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Ever seen a TEDx talk? They’re pretty great. Here’s one I happen to enjoy and have used in a couple of sermons.

I’ve wondered for a long time, “How in the world do each of these talks end up consistently blowing me away?”

So I did some research and found the TEDx-talk guidelines for speakers. Some of the advice was basic—but some of it was unexpected. Much of it, I think, is a welcome wake up call to preachers who are communicating in a 21st century, postmodern, post-Christian context. Obviously, some of this doesn’t fit with a preacher’s ethos—but much of it does.

That said, here are 12 things TEDx speakers do that preachers usually don’t:

1. Present one great idea.

“An idea isn’t just a story or a list of facts. A good idea takes evidence or observations and draws a larger conclusion.”

Of course, TEDx talkers often have multiple points, but they always have direction: They’re always moving forward to a set conclusion (and that’s all big-idea preaching is, for all the flack it gets).

They also suggest to the speaker: “Get your idea out as quickly as possible.”

2. Set a time limit.

“Shorter talks are not lesser talks. It may only take five minutes to make your point unforgettably.”

Ouch—yes, I often speak too long. Like Pascal in his letter, most of us preach long sermons because we don’t have time to prepare short ones—certainly not 20 minutes—but we could all stand to lose a few. 

Here’s how they approach this: “Make a list of all the evidence you want to use. Think about items that your audience already knows about and the things you’ll need to convince them of. Order all of the items in your list based on what a person needs to know before they can understand the next point, and from least to most exciting. Now cut out everything you can without losing the integrity of your argument. You will most likely need to cut things out you think are important.”

3. Collaborate.

On the above suggestion: “Consider making this list with a trusted friend, someone who isn’t an expert in your field.”

During rehearsal stage, the guide recommends “listening to criticism.” Calvin made it a rule for pastors in his region to collaborate on their texts before preaching.

Personally, I wish we didn’t see the preparation of a sermon as a lone-ranger event: Why not ask the perspectives of people who represent those who will be listening to this thing, believers and nonbelievers alike?

4. Put time into visuals.

“Note anything in your outline that is best expressed visually and plan accordingly in your script.”

In the section regarding the question “What goes in my slides?” the guide states: “Images and photos: To help the audience remember a person, place or thing you mention, you might use images or photos. … Use as little text as possible—if your audience is reading, they are not listening. Avoid using bullet points. Consider putting different points on different slides.”

We might not have time every week to come up with captivating visuals, but check out some websites like prezi.com—you’d be surprised how quickly you can put together an amazing presentation.

5. Practice.

“Once you’re settled on your outline, start writing a script. Be concise, but write in a way that feels natural to you. Use present tense and strong, interesting verbs.”

After the script is finished, the guide implores: “Rehearse, rehearse rehearse! We can’t stress this enough. … If someone says you sound “over-rehearsed,” this actually means you sound stilted and unnatural.”

6. Stay away from notes.

“TED discourages long talks, podiums or readings.”

This isn’t for everybody—but it’s certainly worth noting that according to the best speakers in the world, notes are considered to be a thing of the past.

7. Avoid industry jargon.

Christianese, anyone? “Don’t use too much jargon or explain new terminology. … Spend more time on new information: If your audience needs to be reminded of old or common information, be brief.”

8. Draw people into caring.

“Start by making your audience care, using a relatable example or an intriguing idea. … Draw your audience in with something they care about. If it’s a field they never think about, start off by invoking something they do think about a lot and relate that concept to your idea.”

How often do we assume that everyone sitting in the congregation is as interested in our text as we are?

9. Show how it makes a difference.

“Don’t use your conclusion to simply summarize what you’ve already said; tell your audience how your idea might affect their lives if it’s implemented.”

10. Keep structure clear but invisible.

“Your structure should be invisible to the audience. In other words, don’t talk about how you’re going to talk about your topic—just talk about it!”

I thought this was especially interesting—the TEDx guide states that structure should be present, but that it shouldn’t be announced. Presumably, it should be natural and strong enough that everyone listening can understand it without explanation.

