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Monday, January 31, 2011

How To Deal with Preacher's Block

Sometimes writer's block can hit the best of us. You sit down to work and nothing is coming to mind. You try to push the words out, to make them fall onto the paper (or computer screen). They just won't cooperate. What can you do?

One problem is the wrong attitude we can have about being creative. Somewhere we got the idea of being inspired by a muse (that was Greek mythology, but that's not important right now), and that notion has given us the attitude that creative work must be inspired. You need to wait for your muse to give you the words (notes, shapes, etc.) before you can create.

The truth is that creative work is much more about consistency and craft than it is about inspiration. Sure inspiration will come from time to time, but the regular work of creating is often just that: work. Work doesn't have to be boring or tedious, but it does have to be consistent and skilled. So, two things you can work on to help get over your writers's block: create consistently every day. For preaching you should write little notes about Scripture every day. It doesn't matter if they are good or not, just write something and write consistently.

Second, practice excellence. Look for ways to improve your craft. Critique a recording of your sermon from last week. Watch a highly respected preacher and pick out what they do well. Don't try to copy them. Do not try to copy them (I'm serious). But look for one aspect or attribute of their style that you want to emulate. Spend some time practicing that attribute before you take it live. Practice before you put it into practice.

How do you defeat writer's block?

Friday, January 28, 2011

iPad Presentations on the Prezi

It seems there is a convergence in the Force. I've discussed the potential for the iPad in preaching/presenting, and I've talked about Prezi as presentation platform to rival (or best) PowerPoint. Now they are coming together with the Prezi app for iPad.

Prezi provides a non-linear presentation platform with all sorts of zooms and pans across one, big canvas. The iPad provides a one-to-one presentation experience on an interactive screen. The pairing is beautiful in concept. In my testing, Prezi seems ideally suited to presentation that will flow differently depending on the audience interaction and participation. The iPad gives you the intimate presentation setting where that interaction is most tangible and natural. The iPad app does not have any sort of video output functionality, so you're stuck presenting to the people at the table with you (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

How would you use Prezi on an iPad?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Story Telling is Important

Tonight I'm off to Anecdotal Evidence: a Storytelling Series, here in Vancouver, Washington (you should come). There are six people sharing true stories around the theme: "It seemed like a good idea at the time." There are no notes or slides, just people telling stories to people. You may have heard "The Moth" on podcast or public radio, which is the same idea (just in New York City).

Storytelling is a hugely important skill in our culture. For the majority of the history of humanity it was the primary form of communication for most of the people in the world. It's only very recently that we've become literate and moved away from the spoken story, but we still long for it. We want to be caught up in the emotion and adventure of the words. We want to imagine the scene and to be caught up in the drama.

We won't keep this skill unless we practice it. I'm going tonight to watch some masters and some beginners practice the craft of storytelling. How do you practice storytelling?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers

Twitter Followers
Who makes the cut? Who do you stay connected with through social media? Don Miller talked about his personal system for deciding who he will follow or unfollow on Twitter.

For some the threshold of making it into the group of friends or followers is very low. Anyone can be a part of the group. There are whole sections of the internet related to how you can get more Twitter followers (but they don't usually tell you why you would want that). Sure, you're able to send a message out to a lot of people, but what is the quality of that message.

For others the threshold is very high. Only true friends make the cut to be Facebook friends. Which keeps the circle small and intimate. Sure, you're close with everyone on your Facebook page, but how can your words spread if you only know just a few people.

As with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Have enough friends, but not too many. For Don it's a behavioral thing: too many posts, too much negativity, and he'll unfollow you. What boundaries do you have in your online world? What boundaries should you have?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social Media and Ministry (part 3)

The Ministry Tech blog highlights some recent survey results regarding the usage of websites and social media (i.e. Facebook) by churches and pastors. The overall results are pretty fascinating (so you should go and check them out), but I'm going to just look at a few things here.

Four fifths of the churches surveyed have a website, but only about half of the churches with websites use them for any interaction. The rest use their websites as a static information holder.

Only two fifths of churches use Facebook in any sort of active manner (meaning that they post regularly) and just under half the pastors surveyed use Facebook. Facebook is used to interact with the members of the congregation, to distribute news about the church, and to interact with people outside the church.

