To Memorize or Not To Memorize
I went to see a performance of an actor performing a straight scripture presentation. He was a good performer and commanded the stage well. But after a while I found my mind drifting. When he finished reciting scripture, he told a story about his own life and totally drew me in. He was so much more interesting to listen to when he just shared his story than when he was quoting from a book of the Bible.
I left feeling conflicted. I actually felt a bit of guilt at having lost interest during the presentation of scripture. I mean, this was God’s Word after all! I also pondered why I found his story more compelling than his actual performance. My conclusions:
- When he was reciting scripture he sounded “memorized.” And while I am an advocate for memorized lines, I don’t like it when a performer sounds memorized. Memorized lines, be they in a play, scripture, speech or sermon, should sound natural and conversational. To the audience it needs to sound like you are saying these words for the very first time. (For a great example of an actor performing scripture and sounding natural check out my associate Steve Wilent in According to John.)
- When he told his story, it felt spontaneous and authentic. I didn’t get the feeling it was a script. Since it was his story, he knew it well so there was no danger of not knowing what to say next (as in a forgotten line). I cared more about what he had to say because it was more personal.
In my previous blog I addressed memorization from an actor’s perspective. Actors must memorize lines word for word in a script. But what if you are speaking or giving a sermon? Does that text need to be memorized?
The answer…. it depends.
If you are a speaker who is giving the same, or mostly the same, speech or sermon to different groups on a speaking circuit, you will probably want to memorize it. Truth is, you probably have memorized it… maybe even without trying. You will work with the text and wind up saying the same thing over and over again. This can actually be a very good thing… providing you don’t start to sound memorized! You will also learn and tweak your presentation as you gain experience. You learn, for example, that phrasing a sentence a certain way gets a better response (a laugh, applause, or stunned silence).
But what about those of you who are pastors coming up with a new sermon every week? While a few of you may actually memorize the sermon, most of you don’t. My hat’s off to you who come up with new material week after week. The challenge before you is to present your material in a compelling way. Since you are not memorized by rote, there is not much danger of your sounding memorized. But neither do we want to see you simply read to us with your focus on your notes instead of your audience. It is important that, while you may not be memorized, you need to really know your material. So in a sense some of the rote memorization techniques of reading the material over and over again can certainly be of benefit.
I am always impressed with those pastors who can deliver a powerful sermon without notes! I chatted with one of them recently about how he does it. As a storyteller, it was no big surprise that much of the technique he employed involved translating the text into story. Much of the memory technique involved linking images to the text and thus allowing the pastor to be note-free and greatly enhance his ability to connect with the audience. This video helps to explain the memory system he uses:
Actors, comedians, and professional speakers all know the value of rehearsal. In talking to pastors I find that many of them also rehearse their sermons, and… many of them don’t. I can usually tell the difference. I know you are busy people, but I encourage you to find the time to rehearse your sermons. In our increasingly entertainment-oriented culture, with our increasingly shorter attention spans, your challenge is to hold our attention. To do that effectively takes practice!
Pastors, do you memorize your sermons? What tips can you share for effective sermon presentations?Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 8 comments