“Resonate”: Stories Transform Lives

After cleaning up this site from being hacked (and ramping up security), I’m ready to continue my series on Nancy Duarte's book, Resonate (see Communicate for Change, What I Like About the Book, and The Presentation Form).

Telling stories is a vital component of Duarte’s book. Duarte writes …

Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form. People love stories because life is full of adventure and we’re hardwired to learn lessons from observing change in others. Life is messy, so we empathize with characters who have real-life challenges similar to the ones we face. (16)

Stories have heros. But Duarte is clear in stating that communicators “are not the hero” (18). She states, “You are not the hero who will save your audience; the audience is the hero” (20).

Duarte asserts that the communicator is the mentor. “You’re simply the voice helping them get unstuck in their journey” (20). To be a good mentor, “place the audience at the center of the action, and make them feel that the presentation is addressing them personally” (20).

As mentor, your role is to give the hero guidance, confidence, insight, training, or magical gifts so he can overcome his initial fears and enter the new journey with you. (20)

Duarte also discusses the pattern of stories. She writes, “The most simplistic way to describe the structure of a story is situation, complication, and resolution” (29).

This reminds me of what Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, refers to as orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Brueggemann notes that this process is seen throughout the Hebrew Bible, including the Psalms (some of which he calls “psalms of disorientation”).

Well, there’s so much more about story in the book. I enjoyed learning about stories from the world of movies. We’ve blogged about a number of movies in the past, as well as listing Movies for Leaders, and a discussion of Success vs. Significance in the Movies. After reading Resonate, I’ve been paying greater attention to the hero’s situation, the inciting incident (complication), and the resolution and transformation throughout the movie.

In recent years, I’ve particularly come to value the importance of story in the context of leadership. In fact, when I was working on a doctor of ministry degree at Asbury, one of my first ideas for a dissertation topic was related to storytelling in the context of leadership communication.

It’s easy to see the importance of storytelling in the context of preaching. The Bible is full of great stories. And the Bible as a whole, is a great story. In recent years, I’ve thought of sermon preparation in terms of movie making.

In my own preaching over the last five years of one-point preaching, I’ve tended to focus on actual stories in the Bible. My challenge is in preaching on biblical texts that aren’t specifically stories. Resonate will help me find a way to tell a story even with texts where story is not as evident. The sermon itself needs to be a story. Stanley and Jones, in Communicating for a Change, write, “Until you can stand up and tell a story, you’re not ready to preach” (53).

Well, I think the ability to “stand up and tell a story” is an important skill to develop because, I agree, stories transform lives!

“Resonate”: The Presentation Form

I’m continuing my series on Nancy Duarte's book, Resonate (see Communicate for Change and What I Like About the Book).

As Duarte points out in her 18-minute TED Talk, she discovered a shape or form that exists in all great presentations (see also a 10-minute overview of the presentation form on Duarte’s website). Duarte contends, “Most great presentations unknowingly follow this form” (36). It amazes me that great communicators seem to follow this form naturally or intuitively. I’m just hoping that it can be learned so that it becomes almost second nature!

Duarte notes that presentations have a beginning, middle, and end. They also include two turning points: the call to adventure (between beginning and middle) and the call to action (between middle and end).

The Beginning
In the beginning, “You should deliver a concise formulation of what everyone agrees is true.” This “will create a common bond between you and them and will open them up to your unique perspective more readily” (38).

In the beginning, you describe current reality, which sets the baseline of “what is.” The call to adventure introduces the big idea of “what could be,” which provides contrast with what is.

Contrast is a key component of the presentation form. Duarte writes …

Proposing what could be should throw the audience’s current reality out of balance. Without first setting up what is, the dramatic effect of your new idea will be lost. (38)

The Middle
According to Duarte, “The middle of a presentation is made up of various types of contrast” (40). She describes three types of contrast: content, emotion, and delivery. Duarte asserts that contrast is “at the heart of communication” (40).

The End
The last turning point is the call to action, which “clearly defines what you’re asking the audience to do” (42). After giving the call to action, the end should describe the new bliss. Duarte says “you create an ending that describes an inspirational, blissful world—a world that has adopted your idea” (44).

