created us with free will, yet still predestines us. I want to make sense of the Trinity, heaven, and hell. But I do a disservice to God and to my neighbors when I try to explain a mystery.

How can you encourage dwelling in the mysteries of God?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Order from Chaos

In the Ancient Near East (ANE) mythology the ocean was the source of chaos. The land existed in spite of the chaos of the sea which sought to consume and destroy order. The heroes of the creation myths in the ANE had to fight against the chaos and the sea in order to carve out some order.

So when we see God in Genesis hovering over the water it would sound very familiar to someone in the ANE, a battle is about to be joined where God must thwart the chaos to make a tenuous space for order. The surprise is that God doesn't struggle or fight, he just speaks. His words bring order without struggle. God is not opposed to the chaos, he is above it. He brings order, but does not dismiss the sea altogether, rather he creates a balance between the sea and the land. A balance between order and chaos.

When we preach we speak order into chaos. We share the hope of Jesus and the good news of the Kingdom with people who are lost and hurting; with people living in chaos. But our job isn't to eliminate chaos with our well-ordered words, rather we ought to teach a balance between order and chaos.

How do you bring order to the chaos but still leave room for chaos in the order?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tell a Story with Images

Jan Schultink over at Slides that Stick pointed out that static images don't need to be devoid of movement. In this image the movement comes from the story, the anticipation of what is about to happen. We imagine the drama that will ensue when the man discovers that he's been tricked.

Images don't have to be motionless - by using dramatic tension, and inviting our audience to use their imagination we can provide memorable moments in presentations.

How could you create movement in your next sermon?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poll Everywhere

My friend Mark Adams pointed me to a product called Poll Everywhere. It allows to create and see the results of a poll in real time. This could be a fantastic way to manage feedback during a sermon or presentation. One of the nice things about this is that you don't need to give out your personal number and manage the incoming information while trying to present. You can simply set up the poll and get the text number and let Poll Everywhere do the rest. On the downside it does cost a decent amount for even a moderately sized audience (250 people for $65 a month). I really like this idea, though.

How could we use this to increase the power of our preaching?

Friday, December 10, 2010

PPT Remote Review (update)

I had reviewed a program called PPT Remote when I was looking at Android phone PowerPoint remote control apps. Since the review several of my questions about the app have been answered. I was unable to get slide previews to show, but the developer has come out with new versions of both the Android app and the server for Windows. Now I'm able to see either grey-scale or color previews of the slides on my phone. Great! Plus that shows me this app is in active development. I had given this app 4/5 stars, but the improvements make this a lot more useful and fun to use so with the new version I give 4.5/5 stars.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Inspiration for Preaching (part 2)

I've blogged about being inspired to preach before. But what happens when you don't feel inspired? What do you do when you have a sermon to preach and you don't feel it?

Inspiration is a tricky thing - it literally means to be filled with the spirit - but we often wait for something to drop on us, some wild jump of thought to give us an idea. But what if we cultivated a full spirit? What if we worked at inspiration? I know it seems counterintuitive to say that we should plan our inspiration, but when our job is to preach on a regular basis we need to do something. The alternative is to offer uninspired sermons to our churches.

Some steps for cultivating inspiration that come to mind:
1. Pray. Spend time cleansing your spirit and making room for God to work and inspire.
2. Perceive. Spend time taking in ideas, music, poetry, art, or whatever inspires you. Fill yourself with things that will inspire.
3. Process. Don't try to automatically kick out great work - all yourself time to work through things before you need the results. Don't look for inspiration for Sunday's sermon on Saturday night.
4. Practice. Have a routine where you write your sermon at the same time in the same place every week. Train your body and mind to know that it's time to produce the inspiration that you've been saving up.

How do you find inspiration when it's hiding from you?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pointed Communication

My friend Matt Dabbs posted about Andy Stanley's practice of preaching recently. Stanley wrote a book called:Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication (affiliate link) where he describes his practice of boiling down his sermons to just one point. Matt says:
This does two things. It defines the focus of the sermon by setting the one thing that everything in the sermon needs to point back to and support. Next, it gives direction by setting up what the sermon must communicate in order to produce the desired result, call, or action on the audience. Let’s face it, change isn’t change unless something happens and pew sitting alone isn’t that something.
And I agree. It's important to communicate well and in order to do that you need to know what you are trying to say. One of the biggest obstacles to good communication is trying to provide too much information in too little time. I first learned this principle when I taught the Junior High class at church - I could make one point with those kids, so I chose it and honed in on it with everything in the class.

