I communicate to people on a regular basis, just like the rest of us. My job is unique though, because I am expected to essentially deliver a message to a group of people every week. Call it what you want to call it: teaching, preaching, speaking, orating, whatever it is, the challenge that I face is the challenge of (1) saying things that are worth saying and (2) doing it in a way that sticks.
I’m starting my sixth year in full-time church work, and a large part of my job has been spent preaching both to large audiences and to small audiences. For today’s post, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned about making your messages ‘sticky’ (yes I stole that from one of my all-time favorite books on communicating, Made to Stick, by Chip & Dan Heath), that is, communicating ideas in such a way that it sticks. So here’s some lessons for anyone that communicates on a regular basis… which on some level is pretty much all of us:
1. Keep it simple. Especially with younger generations to whom I mostly communicate, everyone has incredibly limited attention spans. This is accentuated by the digital and social media world we live in where a distraction is always right there in your pocket. People check out extraordinarily fast, and the more complicated your idea is, the harder it is to listen to you. Learn the great art of omission, cutting out things that aren’t absolutely necessary for what you’re trying to communicate. Focus on ONE idea, and make that the filter through which the rest of your lesson/sermon/oration/presentation goes. Don’t keep anything that doesn’t support your idea.
2. Use logic. The more scatter-brained you seem to people, the quicker they will check out. You need a mental map of the development of your idea, and people need to intuitively follow you to the next movement or point. This also requires the use of clear transitions. I’ve had many a sermon that was clearly logical, but I didn’t make clear statements to show my audience how it connected, so I came across as scatter-brained. Using logic helps people to pay attention and it engages the mind.
3. Utilize the art of mystery and surprise. In order to keep people engaged in your teaching, you have to leave them wanting to hear the ‘end of the story’ so to speak. Start off with a question or a tension that demands some sort of resolution. Create tension. Stir up mystery as far as what it is you are going to say. Leave something hanging until the end. Its what keeps us going to movies and reading books…we love mystery and surprise.
4. Be concrete. Jesus used parables in order to communicate abstract ideas (“God loves you even though you’ve sinned”) with concrete examples (“once there was a man who had to sons. The younger son came to his father and said ‘give me my inheritance!'”). Don’t get lost in the world of abstract theory. Talk about every day things and how they relate. Be constantly on the lookout for parables & object lessons that will relate to the world of your audience. It will give flesh to your idea, and will hold your audience’s attention.
5. Be passionate. This cannot simply be contrived. You cannot manufacture passion. It comes from a life of experience of wrestling with the truth you want to communicate. Make sure the message is calling you to the stage, rather than the stage calling you to the message. Pray over the idea you want to communicate. Let it germinate in your heart and mind. Care about your audience more than yourself. Share the idea with people one on one, over coffee. Teachers don’t teach because they have a stage, they teach because they are teachers. Give yourself fully to having something to say instead of having to say something.