As I’ve said before, I think this fits well with Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (see One-Point Preaching and 5 Years of One-Point Preaching).

Stanley and Jones provide something of a presentation form which they call a map — ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE. The ME and WE sections are about finding common ground with the audience (the beginning). I usually include what Duarte calls the call to adventure here, or what Stanley and Jones call a “sticky statement.” On a similar note, Duarte states, “To create the call to adventure, put forth a memorable big idea that conveys what could be. … This turning point should be explicit, not muddled or vague” (39).

The GOD section is where you talk about the text (the middle). It deals with what is and introduces what could be from a biblical standpoint point.

The YOU section is where the topic is applied to the audience (the call to action). The final WE section is for casting vision (the new bliss). Stanley and Jones say, “you paint a verbal picture of what could be and should be” (129).

Duarte argues that presentations should end with the new bliss (what a world looks like that has adopted your idea), not the call to action (the application). I have a tendency to skip over the new bliss and go directly to my prayer where I pray about applying the call to action (although I probably touch on it in my prayer).

A future post in this series will look at how I’m keeping the presentation form in front of me when I prepare sermons, even though it’s still under development (it involves lots of sticky notes, thanks to Nancy Duarte). But first, my next post will discuss story and the hero’s journey.

In the meantime, does the presentation form make sense to you? How helpful is this to you?

“Resonate”: What I Like About the Book

Yesterday, I began a series of posts on Nancy Duarte's book, Resonate. The first post was simply about Duarte’s contention that the purpose of communication is ultimately change (which is one thing I love about the book). Before I continue engaging the material, here’s what else I like about the book.

The book is well-designed, visually (i.e., there are lots of pictures!). Of course, that’s what you’d expect from an expert presentation designer.

The book is well-written. It’s full of high-quality content. There’s no fluff, which leads to …

Each section is concise. Most sections take up 1-2 pages of written content. That makes it easy to read, review, and digest.

The book includes great examples (case studies), including Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Zander, among others. As a preacher, I especially appreciated the inclusion of John Ortberg, one of my favorite writers and preachers. And the discussion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is amazing (the TED Talk discusses the examples of both King and Jobs).

There is online content to compliment the book, including many of the case studies.

Next, I’ll discuss “the presentation form,” which is what first fascinated me (including how communicators like MLK intuitively followed the form). Future posts will engage Story, the Big Idea, S.T.A.R. moments, and StoryMapping.

“Resonate”: Communicate for Change

Almost every book I read, I read only once (although I might review my highlights). One exception is Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lanes Jones, which I’ve read three times in the last five years (see One-Point Preaching and 5 Years of One-Point Preaching).

Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, the latest book I’ve read, will be another exception. I came across Duarte’s work through her TED Talk on the book earlier this year (the 18-minute video is worth watching again and again; I’ve watched it three times, so far).

It’s going to take some work to process Duarte’s work as much as I need to. So, I’m going to write a series of several posts. I’ll sprinkle in some comparisons with Stanley and Jones’ work because I believe there are a lot of similarities. Stanley’s approach is much simpler and has been very important for me, but Duarte’s work has the potential to take communication to a whole new level.

One of the basic points Duarte makes is that the purpose of presentations is change (which certainly fits well with Stanley and Jones’ Communicating for a Change).

Communicating for change is not easy. Duarte writes …

Great presenters transform audiences. Truly great communicators make is look easy as they lure audiences to adopt their ideas and take action. This isn’t something that just happens automatically; it comes at the price of long and thoughtful hours spent constructing messages that resonate deeply and elicit empathy. (2)

Presentations are about change. … Organizations go through a life cycle of starting up, growing, maturing, and eventually declining—that is, unless they reinvent themselves. … If an organization doesn’t take a new path, it will eventually wither. (6)

This is certainly true for churches. That’s why the church I serve is going through the Matthew 28 Initiative, which is a strategy to help churches reinvent themselves and begin a new cycle of growth.

One of the reasons communicating for change is hard is because of the fear and sense of loss it highlights. Duarte suggests …

Keep in mind that a presentation is designed to transform the audience from one location to another. They will feel a sense of loss as they move away from their familiar world and closer to your perspective. You are persuading the audience to let go of old beliefs or habits and adopt new ones. (76)

People have an innate sense of fear when embarking on a journey with an unknown outcome. This element is what makes change so frightening.