All of that is interesting to me, but what I would really like to know about is how the churches are doing at developing relationships. Just having someone as a friend online isn't the same as having a relationship with them. It takes more work and more time to develop a relationship with someone in an online format than in a face-to-face setting. Merely having "interaction" with people through an online presence isn't a replacement for authentic relationship.

I see that online interaction can be the basis for relationship in a few ways: It can open the door for conversations that are too inconvenient to have in real life (passing words that wouldn't be shared otherwise). It can offer a platform for having open debates about important issues (this needs to be done carefully to not alienate or offend people). It can be a good way to set up face-to-face communication.

How do you use Facebook and social to connect with people?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte

I just read the book Beautiful Evidence by professor and author Edward Tufte. He is one of the experts in the world on presenting information in a visual format. I felt way out of my depth.

In one sense, the levels and amounts of information that Tufte is describing really don't come into the realm of a preacher's world, except maybe during a budget presentation. I don't have to think about how to map the comparative gains and losses of a dozen stocks over the course of a month, or to indicate the mass of brains as compared to the mass of bodies in various animals.

On the other hand, the process of working through and looking at ways of presenting information visually is incredibly important. How could we show the outline of Scripture visually in a way that captures detail and provides a big picture all at once.

One example that Tufte uses is that of the French engineer Charles Joseph Minard who graphed the route and losses of the French army during its invasion (brown line) and retreat (black line) from Russia in 1812-1813. The width of the line depicts the number of French troops lost.

At a glance you can see that the once huge army was decimated by the campaign, but then you can perceive more detail, such as the frigid temperatures during the march.

How could we do something similar for biblical information?

(Note: The book link earns me a small commission on any sales.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Photo Resources part 5 - Placement

So far this week we've looked at where to find good photos, how to search for them, selecting images with plenty of white-space, and editing images. Now we need to look at how you can place the images in your presentation.

You should almost always use a full-bleed image versus a framed image. Every time our eyes see a border they stop. The border acts as a barrier for our thoughts and causes us to differentiate. In the image on the left we see the image, then separately we see the words, then we may put them all together. The effect is very much like a high school year book with captions for photos.

In the images on the right we perceive the words connected to the image (and the white-space in the image gives plenty of room for the text). The effect is more professional, rather that looking like a high school kid's extra curricular activity it looks like a professional magazine layout.

When placing your image you want to expand the size so that it completely fills the presentation window. As you edit you may need to crop for white space. Notice that in the image on the left the subjects are centered in the frame of the picture (the picture is centered and the text is centered too). On the right, the subjects are off-center in the image to leave room for the text.

Perfectly balanced things make our eyes nervous for some reason. Photographers use the rule of thirds where major features in the photo fall along the lines one third of the way from the top, bottom, or sides and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of two of those lines. When you crop and place your image, use the rule of thirds to provide a more professional look.

What tips do you have for placing images in a presentation?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Photo Resources part 4 - Editing

Photo editing can be an overwhelming proposition at times. I know that I've opened up Adobe Photoshop
Learn how to make this at Photoshop Tutorials
and seen the "layers" and "Gaussian blur" and became overwhelmed pretty quickly. It's a powerful tool, but it also has a steep learning curve. If you want custom images that you can't find anywhere else, it will be worth your time to learn how to use Photoshop. Find some good tutorials that will help you swim in the deep end: Photoshop Tutorials has detailed steps for some very complex and fascinating photo manipulation projects. By the way, if you can't afford Photoshop right now, you can get a free open source photo editor that has nearly all the tools from Photoshop, called Paint.Net (it's what I use since I don't do a lot of heavy photo manipulation).

For more of the everyday photo editing tasks (cropping, straightening, removing red-eye, adjusting contrast, etc.) You have many of the feature you need right inside Microsoft PowerPoint
if you're running 2007 or later. You can also use free, online tools such as Picnik (Google has announced they are closing Picnik as of April 2012) or download Picasa to use on your computer. Both give you a simple interface for the basic features that you'll use most of the time as well as the option to get a little bit more detailed and controlled when adjusting things (looked for the "Advanced" button). These tools are generally better learned by just experimenting, they've been designed to be simple and easy to us. You won't get the stunning results of Photoshop, but you also don't have to put in the investment of time to learn it.

What do you use for photo editing?

