If you are a pastor or a leader, you deliver sermons, talks, and presentations. And you probably spend significant time preparing them. So it makes sense to deliver them in ways that make them sticky, that is, stick in the listeners’ minds and hearts. In this post I share some science based insight to consider as you prepare your talks and sermons.
Tips to improve how much people remember your sermons and talks:
- Remember how much of the listener’s brain is dedicated toward visual processing.
- God created our brains so that about 20% is dedicated solely to visual processing (the back part called the occipital lobe). Add to that the parts of the brain that indirectly deal with visual processing and almost 50% of our brain is dedicated to the visual directly or indirectly. So, a lot of brain real estate is ready for visual stimulation. This insight alone should make us think how to maximize the visual in our talks and presentations.
- Use color in your power point presentations as much as possible.
- If you’ve ever wondered why Facebook and Twitter use blue, well, the brain really likes the color blue. Color evokes emotion and feelings. Color improves retention and enhances learning.
- Use pictures over text.
- The old adage a picture is worth a thousand words is based in neuroscience because of number 1 above. Pictures are easier on the brain than words are. It takes twice as long to process and recognize words as it does to do the same for pictures. One study found that we can process pictures 10 times faster than blinking the eye.
- And faces…God hard-wired our brains to respond to faces. When we were born the first thing we focused on were faces. And a specific part of the brain is dedicated to facial recognition.
- If you only hear a piece of information, a few days later you will only remember 10% of it. But if a picture were added to it, your recall increases to 65%. And you can remember up to 2,000 pictures with little learning. That’s not true with learning words. So, use pictures in you presentation.
- When you must use text, use short words.
- We’ve all probably endured someone deliver a talk with powerpoints filled with words. And you probably forgot everything. Why is that a problem? It’s because we actually process words we see using the auditory brain pathways. So, when you are listening to someone give a talk, we’re actually having to use our auditory pathways doubly, to listen and to process the words from the screen. We’re actually switching our attention back and forth.
- So, do you eliminate words from your presentations? No. But when you do use them, use short ones, draw attention to them with circles, arrows, etc., and be consistent with each slide (don’t have a different layout each time).
It’s amazing how a few tweaks in your talks can improve listener retention.
What have you done that has helped your listener retain more of what you say?
I’m a pastor. Pastors are supposed to go to church. So I go to church, several times each week. I’ve done that for decades. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed church by choice. But one weekend I added to that handful of misses. I skipped church. Was skipping church that day helpful or hurtful? Read on and you decide.
My daughter had come to visit us over the Labor Day weekend and I scheduled one of our other pastors to preach at the weekend services. We took a long weekend at a lake house about 50 miles from our home.
The last time we took a long weekend we all went to church, a very boring one. This time however, I simply decided I wouldn’t go. To be frank, I felt a tinge of guilt because my wife will tell you I’m always the one pushing us to go to church while on vacation.
But for some odd reason, I didn’t push us this time.
So what did I do that Sunday morning? I sat in a swing and read my bible. I cut some dead limbs off a tree. I chatted with a neighbor. I exercised on my treadmill. I practiced the art of ‘slowing.’ And I really liked it.
Although I’m deeply committed to the local church and won’t make skipping a habit, I leaned a few valuable lessons.
- Skipping church reminded me that pastors’ schedules keep us from normal weekends that most families experience. Sundays (and Saturdays if you hold services) are our biggest work days. But, it’s not all about me and I will gladly stay faithful to God’s calling.
- Those not in pastoral leadership roles will never understand this sacrificial part of our profession because when they want to skip church, they easily do with no repercussions. And when they do, most don’t even think twice about skipping.
- An occasional ‘break from the Sunday routine’ can refresh a soul and help avoid pastoral burnout.
- I now truly understand how hard it would be for someone who has seldom attended church to give up his or her Sunday mornings and start attending. I really enjoyed having that Sunday free.
- Number 4 above reminded me that we pastors must craft compelling, Spirit-led services if we are to entice the unchurched to attend and keep attending. What they experience at church must be worth the price of giving up their relaxing mornings at home, at the lake, or at the ballpark. We may only get one shot.
