"Brain Techniques for Preaching without Notes" was a standing-room only workshop led by William Carl III on Tuesday, May 14, at First Baptist Nashville. Carl is president and professor of Homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Following are tips adapted from notes provided graciously by #Homiletics2013 participant Meg Hegemann of Columbia, Missouri.
You can also view a presentation by Carl on Vimeo -- thanks to FrSimmons for this tweet.
Carl told a standing-room only crowd:
- If you're excited about the gospel you're preaching, you don't need notes
- Move beyond habits; preaching is truth speaking through personality
- Get out of the way -- it's not our ministry, it's Jesus' ministry
- Evaluate sermons by looking at the congregation, not me
- The Holy Spirit will finish your sentences
There are two kinds of stage fright: nervousness that comes from not being prepared and excitement -- get the butterflies flying in formation.
How do you prepare?
Preparation = research, organization, internalization, learning, which leads to improved structure. Remember, if you don't remember it, they aren't going to remember it.
Memorization: Do it backwards, start with the end, work your way to the beginning. Spend more time on the end and you'll have a much stronger ending.
Memory is stored in the hippocampus. Children get frustrated because the part of the brain that develops first is understanding, followed by the part that learns speech -- hence terrible twos.
Women have large corpus collosum that connects both left and right brains. Women can shift back and forth more easily; men get stuck in one or the other half and physiologically can't process it all as quickly.
Your brain isn't fully developed until 25. In the right hippocampus is visual memory, in the left hippocampus is verbal memory.
Why is this important for memorizing sermons?
If you want to remember 2-3 paragraphs…
- Take one word out of each paragraph that summarizes that paragraph; put that word on the right side of the page, and circle it.
- On the left side of page, put a picture that will represent (or trigger) the paragraph.
- Likewise, when creating PowerPoint, place the words on the right, pictures on left. Don't use clip art -- instead, draw it yourself so that it's inscribed in your visceral memory
- If you use words that start with the same letter per page, that's easiest -- like a virtual teleprompter
These tips will help congregation connect to the text.
- Facial communication is 70% of communication, 10% is words, 20% body language
- Have you noticed how parents and grandparents over-communicate with babies -- how they mimic facial communication of baby? In preaching, the congregation needs your facial communication.
Memorizing using these tips doesn't add three hours to prep time. It took 90 minutes for one preacher to learn it; try using the technique, then take a walk.
Here are some other ways to fix it in your mind:
- Use both words and pictures
- Have someone ask questions - flash card type stuff - what's the 3rd picture on the 4th page?
- Keep talking till you say something - when you get in a free fall, there's more room to improvise and maneuver than if you're tied to manuscript
Most importantly, remember: Preacher, if you don't remember your sermon, how do you expect us to?
Ways to find out if it's working
You can't control what's coming through. People hear what they want to hear. Tom Long says preaching is like throwing a bucket of water into a room full of long neck bottles -- not much gets in.
So how does one find out what they're actually hearing?
- Person on the street critique: If someone who wasn't there asks those in worship, "What did you hear?" listen to what they say. Find the places they don't remember or didn't hear.
- Faith critique: Parishioners, after church ask where did this sermon touch you in terms of your own faith? Listen to their conversation. assess the parts that people mention
You may find that delivering sermons from memory is a better format for listeners to internalize the message.
One more tip: When you're formatting your sermon, move away from portrait (8-1/2x11) format; instead, turn the page to landscape format, single spaced, with two columns, so it reads more like a book. That makes the manuscript (in preparation) more like books that you read as a child. Carl gets 1700 words on 2 pages (small font) with no pictures or words. After a while the manuscript is only a backup and eventually you can leave it in office.