(Note: links to products that cost money will earn me a small commission if you buy anything.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Photo Resources part 3

White space is an important consideration when selecting an image. What's known as white space isn't necessarily white, but it is essentially empty. From a design perspective the empty space gives a chance for the eye to rest. It balances out the action and flow of the subject in the image.

If you choose an image overloaded with details you run the risk of turning your presentation into a game of "Where's Waldo" instead of keeping on track with your point. Your audience can absorb only so much information while still paying attention to you.

The white space in images is also ideal for putting text on your slides. When text is layered over a varied background, some of the letters can get lost due to poor contrast. If you have a good chunk of negative space that is all the same color you allow your text to pop on the image.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Photo Resources part 2

Finding the perfect photo just doesn't seem to happen with tools like Flickr or Stock Exchange. There are great photos there, but it's tough to find them. The search tools and tagging system on most photos sites just don't provide a robust experience. Google is great at searching and Google Images is great for searching for images. The problem is that many of the image results that will come up from Google will be either copyrighted or too small or both.

If I'm looking for images for a specific thought or point I'll use Google Images to find the photos that are close to what I want then move on to the higher quality resources to put in my presentations. Google Images allows you to search by keyword, file type (photographs, line drawings, and faces), color, and size.

How do you search for the perfect image?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Photo Resources part 1

One fantastic photo resource is the Flickr Creative Commons group. The picture in this blog is from the creative commons area which provides copyrighted work that is free to use provided you attribute the work to the copyright owner (in this case aussiegall).

You can browse by keyword or search for different thing. I find that if I'm looking for something specific it can be difficult to find it with the Flickr organization system. I'm dependent on individuals tagging their photos in a way that makes sense to me. With Flickr I tend to browse through and look for photos that speak to me, or wow me in some way. I look for the emotional reaction caused by the picture. I may store up a bunch of these images before I find a use for them, but then I have them.

Make sure you look to see the specific copyright requirements for each image since some allow you to change the original work and some don't. All that is clearly spelled out at the main Creative Commons page as well as on each image.

When you find an image you like just click on the "Actions" button above the image then click "View All Sizes." Click the link for "Original Size" to the right then click the link next to "Download:" to save the file to your computer. I try to group my images by the project I'm working on, but you can choose a system that works best for you. Just organize them somehow otherwise you'll become overwhelmed after you've downloaded a couple hundred pictures.

What tips do you have for finding high quality images?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stories Connect Us (part 5)

Stories allow us to connect in different ways. Though all stories have the same basic elements (setting, conflict, and resolution), different stories emphasize different elements. The Grimm Fairy Tales are all about conflict. It's not give to us to know much about the setting of Hansel and Gretel, nor to know much regarding their life after adventuring in the woods. The story is almost entirely comprised of conflict with just a tag end of resolution.

Where your audience will connect with your story will depend on the audience and the story. Some stories don't need much setting and adding to it won't increase the connection with the audience. Some stories have a basic conflict that doesn't need to be expounded upon, but the complex, compelling resolution gives us a place to connect.

Where will you invite people to connect with your story?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stories Connect Us (part 4): Resolution

At the end of the story we find the resolution. The conflict is resolved, the protagonist has overcome, the setting has changed. We use the same term in music when a dissonant chord moves to a consonant chord, it resolves. The tension is gone and we can rest.

What image will you envision to bring your conflict to resolution? How will you allow your audience to move past conflict? How can they find peace. You can choose a picture that evokes peaceful thoughts (a calm nature scene) or conjure an image that shows how the conflict in your story has come to an end. I was drawn to this image because it speaks to how all resolution starts with individuals. We are responsible for peace.

How can you communicate resolution and change the next time you preach?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stories Connect Us (part 3): Conflict

Conflict drives the story forward. Without conflict the story would be stagnant in the setting without any motion. Conflict causes Luke to leave Tatooine with Obi Wan, and Frodo to leave the Shire.

The images you choose and the stories you tell are essential to helping your audience to feel the conflict. This painting by Da Vinci shows the chaos of battle. Conflict is tangible, inescapable. Notice how this image encompasses both the conflict and the setting. We don't really need to know much about the setting when we see armed men engaged in combat. Setting has taken a back seat to conflict.