My experience with Andy Stanley's preaching, however, is that he takes this principle too far. He doesn't really allow for variation or sub-points within his main point. He just makes the same point repeatedly. For me this had the effect of making me tune out and get bored. It was very similar to a Saturday Night Live sketch where they make one joke in the first 30 seconds and then continue to ride that same joke, ad nauseum for the next five minutes.

What if we make one point, but we make it in different ways and look at it from different angles? What if we use all of the communication tools at our disposal to create mystery, drama, inductive reasoning, empathy, and passion as we communicate our one point?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Doubt and Faith

Seth Godin is chock full of good words:
Living with doubt

... is almost always more profitable than living with certainty.

People don't like doubt, so they pay money and give up opportunities to avoid it. Entrepreneurship is largely about living with doubt, as is creating just about any sort of art.

If you need reassurance, you're giving up quite a bit to get it.

On the other hand, if you can get in the habit of seeking out uncertainty, you'll have developed a great instinct.
In order to apply this to a Christian context I would say that living with doubt is better for us and for our neighbors. Doubt really is no fun. Constantly questioning and wondering gets tiring after a while, but when we live with doubt we are expressing our faith. See, it's not faith if we are certain - if we have proof we don't need to believe. But if we can learn to live in the awkward, tense space of doubt we can invite others to believe.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Communicating the Gospel with Technology

I've been invited to share with the European Christian Workshop about how to communicate the gospel with technology. Because of that, I'm probably going to be testing out several ideas on this blog over the next eight months.

They asked me to present five sessions, so I'd like some help organizing my thoughts around this topic. I'm going to start brainstorming - would you add your thoughts to the comments?

Social Media and the Gospel
Images and Preaching
Vivid Communication
Text, Tweet, and Tag - Relationship through Technology
Invitation to Conversation
Good News in the 24-hour News Cycle
Viral Gospel
Double-Rainbows for Jesus (there are no bad ideas in brainstorming!)
Preach the Gospel at All Time; If Necessary Use Words
Gospel through Story

Ok, your turn. What should I share?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Do You Suck at PowerPoint?

View more presentations from @JESSEDEE.

This is a great presentation about how to not suck at PowerPoint. In short, prepare yourself, stay focused on your main point, use high quality images, project more images and less information.

We've said all this here before, but it bears repeating.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Use Three Questions to Drive Your Presentations

Lifehacker highlights the 3Q method for creating impactful presentations.
Next time you have to create a presentation, don't go to your computer and open up PowerPoint. Instead, take out a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself "What are the three questions my audience would most likely ask me about this subject?"
When preaching, you might look for the three main questions that your church would ask about a passage of Scripture. What is Jesus saying in this passage? What is does Jesus want us to do? How will this look in our church context?

I think that too often my sermons stay in the theoretical area. I want to show off what I know of the passage, or I want to delve into the theological discussion. But what questions are really on the mind of the church? I wonder if we could ask them. I wonder if we could use our church members to clue us in to what is most important.

What are the questions your church is asking?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Science of Morality, or Why Jesus Might Side with an Atheist Today has an interview with Sam Harris who has written about the science of morality in his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (affiliate link). He states that, "The science of morality is about maximizing psychological and social health. It’s really no more inflammatory than that." So instead of using religion to define a "good" outcome for people, he wants to look at how the data can drive right behavior.

The problem is that religion tends to give people bad reasons to be good. Is it better to alleviate famine in Africa because you think Jesus Christ is watching and deciding whether to reward you with an eternity of happiness after death? Or is it better to do that because you actually care about the suffering of your fellow human beings?

Here's where I think Jesus would agree with this Atheist. Doing good shouldn't come from a feeling of guilt or fear or even from a desire for reward. We ought to love our neighbors as ourselves. We ought to do what is right for people who are suffering because they are human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Atheists often critique religion for causing war and pain across the globe and throughout history. They're right. We need to own up to that and stand with them in condemning that history. Because Jesus agrees with Atheists . . . at least on this point.

What do you think?