As an aspiring communicator, one of the things that impressed me the most were those who were able to present an extensive amount of content with few or no notes at all. There was an air of confidence that was carried as they presented, as if the content flowed from them rather than being rehearsed concepts hurriedly penned on a slither of former tree.
Looking back, I recognize that this judgement was a little harsh, given that to write out a sermon fully may actually require more detailed work than the former! Nevertheless, my perception informed my interest and therefore the effectiveness of their message, and the same is true of the audiences that we share with today.
The assumption is often made when we witness preachers without notes is that the communicator has fully memorized their content – a highly impressive feat, which is often perceived as a skill reserved for those blessed with an eidetic memory. However, memorization of content is far more nuanced than regurgitating a formerly crafted and consumed meal, and is actually a skill highly attainable for those who choose to embrace it.
For this reason I want to tackle what I call “the myth of memorization” because preaching without notes is not classic rote memorization at all, but rather an understanding of your content and direction wrapped in a narrative.
So here are THREE KEYS to MEMORIZING your content:
1. Know what you ACTUALLY want to say. This sounds so obvious, but it is the one thing that many communicators forget to revisit. Often in preparation you begin with this question, but over the course of development it fades into the background until you have crafted a lot of great content, but have lost the core idea behind it all. Your goal should be to answer the question: “What do you actually want to say?” in one core statement, after all, when your listeners are asked by a friend what you spoke about, very few will honour you with (or remember) more than that. For example, in a recent message on the Parable of the Good Samaritan my core statement was: Love is a mission of dangerous proximity. That’s it, everything tied to this idea.
When I first started preaching I used to write out my notes fully. It was probably a good move, as no doubt I dodged a few bullets of “heresy” in the process. Yet what I have learned as I have become less and less dependent on notes over the years is that my communication has greatly improved in delivery and effectiveness, and that preaching without notes is a skill well worth learning.
The idea of preaching without notes is both attractive and intimidating. There is a natural delight in the idea of freedom and yet a fear that arises with the fateful thought, “What if I forget everything?!”
So the next couple of blog posts are going to be on this topic, not just thoughts, but also strategies and techniques, as well as dealing with some of the concerns, so I hope you find them helpful. Firstly, let me make a case for not using notes, or using minimal creative prompts when delivering a sermon.
Some BENEFITS of NOT using notes:
1. Your energy is directed toward your audience rather than:
a) into the lectern – for those who place their hands on either side of the lectern and lean down when they preach, I’m looking at you. It may be the classic “old fashioned preacher pose” but it is ineffective when it comes to engaging communication. All the energy goes through your hands and into the lectern. It’s also the same posture people use when they are scared on a roller-coaster.
b) into the floor – this might take you by surprise, but when you stand behind a lectern, your body will naturally gravitate backward to rest on your heels. It is subtle shift in balance, yet significantly redirects your energy away from your audience. Imagine you are giving someone a handshake while leaning away. Awkward right? That’s what the audience feels when your energy is directed into the floor.