Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Eyes Have It

Last Sunday, in our quest to find a church with whom to worship regularly, we re-visited the church led by a minister who I consider a casual friend and for whom image I have great respect.  He is one of those hip, shirt-tail out, hair usually a mess, always-got-a-smile, guitar playing kind of preachers.  And God has used him to build a solid congregation.

But I noticed something in his preaching that prompted this post. 

He hardly ever looked at the congregation. In fact, he stood at the BACK of the podium at a music stand and read his sermon from there.  (The last time I worshipped, he stood at the very front of the podium). 

He reads his sermon from a manuscript.  Now, USING a manuscript isn’t bad.  I did it for decades in my preaching up until the last six months of my time at Tigard Christian Church.    But the bad part was, he read it.  And he read it using words that are not a normal part of his speaking vocabulary.  It was a good sermon, content wise. But I found myself distracted and bored because he was reading it to me.  I though, “Hey man, just e-mail me the transcript & let me read it at home on my own time & own pace.” 

(Digression:  I remember the former preacher at the Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY, Wayne Smith, saying that he received a note about a particular sermon that he had preached:

“There were just three things wrong with your sermon:

  1. You read it
  2. You read it badly
  3. It wasn’t worth reading.”

But back to my point):

When using a manuscript, the effective communicator will always know the manuscript so well that he basically just glances at it as if it were an outline.  (The only exception to that was in sermons that I knew were going to be highly controversial and I wanted to make sure that I stated each sentence exactly as I had prepared it). 

Eye contact.  It is a huge part both of preaching as well as general public speaking. Public speaking Guru, Lisa Miller, says that we need to be looking at the audience 90—95% of the time that we are preaching/speaking.

Miller, on her website “The Public Speaker,” notes the three top eye-contact mistakes

  • Looking at the projected slides.  Do NOT use your slides as your notes.  When you lose eye contact with people because you are facing the slides, you lose a huge percentage of your audience members who never come back, or don’t come back quickly after you are facing them again. If you MUST point out something on a slide, animate your slide by putting an arrow at it, or a spinning circle around it that will come up when you get to that part of your sermon. I particularly did this when I put up maps of Bible lands to point out a city or a region.  My sons made fun of me for using a laser pointer (“too geeky”) and so I began to put flashing arrows or spinning circles as animations in my slides.
  • Not giving everyone in your audience/congregation your eye contact.   It is fun to look at those who are smiling at you and who are nodding their head.  But in most audiences there are those who just are what Miller calls “curmudgeons”.  There may be people who look like they are angry with you (and maybe they are!)  But you will not win them over by avoiding eye contact with them.  Look at everyone in your audience.  Miller states that about 2/3 of the way back and in the center of the audience is the “sweet spot” for eye contact.  If you are focusing on people in that range, 90-95% of the people will think you have looked at them.  Do also, however, spend time making eye contact with those in the very front, the very back and the extreme sides.
  • Looking away when word planning.  There are simply times when we must stop to think of our next point or how to phrase our next sentence. Often we will look up, look down, look to the side. 

“Some psychologists think we do this because concentrating on a person’s face requires complex processing and by looking away we free up some processing space.”

Miller states that this makes us look unprepared and disrespectful. 

But she suggests two hints:

  • Always be solidly prepared.  This lessens the number of times we have to pause to think of what to say.
  • Look BETWEEN people, instead of in their eyes in those verbal pauses. 

image So, while I do believe that manuscript preaching is a valid and sometimes essential tool to have in our toolbox, it must NEVER come at the expense of a high level of eye contact with our listeners. 

So what do you think?  Have you found tricks of the trade or suggestions that are helpful?  Share them with us.

(You can find Miller’s post here.)


Ed said...

Great post, Cal!

The old saying, "the eye is the window of the soul" comes to mind. In business presentations, we center much attention on this because we believe that people in the early 21st century are looking for a sense of interpersonal connection with the speaker. They want to feel as if they have had a conversation (even though they haven't talked) by the end of the presentation. It's hard to accomplish that without eye contact.

We coach MBA students to connect with individual sets of eyes long enough for a kind of interpersonal transaction or connection to occur...rather than just a glance.

I think this is even more critical when the topic is spriritual.

David said...

This is exactly where I (maybe "eye") am coming from. I have been serving in the preacher role for about a little over a year now and I am transitioning from manuscript to image map based sermons.

I feel the content has always been fine, but not the connection. If there is no connection, what good is the content. I preach two sermons every Sunday both about 35 minutes. I can't memorize everything (at least I thought I couldn't). I have been trying some new thoughts and it seems to work so far. I feel I know the text better, not the sermon, but in knowing the text better the sermon feels more connected. Does that add up?

In all of this, we need to make sure we are relying on the Holy Spirit and His guiding. He can work in study just like He can in delivery. I heard the other day, thunder won't roll from the pulpit till lightening hits the study.

Thanks for the insights.

all about Christ,

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007