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Monday, July 02, 2012

How to Preach so People will Remember

Preaching produces forgotten words. On average, verbal communication results in about 10% retained material in the audience. So for every sermon you and I preach, the audience holds on to one-tenth of the information.

If you add related images to your words, that retention jumps all the way to 65%! That's why I'm so much in favor of using PowerPoint while preaching. But, if you can't (or won't) use PowerPoint, you can still help people to remember what you have to say.

Preach like they're in Junior High. When my wife and I taught the Junior High class at church, we received a book of curriculum to teach from. Some of the lessons were good, but most of them needed some modification. What we learned in trying to wrangle twenty-some Junior High students is that you have the opportunity to make one point. In an hour we could only hope to communicate one main idea. So, we structured everything in the class around that point. We distilled the scripture passage down to the one idea. We created games that emphasized that point. We gave out candy when the kids remembered the point. We did everything we could to highlight and support that one idea.

Create visual moments with your words. If you can't project a picture, create an image in the mind of your audience. If you do it well, it's probably more effective than a PowerPoint presentation. Think of the story tellers you know - they craft a tale that's vivid and real, the pictures come alive in your mind. When that's paired with a complimentary message, you'll get your ideas to take hold. This is much more than just using a metaphor or a throw-away example. Jesus told detailed stories to get people's minds engaged, "The kingdom of heaven is like . . ." Find ways that you can engage minds with your words.

Use what they already know to add something new. In the book Made to Stick the authors, Chip and Dan Heath, bring up the idea of schema. Schema are mental structures that we use to organize information. You have a 'chair' schema that helps you figure out what a chair is, so you can identify a chair in a room, even if you've never seen that chair before in your life. So, take what they know about your topic and add to it. Or, better yet, violate their schema. That's what Jesus did when he taught the Sermon on the Mount. "You have heard it was said," he started, "but now I tell you . . ." Jesus violated schema and then replaced them with something new.

It comes down to this - if you want to communicate well, you must become an expert in how people receive, process and retain information.

How can you apply these principles in your next sermon?

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