When helping people to envision conflict remember that you can raise up strong emotions. Be aware and sensitive. How can conflict help your listeners engage with your story?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stories Connect Us (part 2)

Setting in a story is all about creating context, and it's our first chance to connect with people. If you are using images when you present think about the setting you're creating with those first few pictures you project. Pictures that are a close up of one thing lack setting. They don't provide any context for why we should care. It would be the same if my story was: "The hammer hit the nail." There's no context. Why should I care about the hammer or the nail?

The image here carries a wealth of context. This is a great image to quickly convey the concept of "tropical paradise." It probably wouldn't be the best image to use when discussing the problem of homelessness in Hawaii, however. This setting will probably prevent most people from feeling any sympathy for someone who's homeless there.

What images and descriptions will give your audience the ability to connect with your story?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stories Connect Us (part 1)

We speak and think in stories. Stories are the core of who we are, how we define ourselves and how we find our connection with the world. If you want to communicate well, you must use the principles of story to do so. This wisdom goes back to Aristotle and beyond.

The three main elements of a story are the setting, the conflict, and the resolution. Sure, your high school English Literature teacher told you all about the denouement and a bunch of other stuff about how the forest symbolizes the chaos of the world, but that's not going to help you be a better preacher (probably). Thinking of how you can connect to people through the basic elements of story, however, will give you a better chance at connecting with people and through that connection, communicating powerful words to them.

Friday, January 07, 2011

2011: The Year Ahead (part 5)

Self promotion is a weird thing. If you are an entrepreneur you need to talk about yourself and what you're doing. You need to spread the news about your projects and products so that your can build your brand and your business. But being a self-promoter can smack of pride and greed.

Am I telling people about my business because I think I'm the best person in the world? No, not really. I know that there are many presenters and trainers that are better than me. I'm sharing about my business because I want to help the people around me get better.

Am I charging for my business because all I care about is money? No, not really. I need to charge because if I don't then I can't keep producing high quality work. If I don't charge then the people receiving my work won't value it as highly and won't put in as much work to learn what I'm trying to teach.

Self promotion is a weird game. How do you deal with it?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

2011: The Year Ahead (part 4)

Exercise gives us a great metaphor for change in life. Through repetitive actions we train our bodies and minds to become more skilled and efficient at performing those actions. If you want to be able to lift heavier things you practice lifting heavy things. Your body changes and adapts to allow you to lift heavier things. If you want to be able to run faster you practice running fast. Your body changes and adapts to allow you run faster.

Neural pathways are created in addition to the physical changes that take place due to exercise. Your brain actually changes its wiring to reflect the activities you're practicing. If you want to get better at presenting in visually engaging way you need to practice presenting in visually engaging ways.

How can you exercise your presentation skills this year?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

2011: The Year Ahead (part 3)

Trying new things is difficult. You might fail. You might look bad. You might need to try again. The thing about change is that it usually means things are going to get more difficult before they get better. Change breaks down the familiar routines and forces us to move into the unknown.

This year I'm going to try some radically new things. My wife and I move into a house with a family (husband, wife and two kids) and a single woman. We are working with them toward planting a church in Downtown Vancouver, Washington starting this year. We are living together to find new ways to express Christian community, hospitality, and generosity.

I'm starting an consulting firm called Envision Presentations. I hope to be able to provide training and resources for churches and businesses to present in powerful, visually stimulating ways. But that means I'm starting from scratch with nothing, no client base, no resources.

Change will cause challenges. Are you up to the challenge? Are you ready to make visual presentation a part of your skill set?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2011: The Year Ahead (part 2)

Over the course of this year I want to focus the content on this blog to provide you with some useful material to help make your presentations and preaching better. My plan is to offer some tutorials, screen casts, and maybe video presentations so you can have great tools to create visually engaging lessons.

Here's my working list for the monthly themes (please let me know if there is something you would like to see or something that I've left out):

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

Monday, January 03, 2011

2011: The Year Ahead

In the coming year I hope to share some exciting new things with you. My first tidbit of excitement is that I'm going to start a consulting business to help people learn how to present in visually engaging ways. The name I have for it right now is: Envision Presentations. You can follow me on Facebook here.

I'll be developing content and training material soon. The mission of Envision Presentations is to provide tools and training for visually engaging presentations. What that means is that I want to offer training for not only preachers, but teacher, students, sales people, and CEOs. If you have any requests, advice, or thoughts I'd love to hear them.