What makes for effective delivery in preaching? Gone are the days of appreciating the diction and power of a voice fit for the radio, or the grand gesturing and stage presence of yesteryear. Today effective delivery has to be natural.
People want to listen to preachers that are genuine, honest and real. People resist the polished sales patter of a car salesperson, the reading of a script in a phone conversation, or the phony demeanor of an average stage performer. People definitely do not appreciate the ranting and pontificating of old school preaching.
So how can a preacher be natural in delivery? A deep breath and determination to relax doesn’t cut it. Here are five aspects of natural delivery that might take some work:
1. Natural eye contact feels unnatural. It is almost impossible to overstate the value of eye contact in spoken communications. You would not buy from someone who wouldn’t look you in the eye. Our natural tendency will be to find security in our notes and when we dare to lift our heads out of our notes we will naturally look anywhere but the eyes of those who are judging us. It feels unnatural to learn to linger long enough to make meaningful eye contact with someone in the congregation, and then move on to make meaningful eye contact with someone else. It may only take a second or two, or sometimes it takes a few more, but it is worth it. (And the opportunity will only increase when our note-reliance decreases!)
2. Natural sized gestures feel unnatural: size of gesture. If you plan your gestures you will probably look like a puppet. I am not advocating for planned gestures at all. But it does take some work to make gestures appear natural to our congregation. Generally speaking, the bigger the congregation, the bigger the gesture. A little gesture in a conversation (or preaching to a camera) will look ridiculous from seven rows back in a large crowd.
3. Natural gestures feel unnatural: direction of progression. Logically we think from left to right (in our culture). So the past is logically to our left, and time moves towards the right. Gesture with that logic to a congregation and it just won’t feel natural to them. They will interpret, maybe subconsciously, but there is a slight jarring effect. Learn to present from right to left as your reference moves from past to future, or from your first point to your later points, and your listeners won’t skip a beat.
4. Natural explanation can feel unnatural. In a conversation you can often say something once and assume it has been heard, registered and even imagined. Not so with a group. It is not about their individual capacity to comprehend, it is about the distracting effect of being in a group setting. For concepts to formulate in their consciousness, a group of people typically will need more repetition and restatement. Don’t fire off a concept and march on. Make sure you give it the words, and the time, needed for the concept to be heard, registered and grasped. Don’t hurl an illustration past your listeners. Do what it takes for the image to project on their internal screens with clarity.
5. Natural delivery takes unnatural attention. If you just do what you naturally do, how do you know how you come across? It takes effort to pray about your life and your delivery co-existing in a natural and spiritually healthy congruence. It takes effort to ask for specific feedback from a variety of listeners, prompting them to be really honest, so that you can actually know how effective your delivery is. It takes effort to get yourself preaching on video and take stock of your presentation.
I am not saying we should perform. I am saying that it takes some effort to communicate naturally and effectively. There is probably something for every one of us to improve. Just taking a deep breath and trying to relax will not make you communicate well (although it may help a bit).
Some comedians are hilarious on stage and then angry drunks in the dressing room. Are you the same you in conversation after church? Are you the same you when you close the front door at home? Performance is unsustainable. At the same time, effective communication is worth some conscious and prayerful attention.
Here is a resource you might enjoy: