For the last year, I have been speaking my main messages to our church without using notes and without a pulpit to stand behind.
This has been a big change for me. I've been speaking for over 20 years now and although there have been a few shorter messages I've given where I haven't used notes, I've usually taken my Bible and 6-10 pages of typed out notes to the pulpit each time I speak.
So why the change?
As part of a course I did on preaching last year, I was challenged to consider speaking without notes. My instructors noted that when you watch a movie, the actors don't read their scripts. By the time they record the movie, the actors have taken on their role and they have internalised the message. As preachers, we are delivering a more important message than any actor, so why not put the same work in?
They also noted that if someone asked you to share your life story, you wouldn't pull out a notebook. You would quickly draw from your memory and share parts of your story, selecting different things, based on how long you want to take.
So this is what I now do in preparing to speak:
- I spend time in prayer, preparing my heart as to what to speak on.
- I then spend time studying and researching for my message.
- This results in a typed Word document, usually about 8-12 pages long.
- I then summarise this into an A5 document (2 sided) with bullet points on.
- I then spend time praying over this, memorising the main structure, main points and illustrations of the message. In a sense, I create a 'mind map' for each message that includes where I will start, where I will take people, and how I will conclude.
- I then step up to speak with just my Bible (I do have this A5 sheet in the front of my Bible just in case I need to refer to it) and without a pulpit to stand behind.
When I first did this for a full 35-40 minute message, it was pretty scary. I felt a bit 'naked' in front of everyone, especially without the pulpit or podium (although I was never one to hide behind a pulpit anyway!).
Some of the benefits I've found with this approach are:
- As a speaker, I have to really 'own' the message. It has to be a part of me. I need it to be on the inside of me.
- It makes me more spontaneous, as I only memorise the structure and key points, not the actual words. I simple share the message 'as it flows'.
- I feel that the level of connection with the people I am speaking to is much higher, as I am able to make eye contact with them all of the time.
- I also sense that I'm a little more 'in tune' with God while I'm speaking, as well as 'in tune' with where the people I'm speaking to are at.
So it has been an interesting journey. I have found it quite exhilarating and I've been surprised by how much the mind can remember. I'm enjoying speaking as much as I ever have. It's been fun.
Of course, I am in no way saying that others need to take this step, including those on our teaching team. It's just something that has worked for me and I'm really enjoying it. I kind of feel like I've found 'my voice' in a new way.
P.S. For those who want to head in this direction, start small. Take some 'baby steps'. Share a short communion message without notes OR make some announcements at a meeting from memory (thinking chronogically helps – last week, today, this coming week). As you gain some experience, you'll build confidence for longer messages.