11. Stay planted.

“Practice standing still, planted firmly in one spot on stage.” So, yeah, about this. I have a VERY hard time with this. I should put two little shoe imprints near the pulpit.

12. Respectfully address arguments.

“Respectfully address any controversies in your claims, including legitimate counterarguments, reasons you might be wrong or doubts your audience might have about your idea.”

The Puritans spent much of their preaching time answering inner-objections—it’s what Keller calls “preaching to the heart.” In a post-Christian society, we ought to be putting more time into answering arguments, not less. 

Nicholas McDonald is husband to lovely Brenna, father to Owen and Caleb, M.Div student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and youth/assistant teaching pastor at Carlisle Congregational Church. He graduated with his Bachelors in Communication from Olivet Nazarene University, studied literature and creative writing at Oxford University, and has spoken internationally at camps, youth retreats, graduations, etc. He blogs about writing, preaching and the arts at www.Scribblepreach.com, which has been featured on The Gospel Coalition, Knowlovelive.org and Challies.com. He currently resides in South Hamilton, MA.

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Joe Mckeever

commented on Apr 16, 2014

I clicked on to your message hoping to find out what a TEDx speaker is. Never did find out. Guess you know what generation I'm from. And I think we can assume you are speaking only to those who get this.

Adrian Hernandez

commented on Apr 16, 2014

TEDx is an organization that discusses important topics, from religion to science, and many more. Talks are usually short (aprox. 18 minutes each). You can find out more at http://www.ted.com.

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 17, 2014

In the author's defense, he does provide a link at the very beginning of the article. Click on it and it'll at least give you an idea of what he's talking about. A quick google search will yield some helpful information as well.

Robert Sands

commented on Apr 16, 2014

Too many preachers spend too much time on Exegesis and too little time on the best way to communicate. This is great stuff. If you aren't in the 21st Century, get there now.

Nom De Plume

commented on Apr 16, 2014

Respectfully, I disagree. I hear very little, true exegesis, but plenty of well-speaking pastors; and, I am not a pastor. What the church needs, are more pastors who rightly divide the word; and, who focus more on biblical culture rather than our current culture, which in a few years (or less) will be replaced with a different "style".

Anthony Collins

commented on Apr 17, 2014

Too much time on exegesis and too little time on the best way to communicate? WOW! That comment speaks for itself. May God bless you and you congregation richly my friend.

Darrin Mariott

commented on Apr 16, 2014

One question: Do these TEDx speakers give talks every week? And do they give other speeches, say every Wednesday evening? While some of this material is good advice, it is a little na?ve and unrealistic.

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 16, 2014

TEDx speakers do not give different talks every week. On the other hand, nowhere in the NT are pastors expected to do so, either. The idea of one person exclusively, or even primarily, being expected to preach a different sermon once a week or more, to the same congregation--isn't it possible that THAT idea is more naive and unrealistic than the advice in this article?

Darrin Mariott

commented on Apr 17, 2014

I agree with you bill, in theory. However, the reality is quite different. First, the vast majority of churches are small churches (100 or less members, with many of those being 50 or less). In such small churches you simply don't have the plurality of preachers/teachers to bring the Word on Sunday, midweek, and other settings. As such, the responsibility falls on one or two individuals. Second, even in a setting where you do have a plurality of preachers/teachers, the expectation is still that any one will be teaching on a regular, if not weekly, basis when you consider midweek, Sunday evening, small groups, Men's studies, etc. The simple truth is that any pastor, whether they serve individually in a small church or in a large church with a plurality of preachers/teachers must be able to teach a lesson on a regular basis on a multitude of topics. The TEDx speaker only needs to give a talk on one subject--one he or she is an expert in--on an occasional basis. If all I had to do was teach on Ephesians 2:8-9 on an occasional basis, then yes, I could easily apply most of the material in this article. As it turns out, I need to preach the whole counsel of God and as such, I stand with my original point, while some if this material is good advice, it is a little na?ve and unrealistic for the preacher today.