Change involves the addition of the new and the abandonment of the old. …

Be cognizant of the sacrifice the audience will make when you ask them to do something, because you’re asking them to give up something a small—but still irretrievable—slice of their lives. (84)

Good advice. With change, including positive change, there is always loss.

Duarte’s closing chapter is called “Changing Your World.” Duarte reminds communicators of the importance of communicating their message …

Ideas are not really alive if they are confined to only one person’s mind. Your idea becomes alive when it is adopted by another person, then another, and another, until it reaches a tipping point and eventually obtains a groundswell of support. (194)

Well, there’s lots more to process. For now, it’s a good reminder that communicators, and preachers in particular, must be change agents, always communicating for change!

Look for the Shining Eyes!

I often think about the prophet Jeremiah’s call. In part, God tells Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1.8, NKJV). That was a meaningful reminder for me when I started out. Transformational leadership and communication is not for the faint of heart!

Communicators can’t help but notice people’s facial expressions (as long as you’re not buried in your notes). I try to have good eye contact with as many people as possible. I heard recently that there are three types of people: Engaged, Unengaged, and Actively Unengaged. I generally know who’s engaged and who isn’t, as well as those who are actively unengaged (some are more obvious than others!).

Several years ago, there was a great video making it rounds at pastors’ gatherings in our conference. The video was a presentation based on a book by Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband, Benjamin Zander, a symphony conductor, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life (see Ben’s more recent, free 18-minute TED Talk on music and passion).

A few months ago, I remembered one of the lessons from the video: Look for the shining eyes.

“Shining eyes” is a metaphor for listeners who are engaged in the presentation.

Pastor Mike Slaughter talks about going to Ginghamsburg (a plateaued, declining church, at the time) and looking for the people who were engaged. He transformed the church by equipping them and putting them in leadership positions.

When I prepare to communicate, and even while I’m communicating, I tend to think about those who are engaged and those who are (actively) unengaged. While I certainly want to convince those who are unengaged (more on that when I blog about Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate), I especially want to focus on teaching, leading, challenging, and encouraging those who are engaged, those who have shining eyes!

5 Years of One-Point Preaching

It’s been five years since I read Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. Stanley and Jones propose a model for preaching one-point sermons. I embraced the approach immediately. I preached my first one-point sermon right after I started reading the book (I had completed the first two chapters, as I recall). In 2007, I wrote a post about the book, One-Point Preaching (the most visited post on this site).

Over the years, I have read the book a couple more times. Each time helps me to process something that I hadn’t before, or remember something that I had forgotten. My goal has always been to start with the approach laid out in the book and modify it over time as I learn and develop.

The heart of Stanley’s approach is the ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE map (or outline).

The ME part is a growing edge for me (although, Stanley points out in the book that speaking to the same group of people week after week lessens the need of including the ME section all the time). But the goal is to establish common ground.

I generally think of the opening ME-WE as the opening or introduction. In my outline, I think of it as the problem or puzzle.

My biggest weakness is the closing WE. I don’t often finish the sermon with this vision casting section (although I probably do this to some degree at the end of the service with the dismissal with blessing). I offer application in the YOU section, then wrap up with prayer. I need to improve my use of the closing WE.

Late last year, I started veering from this approach a little. I still tried to convey a main point, but I didn’t always craft a sticky statement. I believe there’s always a better way, so I may have been trying to shake things up, maybe I was trying to modify the approach. Whatever the case, up until a few weeks ago, I felt like I had been drifting for several months.

Preaching is hard work because of having to create something out of nothing … every week. And with the one-point preaching approach, that includes creating memorable sticky statements!

Reflecting on my sticky statements, some turn out better than others. I re-read some and wonder what I was thinking, while others have stuck with me to this day. The point is to capsulize the message in a way that’s memorable without sounding trite (Stanley says it’s better to be clear than clever).

The two biggest results of this approach for me have been 1) preaching with minimal notes, and 2) an increase in creativity. Greater focus leads to increased creativity. And building everything around one point, following a basic map, allows me to use minimal (if any) notes.

