But Wait, They Can See My Notes

Yesterday I wrote about some of the challenges that come from our listeners not being able to see our notes.  We preach orally, but tend to prepare in literary forms (manuscript, indented outlines, etc.)  I mentioned the issue of transitions – very different animals in spoken than in written communication.  I mentioned the need to indicate sense of progress, or purpose of illustration.  But wait, isn’t there a shortcut to circumvent this whole issue?

The Potential Powerpoint Shortcut – Wouldn’t it be better to just project your notes so they can follow along on a powerpoint sermon outline?  I would urge you not to make a projected outline your strategy to overcome these issues.  Your outline is for you.  If you use powerpoint, use it well (i.e. for images, minimal words, lots of blank screen, perfectly timed, etc.)

What Happens if You Powerpoint Your Outline? Projecting your outline will give the impression your primary goal is to educate and inform, it will spark frenzied note taking, it will cause people to try to memorize three sub-points rather than being marked by the one main point, it will distract from the deeper impact and applicational emphasis of your message.  What’s more, what is gained in visual communication via the screen is typically lost in visual communication and connection via the preacher.  It takes real skill to powerpoint in a connecting and engaging manner (a skill rarely found in ecclesial settings).

So I Should Never Use Powerpoint? Use powerpoint by all means, but usually not for your outline.  The outline is a skeleton, it is for you and it is for you to think through how to communicate as effectively as possible.  One of the first posts I wrote was entitled “What do you want them to remember – the outline?”

Please Only PowerPoint on Purpose

For some people, whether or not to use powerpoint is not even a question.  It is assumed.  I don’t assume I should use it.  My default is no powerpoint, then if I use it, I use it on purpose.

I think it may be worth using if there is an image that will really help, such as a biblical map, image or a contemporary scene of significance (the person to go with the quote, etc.), or if there is a series of verses away from your preaching text that you want people to see quickly (have good reason for sharing multiple other verses), or if there is a movie clip that will reinforce and help (but not overwhelm) the message.  I only think it may be worth using if either you or another person can design it and control it perfectly (clear and consistent fonts of the right size, very limited use of words, transitions that work to the millisecond both coming on and going off, etc.)  Sadly, often even appropriate powerpoint material is sabotaged by very amateurish use.

I don’t think it is worth using in order to show your outline (that’s for you, not them), or to show your preaching text (they need the practice reading their own Bibles).  I don’t think it’s worth using if it means sacrificing preparation time for formatting time.  I certainly don’t think it’s worth using just because you have a projector and a laptop.  I don’t think we should use it just because it is used in the business world (please note many in the business world are lousy speakers, and many of the good ones left compulsive powerpoint use behind years ago!)  I’d rather have listeners engaged with me and with the Bible in their laps than with a screen.

Haddon Robinson has said that, “A picture is not worth a thousand words (the people who make pictures came out with that!)  Some words will never be captured in a picture.”

Powerpoint may be helpful.  Steve Mathewson has written that he periodically has a powerpoint enhanced sermon, but he never has a powerpoint driven sermon – amen!  If you use it, please be professional, be subtle, don’t turn to look at it yourself or even refer to it unnecessarily, don’t overload the screen and don’t lose sight of the fact that it is you who is called to be the preacher, not the screen.