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 17, 2014

I get where you're coming from. And I understand that reality is often different from theory. But should we just accept reality for what it is? Are we not bound, as Christians, to live on the basis of a "new reality", a reality revealed by the NT? Consider that the NT envisions ALL Christians, regardless of the size of the local congregation, to be able to bring the Word to each other, to be able to teach and instruct each other (e.g., Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Colossians 3:16). And yet, contemporary Christianity expects the burden of teaching God's word--which by his design is meant to be done by the ENTIRE church to one another--to be placed on the shoulders of ONE person exclusively, or even primarily?? Think about it again: are you really sure you want to stand by the idea that it is the NT that is unrealistic, rather than contemporary Christianity? Who says there has to be a sermon preached every week? Who says there have to be multiple sermons preached every week? Who says all of these sermons have to be regularly preached by the same person, week in and week out? Point out the text in the NT that endorses such an idea. It's not there! I've been reading the Bible since I was a child, and I've never come across it. As you yourself admit, these are the expectations of our church members, not of God. On the contrary, as we have seen in the texts I cited above, God's expectations are the complete opposite. You and I both agree, what God expects as revealed in the NT (what you referred to as "theory") is quite different from what contemporary Christianity expects. So I ask you again, are you really sure that you want to define the expectations of your church members as "reality" and the expectations of God as "theory" or "unrealistic"?

Darrin Mariott

commented on Apr 17, 2014

Thanks for your thoughts, though I have to admit that I'm not sure where this discussion got off-track. You seem to have a beef with the way the contemporary church deals with the issue of preaching. However, without getting into all that, I agree that Scripture teaches us that we all have something we can learn from each other (e.g. Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). But I don't see these verses saying to us that everyone is to be a preacher/teacher in the church. According to my reading, preaching/teaching is a spiritual gift (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). And that not all possess this particular gift (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:29). And that this gift is to be used to build up God's people for works of service (e.g. Eph. 4:11-13). Moreover, it appears that this gift is connected to the pastoral call (e.g. Eph. 4:11-13) and is even a requirement for those called into ministry at a pastoral/elder level (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:2). As to whether or not there should be a sermon every week or there should be twenty sermons during the week, I can't say. But just because there is no text that endorses such an idea doesn't make it unBiblical, that's an argument from silence. What I can say is that God instructed the young pastor Timothy to keep the pattern of sound teaching he modeled (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:13) and to "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season" (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:2). I take this to mean on a regular basis. So rather than being unbiblical, I see regular, consistent, preaching by those gifted and called to do so to be entirely Biblical. The early church had an emphasis on regular preaching/teaching (e.g. Acts 2:42) and I really can't see any reason why that doesn't apply today. All that said, perhaps you disagree. If so, that's fine. I thank you for your thoughts and pray God's peace and joy upon you.

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 17, 2014

Please don't misunderstand. I don't have any beef with anything, and I hope you didn't interpret my passion for this issue in a negative way. I have a burden for pastors. I've been in the Christian church my whole life, and have seen many pastors come and go. The overwhelming majority of these pastors have attempted to bear the unrealistic expectations of their church members to prepare and preach two to three different sermons every single week by themselves. And I've seen these unrealistic expectations destroy their health, their families, their career, even their spiritual life. Is it any wonder that burn-out is so prevalent among pastors? This can't possibly be what God wants! And it isn't. Not if you read his vision as revealed in the NT. But when I have shared that vision with pastors that I've known, I have almost always gotten the same response: That's great in theory, but it won't work in real life. Unbelievable! It saddens me to see so many pastors sacrifice themselves and everything they love for the sake of the unrealistic expectations of contemporary Christianity, rather than take the yoke of Christ upon them, knowing that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. "I don't see these verses saying to us that everyone is to be a preacher/teacher in the church." Neither do I, and I apologize if that is the impression you got. But what IS clear from the NT, is that preaching should not be the sole responsibility of one person, because the NT envisions a plurality of elders in each congregation, and one of the qualifications of an elder is that they be able to teach. Keep in mind, most of the churches in NT times were what you and I would consider small churches. And most of the members in these churches came directly out of Gentile and pagan backgrounds. If these "small" churches had a plurality of elders who could share the preaching and teaching ministry together, is it really that hard to believe that this should be (and can be) the norm in 21st century western Christianity? Do we not serve the same God? Does not the same Spirit dwell within those who have been born again?