- Pastors need a sabbath too. Since Sundays aren’t ours, we must prioritize another day for rest. I now take Saturdays off and I was reminded that I must truly rest on that day.
If you’ve ever played hookey from church, I’d love to hear what you learned.
The book of Acts describes the amazing story of Jesus’ work through the Holy Spirit in the early church. With an explosive start, problems were certain to surface. And they did. In the first example of internal dissension the Apostles displayed great leadership. The church had grown so rapidly that some of the widows were being overlooked in the regular distribution of food (Acts 6.1-7). And murmuring began that potentially could fracture the church. However, they lead the church well and model for us 9 things great leaders do.
- Define reality.
- They assess and solve problems. What was the reality in the early church? Needs were not being met in a segment of the church (some widows), those not best qualified were trying to meet the needs, and unless fixed, greater problems could result. Good leaders don’t stick their head in the sand when they face problems. They tackle them head on and find solutions. Their solution was to reorganize and find qualified people to fix the problem. Growing churches and ministries often demand new structures and ministries and ways to solve problems.
- Think big picture.
- The apostles didn’t stay at the granular level. They didn’t say, “Maybe if we divide the bread better and use sturdier bags we could feed all the widows properly.” No. The murmuring caught their attention and they knew that if it continued, it would not be good for the church as a whole. It would affect the entire church, not just this group of widows. Good leaders must schedule time to get above the fray, think long term, dream big picture, and get the 10,000 foot view.
- Keep the main thing the main thing.
- They knew what was most important, the Great Commission. The Apostles knew where they needed to leverage their time, abilities, and influence. They knew the situation required they focus on big picture items which in their case were teaching, prayer, and the overall leadership of the early church. As a result, they needed a new structure so that the main thing (the Great Commission) would not suffer. In churches the good often becomes the enemy of the best. Great leaders guard against the temptation to say yes to every good idea.
- Make tough calls.
- They decided that they weren’t the best ones to feed the widows. That decision posed the risk that some might say, “So it’s beneath you to do these servant kinds of ministry? Jesus washed your feet and you’re not willing to put a plate of food before a hungry woman?” Some of the widows probably preferred that a true Apostle provide their food. They made the tough call, though. And tough calls are just that, tough.They aren’t easy to make, but crucial
- Great leaders welcome others into the decision making process and the execution of ministry. They welcome input. The Apostles had the group select seven godly men to take on this task. Although they themselves posed the solution, they welcomed the input from the others to choose the seven.
- Set healthy standards.
- The Apostles set the parameters for the solution: the number of people (seven), the roles (handle the food distribution), and the qualifications (men full of the Spirit and wisdom). Our staff operates by a set of staff values we call Permission to Play Values. You can read about them here.
- After they selected the seven, they delegated this pastoral responsibility to them. Good leaders share ministry. Good leaders don’t try to do it all themselves. And good leaders don’t feel threatened when someone else can do a ministry better than they. It’s a temptation for a leader to think, “If it’s going to get done right I’m going to have to do it myself.” That attitude stifles leadership effectiveness.
- Trust other people.
- This relates to delegation. How did the Apostles show trust? They gave the ministry away. They trusted that this group of seven would do the right thing. When leaders trust they build others up and give others opportunities to grow. And when you trust, you won’t micromanage.
- Discover, develop, and deploy other leaders.
- This sums up this entire biblical scenario. They guided the people to discover seven qualified people, they handed off the ministry and developed the seven by bringing them up to speed, and they deployed them. The mark of a good leader is reflected in how many he or she deploys into ministry.
So, the Apostles set a stellar example of great leadership as they helped solve the first internal problem the early church faced.
What other essentials should great leaders embody?
God created sleep not only to cure sleepiness, but to serve our bodies and brains in many beneficial ways. Unfortunately, many leaders, especially pastors, try to lead without getting adequate sleep and live with a sleepy leader’s brain. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains don’t work as well. Thus, we don’t lead at our best.
So what happens when we don’t get enough sleep, besides feeling sleepy? Here’s what the experts tell us happens to our brains when we don’t get adequate sleep.
The Benefits of Napping
Napping is good for leaders. This is a great graphic from Casper.