Nailing your PowerPoint presentation each Sunday can be a very difficult thing to accomplish. Some preachers agonize for hours over images, points, and texts to include on screen while others spend very little time or effort crafting their slides.
Wherever you fall on this spectrum of slide construction chances are good that you have made, knowingly or unknowingly, some mistakes. We’ll talk about four such mistakes preachers make when creating slide presentations here*, but first we need to talk about why these presentations are so important.
Slide presentations, whether they are created in PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, offer you the opportunity to expand your lesson to a wider audience. Every Sunday that you preach you are speaking to a listening group with a wide variety of learning methods. Some people in your pews learn by touch (kinesthetic), others learn by listening (auditory), and finally some learn by seeing (visual). Speaking, by default, addresses the auditory learner (though some do it better than others) and many places offer outlines to satisfy the kinesthetic learner. Slide presentations allow you to better address the needs of visual learners (and can even provide fringe benefits to the other two types of learners). Simply put, slide presentations are important because they help your needed message stick better with more people.
*This article is adapted from a Technically Speaking podcast episode of the same name. If you’d rather listen than read about this subject click here.
Posting Points Before You Present Them
Every teacher that has ever handed me a syllabus has followed the handing out of the packet with this phrase “please don’t skip ahead.” Unfortunately, it’s in many people’s nature to skip ahead. Some skip ahead just to see how it all ends, others jump to the parts that they feel are important and skim over the rest. To be fair, if you’re going to hand people a packet, you should expect them to look through it.
When it comes to preaching, you don’t want people to jump ahead. In a good sermon, if I may be so bold as to say this, each point builds on the one before, ultimately bringing us to a needed Bible truth. You don’t want people to skip ahead, but to join you on this journey of discovering that truth. Unfortunately, many preachers throw their points up on the screen for everyone to see. The moment that happens you’ve immediately lost most of your audience. Your auditory learners stop listening to you so that they can read what’s on the board, your kinesthetic learners are too busy writing down what’s on the board to hear what you’re saying, and your visual learners have seen all they needed to take in the lesson. Roll points out one at a time, and keep people hanging on your words. When it comes to what you reveal on your slides, remember, less is more.
Using Bullet Points / Neglecting Images
By default, PowerPoint slides come with bullet point boxes ready and waiting for you to insert your points and Bible texts. Only, it’s not waiting for your points and Bible texts, it’s waiting for sales charts and pie graphs. PowerPoint was originally created by Microsoft for businesses in order to better facilitate business meetings and the default builds of their slides reflect this. Unfortunately, many preachers come to PowerPoint thinking that all they have to do to create an impactful visual slideshow is click and type where it says to type, but this is simply not the case. Remember, slideshows are primarily for the visual learner and I’ll let you in on a little secret: Plain text on a background isn’t good enough to visually communicate to a visual learner what they need to hear.
The solution, replace bullet points with imagery. This doesn’t mean that you should do away with text altogether, it just means that you need to let the image do more of the talking. Let’s examine these two slides for a moment.
Both slides are trying to communicate the same message, but one does it better. In the first image, imagine that each point comes in one at a time as you tell them to. People will follow along, but (unless you’re good at creating word pictures) won’t really be able to envision what you’re talking about. The second picture takes the effort of envisioning your point off of the listener. With image one, the listener hears your point, works to create a mental image, and then goes back to listening to you. With image two, the listener hears your points, is given a mental picture immediately, and very quickly goes back to hearing what you have to say.
Using Moving Pictures
This point is fairly straightforward so I won’t belabor it. No one is going to pay attention to you while there’s a flickering candle or blinking red light behind your head. The same is true for texts that fly onto the screen or spin around before settling into place legibly. These movements detract from your message by distracting the listener from hearing what you’re saying.
Using Images that Do Not Support Your Points
Want to thoroughly confuse your audience? Use an image that has nothing to do with what you’re talking about. This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often it comes up. This problem manifests itself subtly as well. Maybe you’ve got a great illustration about an orange to accompany your point about eternity. The illustration may be wonderful but I guarantee you that all the time you spend building up to the illustration your audience will be ignoring you and wondering “what’s up with the orange?”
I will add to this however, that, when done right, this can be used to your advantage. For example, once the slide with the orange pops up, go right into your illustration and remove the “what’s up with the orange?” question before it even has time to fully form. Additionally, you can use an image that seems out of place and draw attention to it. Pointing out the ridiculousness of a photo and using the weird photo as an illustration in and of itself can be powerful, especially to the visual learner.
These are four common mistakes preachers make when it comes to slide presentations. Now that you’re aware of them, do your best to avoid these mistakes and use the helpful tips provided in this lesson (and podcast) to improve your sermon presentations and strengthen the effect of your lessons.