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 17, 2014

I'm also not arguing that just because the Bible doesn't say there should be a sermon every week, that having a sermon every week is unbiblical. What I'm saying is that because the Bible doesn't say there should be a sermon every week, the expectation that there be one has no Biblical basis. "I see regular, consistent, preaching by those gifted and called to do so to be entirely Biblical." Again, I agree. And I hope by this time you are beginning to see that you and I don't disagree as much as you might believe. I was simply pointing out that regular preaching does not necessarily mean weekly preaching (or more!). The pastor of the church I attend preaches regularly, but he preaches about every two to three weeks. He preaches about 20 to 22 sermons a year. The other weeks, he shares the preaching ministry with another four lay preachers whom he has trained, including myself. He is currently training a fifth preacher, and I'm working on training a sixth. So, no, not every in our church is a not everyone at our church is a preacher/teacher. But neither is our pastor the SOLE preacher/teacher. Mind you, this is not a "big church" we're talking about. Our average attendance is about 100. It was about 50 to 60 when he got here about six years ago. And here's the thing. None of us were preachers when he got here. None of us even would've thought of ourselves as preachers. But our pastor refused to accept our expectations (for which he got a lot of criticism at first, and for which most of us are thankful now!). He refused to accept as reality that there just weren't any other preachers available in the congregation. He knew that if the Spirit was present in this church, then there must be other preachers and teachers at this church beside him. So he set about looking for us. And when he found us, he trained us. And I am a personal witness to the fruit that this ministry has born. I could never go back to having to listen to the same preacher week after week, no matter how "good" that one preacher was.

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 17, 2014

I've shared this story to show you and others here that what I've been talking about is not simply "theory." This is real life, flesh and blood. This is OUR congregation's reality, now. But it didn't happen quickly, or easily. Our reality changed only because our pastor refused to accept what we considered real and normal, and began to live out of the true "reality" that God has revealed in the NT, even though many resisted him and pushed back every step of the way during those first few years. One last thing I'd like to say about our pastor, in light of comments I made towards the beginning of this post. This man is the furthest from burnout that you could possibly get. This is a man who is not rushed or hurried, who knows that he is only a small part of what God is doing in this congregation, and who is willing to take the time to do that small part as well as he can. Which brings me to my original point: if the expectations on the pastor are such that he cannot put into each sermon the same amount of effort that the people of the world are willing to put into a speech for TEDx, isn't it possible that it is those expectations themselves that are naive and unrealistic? Doesn't the preaching of God's word merit as much effort from us as do the speeches given by TEDx speakers? I believe the NT would likely argue that it does, but I leave it for you to wrestle with for yourself. I apologize for any initial misunderstandings, but I hope I have shown that I'm not standing on some soapbox or riding some hobbyhorse. I speak from my heart out of a burden that pastors and laypeople open their eyes to something better than what many consider "real" or "normal." Please do not ever settle for "reality." Much of reality, as it is understood by contemporary Christianity, is highly overrated! Christ offers something so much different, and so much better! Please don't ever lose your imagination for what God can do, and for what he is already doing in your congregation. The most powerful and gifted preachers your congregation will ever hear could be sitting just a few rows in front of you right now, every single week! I appreciate you taking the time to consider the thoughts of (to use the words of C. S. Lewis) a very ordinary layman. I gladly welcome any further thoughts or insights you may like to share. Blessings to you and your ministry!

Chris Mays Sr.

commented on Aug 6, 2014

Hi Bill, I just happened to read this article again and read just about all of your comments. I just want to say thank you for sharing your heart. You put into words what I have been mulling over in my heart for about 4 months. I have just finished preaching through the book of 1 Peter. While was studying for 1 Peter 5:1-7, I begin to learn from God's Word that He intended a plurality of Elders/Bishops/Pastors, not a one man show. It hurts my heart also that the body of Christ here in the west are so used to doing things based on (Christian) culture, and tradition, and on Holy Scripture. If you don't mind me asking, what city and state is your church located? I attend Hope Alliance Bible Church in Maple Heights, Ohio.

