Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Speaking Effectively: Visuals

I don't know exactly where I'm going to go with this, but I have in mind to make a few posts around the idea of teaching and preaching effectively. Because preaching is where I'm most oriented, this will undoubtedly take a homiletical slant, but I want to share some ideas about what has worked well for me, and I hope hoping to get some input from you about what has worked for you.

I titled my blog "Perpetual Timothy", because I'm thoroughly convinced of my own need to continue to grow and mature. I didn't decide to become a minister because I had achieved perfection. It was a step of faith that God could use someone as flawed as I am, and it's been a true blessing and a privilege. I can't imagine myself doing anything else. But I want to give God my best, and perhaps as I reflect on some of these things, you can help me make my best a little better.


A challenge about anyone who is a communicator is that even though we might learn and think a certain way, we have to teach people who learn and think in a variety of ways. I think the addition of Powerpoint in many churches (if it's used well) has been a great step in evolving preaching to a format that has more appeal to visual and even hands-on learners.

The last time I preached, I had a nice case of serendipity. I was trying to make a point about the people in the Bible; that they are real people with real struggles, real flaws, and real solutions. Their flaws should be a source of encouragement for us, because God's ability to use us depends more on our willingness than on our merited righteousness. Often, though, we treat them as if they are mere cartoon characters. In fact, don't we often refer to people in the Bible as "characters"?

I decided to make this point by showing a series of familiar cartoon characters on the screen (Disney, comic characters, Hanna-Barbara, etc.), then by showing some cartoon renditions of biblical characters, and having the people "name the character" in their head. (Though you really have no idea what Moses looked like, how do you know that cartoon is him?) I was thankful that most people seemed to get my point, but what shocked me was how well the children responded to this. They were positively on the edge of their seats, and I could hear their little voices telling all the character names to their parents as I would flip through them. It was energizing. I can't use the same approach all the time, but it's got me thinking about how I can appeal to more people through my visuals.

My friend Dale Jenkins has made some good points to me about how important it is to use Powerpoint as a visual form of communication more than a textual form. I know he isn't the first to make this observation, but it's a good one. I've sat through sermons before where the preacher could have just as easily stopped talking, because the entire sermon was written out in the slides.

Though if I'm making a major point, I prefer to spell it out, and I generally will put scriptures on the screen, I've tried to adapt the approach that when I'm using illustrations--especially stories--I have as few words on the screen as possible. I choose pictures that I display sequentially as I tell the story. So far, it has seemed to work much better than if I list out segments of the story in text form. I'm not sure how far I can go with experimentation in this sort of thing, but I've continued to think about how to use more pictures and less words in my slides.


If you make presentations, especially ones intended to be persuasive, what advice can you offer about using visuals? What is your approach for incorporating images?

If you are regularly in the pew or the audience, what visuals have stuck in your mind? If you could tell your preacher (especially if it's me) some things to do to improve his sermons from a visual standpoint, what would you suggest?


  1. I'm right there with you. I blogged about using PowerPoint a while back: here

    My main goal is to have the PowerPoint be a separate channel of communication. If there is something symbolic or subtle I try to not point it out explicitly - let the visuals communicate for themselves.

    One sermon I preached was about how we can learn to see like Jesus saw. I had three pictures that I blurred (using photoshop) and when I was talking about the wrong way to see things I used the blurry picture, but then when I talked about the way Jesus sees things I switched to the clear picture. It seemed to have a pretty good effect.

    You can find that show as well as a few others that I've done here

  2. Thanks, James! Some of your posts have helped me to rethink my own uses of Powerpoint. I remember the presentation you used a few months ago in that competition showing the progression of the painting, even with the "happy little tree." :-)

    That's interesting. Not just a communication supplement, but actually a separate form of communication. Very cool.

    Thanks for your response!