Drawing Your Way to Great Preaching and Public Speaking

This is the third post is a five part series. For more, check out the series frontpage ... Short Series: Drawing in Ministry

No eye contact. "Ummms" and "Ahhhhs" abounding. Chained to the music stand.

What does your audience see and hear when you preach?

I am, by nature, a shy person. Public speaking makes my heart race. I go into mood swings and get depressed after I preach.

Fortunately, preaching and public speaking are just small parts of my job(s).
Unfortunately, I had a stretch where I had to give 150 unique talks in 2 years.

Drawing helped me get better, quickly.

Drawing can help you.

Drawing helps with preparation

How do you prepare to speak? For a lot of us, we focus on words. We read the passage we're preaching from over and over again. We look up quotes. We write outlines. Some of you may even manuscript your talks, writing things out word-for-word.

But we live in a visual world, a visual culture, a visual age. Your eyes gather more data than your ears ever will. Shapes and colors and spatial relationship. Much more than words on a page.

Unleash that power. Print out the passage you're working from and scribble all over it. Add color. Break your outline up onto notecards. And draw.

The picture you're looking at is from my preparation time in Ephesians 2 for a talk I gave at the InterVarsity Chapter Camp. I translated the text to pictures. This allowed me to notice patterns and movement in Paul's thought. And it made for a better sermon.

Drawing for Study

You could totally do this!

Drawing helps with memorization

Your mind has an incredible capacity to remember images. Leverage it!

The act of drawing links your ideas to your muscle memory via your eyes and hands. Drawing embeds the ideas more deeply into the parts of your brain that will be called on to communicate those ideas. This improves both clarity and recall.

There's a place for beautifully crafted oratory, for polished and gleaming sentences. But in the rough and tumble world of missional ministry, that precision is a distracting luxury. You need to know what you're going to say before you get up there, but you don't need to know every word.

Drawing changes the way your brain wraps itself around your content. Instead of needing to hold whole paragraphs in your head, drawing allows you to hold images in your mind. Your preaching shifts from repeating back words you've written to describing images you've created. It's easier to talk about a piece of art you've seen than to memorize and recite.

Here's the outline I used from that same talk at the InterVarsity Chapter Camp. A few words. Simple pictures. Not pretty, but so useful.

Drawn notes

Drawing helps with presentation

You cannot hide behind a music stand.

I have tried. To preach well, you have to remove barriers between you and the audience. Look people in the eye. Talk to them, not at them.

And drawing can help ... even with this.

For example, preaching from a drawn outline frees you up to preach in short, fast sections organized around a specific theme/image (think stand-up bits or the Gospel of Mark's pearls on a string). You jump from image to image. This tracks more effectively with the way most of the people you're preaching to engage content and learn in their day-to-day lives.

When I have done the drawing in my preparation and around my work of memorization, I find I'm more confident in my presentation. I can keep on looking at the people I'm talking to. I can read the crowd. I visualize the images from my outline as I move through the sermon, so I don't have to keep turning to my notes.

Is this something you think you could try?

For those interested, here's the talk I gave to the 300 students at the InterVarsity Chapter Camp. The video's a little shaky and it starts up a few minutes in, but I can say this ...
... my preaching is more deep than it used to be
... my preaching is more free than it used to be
... I preached without hiding behind a music stand 


  1. Becca Saunders9:32 AM

    Really cool Steve! I'm going to give this a shot as I work on my preaching skills!

    1. Thanks, Becca. It's been cool to hear about your chapter this year. Hope all continues to go well in Lynchburg!

  2. Hey Steve,
    I don't know if you've seen prezi.com. It's a presentation software that you may or may not like using. I have used it to craft sermons, and it has been useful in some of the ways you have talked about drawing being useful.
    I know my sermons have suffered in the last few years, because I have always drafted my sermons using my chalkboard/whiteboard to build a logical flow, and don't have access anymore.
    Thanks for your post, and I enjoyed your sermon.

    1. Thanks, Matt.

      I've seen people use prezi before, but haven't used it myself. The zooming effect is very cool. I didn't know that your could use the core features for free. I'll check it out, but I'll still probably lean back on my pens and legal pads. There's something about the work of drawing that helps my brain.

      If you don't have access to a whiteboard, you might try notecards. They're easy to sort and rearrange. And pretty easy to toss if something needs cutting.

      I'll often create a notecard time-line for longer trainings. I segment the cards into "I'm talking," "We're talking," and "You're working alone/at table" categories. I can then lay them out as a time-line and make sure I've got good pacing and style-diversity.

      And thanks for checking out the sermon. How amazing would it be if those students caught a vision for how God's multi-ethnic community displays the power of the gospel to the watching world?

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