Adrian Hernandez

commented on Apr 16, 2014

Excellent advice. We tend to forget that in today's world, especially the younger generation, the way communication works is not the same as past generations. We need to find other ways to communicate and engage with them. May the Lord bless all of whom have the greatest assignment of all, preach GOD's word.

Maurice Mccarthy

commented on Apr 16, 2014

Some great advice. I clicked on the link, and found the speaker walking around the platform quite a bit, she must have missed the memo. You mention preservice collaboration, something I have often thought I would like to do is debrief after the message. I guess the reason I haven't is that I am too afraid to allow my associates to suggest I might be doing something wrong. So for now I just meekly ask my wife, "what did you think of the message, hon?"

Ranger Harper

commented on Apr 16, 2014

All technique and no testimony.

Tim Strebeck

commented on Apr 16, 2014

Although I fully agree with the idea that we should be clear, to the point and creative, I am not altogether convinced that we should try to duplicate the approach of others. Are we throwing aside the idea that it is the Holy Spirit that uses our weaknesses to speak to the people's heart. Pray, seek His message, deliver HIS word and leave the rest to HIM might be a good plan. Also, are we to believe this is the first generation to think and act this way? Do we discount speakers of old when great revivals swept the world? Remember Jesus, Paul, the apostles all spoke to a world that did not know or believe Christ but yet they spoke truth and it changed the world

Jack Pladdys

commented on Apr 16, 2014

I'm with Darrin. The moment I read the title, I immediately thought of one thing preachers do that TEDx speakers don't...prepare a different speech/sermon every week. These are all great ideas, but if we we're being honest, anyone that is a good communicator can be a TEDx speaker on one thought or idea. We must understand that preaching is less about being "the best speaker in the world" (reference point 6), and more about communicating truths to a congregation so they can understand them. Preachers, take the advice given here within the context of your situation. TEDx speakers are fantastic, but they are not preachers...

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 16, 2014

You and Darrin are correct: TEDx speakers don't prepare a different speech every week. On the other hand, there is nothing in the NT to suggest that one person in a local congregation is expected to do so, either. Paul's charge to Timothy to "preach the Word" does not imply that he was to preach a different sermon each week, much less that he was to be the sole preacher of the congregation. Such an idea is based more on reading the modern assumptions of the contemporary pastor into the NT text, than on an actual exegesis of the NT. Once we eliminate that assumption, and realize that God can and does communicate his word to his church through a plurality of preachers and teachers, the advice given in this article becomes much more doable.

Adrian Hernandez

commented on Apr 16, 2014

Many comments mention the issue that preaching is not like presenting any other topic, and that TEDx presenters are not preachers. I agree with both statements. That does not take away that we can learn something valid and useful. Just because these folks might not be preaching GOD's word, or maybe even they are non-believers, doesn't take away certain merits on what they do. I believe that the Holy Spirit guides us, but that we can also find creative ways to speak to this generation, which has a short attention span like no other in history (due to all the technological advances, we tend to act like everything needs to be done in a hurry and in a short time).

Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on Apr 16, 2014

God uses us to preach His word. We seek, through prayer and reading and study to elicit what His word is for is for us to preach from the text. It doesn't matter what generation we are speaking to because if we are doing it right we are doing it the way God says we should do it. It is God speaking through us. It is NOT us speaking on our or if it is then we should be on our knees seeking forgiveness for our pride in letting Him down.

Charles Beaman

commented on Apr 17, 2014

I found the article to be provocative and intriguing, providing several insights for comparison, evaluation, and consideration. As a critical thinker, one might want to look at this article for what it is worth, use what one finds helpful, and dismiss what is not helpful. The article rests on its own merits.

Craig Gilbert

commented on Apr 24, 2014

Good stuff...I have been communicating biblical truths for 20 years and have used this method, or one close to it and didn't even know it. I was trained in seminary using the Whiting Method. 20-25 min...big idea...opening illus....a few principles to back up the big idea...each principle includes an explanation, a narration, and application....a big haymaker and application at the end.....This has worked really well. Keep up the Kingdom work everyone!!!

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