Well, I am excited about continuing to grow as a communicator (see Developing the Preaching Gift). One of the things that has helped me get back on track and start enjoying preaching again (as well as reaffirming my commitment to one-point preaching, ironically) is work by Nancy Duarte.

A few months ago, I watched a video of Duarte’s 18-minute TED talk. I bought her book, Resonate, and am currently reading/processing it.

Duarte’s work is fascinating. I see a lot of similarities between what she presents and what Stanley and Jones present in Communicating for a Change. So, watch for posts in the coming weeks, reviewing Duarte’s book and comparing it with Stanley’s approach.

(Edited to add: I wrote several posts on Duarte’s book, Resonate. The final post, Bringing It All Together, includes links to all of the previous ones.)

“Secrets of Dynamic Communication”

A couple of months ago, I listed some resources by Christian comedian and communicator, Ken Davis, in my post, Developing the Preaching Gift. Davis wrote Secrets of Dynamic Communication. He also offers CD and DVD sets from his 4-day Dynamic Communicators Workshops (DCW).

Davis has developed a process he calls S.C.O.R.R.E. (Subject, Central Theme, Objective, Rationale, Resources, Evaluation). It’s a process to help communicators focus their message so that it will be more effective.

I appreciate the fact that Davis says if you already have an approach that helps you be focused, stick with it. So, rather than trying to describe Davis’ process (that would take too much space), I thought I would make some observations on this process in light of Andy Stanley’s one-point preaching approach, which I’ve been using for several years now.

What I like about Davis’ approach is that it stresses the importance of focus. Davis calls focus “the most important ingredient,” arguing that “if you want people to listen, learn, and take action, you must speak with crystal-clear focus” (11). Davis adds, “To make it as clear and powerful as possible it is necessary to leave out perfectly good material if it doesn’t contribute to the objective (19).”

Having a clear sense of focus is a core part of one-point preaching, as well. The heart of Stanley’s approach is narrowing focus, picking a single point, and building everything around that one point.

Stanley writes …

You’ve got to narrow the focus of your message to one point. Then everything else in the message supports, illustrates, and helps make it memorable (41).

I’m still processing Davis’ approach, but I’m struggling with his insistence on a multiple-point rationale. In writing an objective, Davis insists on the use of a plural key word. From this plural key word come the main points of the message. So while there’s a big idea, there are multiple points.

One way to adapt this process is to think of it in terms of a sermon series (Stanley addresses this in Communicating for a Change), then do a message on each of the main points.

Other than that, the process is great for helping communicators bring focus to their talks. In addition to the S.C.O.R.R.E. process, Davis also offers some helpful advice on public speaking. He addresses preparation and time management, engaging the audience, the use of humor, and body language.

The book closes with a reminder that effective communication isn’t just about technique. Davis lists some important points to remember …

  • The effective communicator delivers a focused and organized message.
  • The effective communicator models the message.
  • The effective communicator speaks with passion.
  • The effective communicator cares about the audience.
  • The effective communicator touches the emotions of the audience.
  • The effective communicator touches the lives of the audience.

A few weeks ago, Michael Hyatt blogged about his experience at DCW. His reflections are worth checking out, if you’d like to learn more about becoming a more effective communicator.

The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation

This is an update of a post called 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation that I wrote over a year ago. The 4 Ss are simpler and more streamlined (all start with the same letter).

This is how I’m thinking about my sermon prep …

I begin sermon prep simply reading—and soaking in—the Scriptures. I like to print my sermon text in multiple translations (from biblegateway.com). I highlight key words and phrases as I read through the text. I also write down ideas that come to mind. My goal is to spend quality time in the text before I go to the reference works.

Ideally, I try to read through various reference works in one day, if possible. After soaking in the text, I am able to process the information during this stage more quickly.

I start out with study Bibles, such as the Life Application Study Bible, Archeological Study Bible, and The Life with God Bible study Bibles. I try to refer to a couple of different commentaries as well as The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible for a good creative, overview/summary. I like to do as much as I can online (see my post on Online Bible Study Tools; one of my favorites is the extensive translation notes at NET Bible).

After soaking in the text and spending time in the study resources, it’s time to shape the sermon. This part of the process involves picking a point and then building everything around it. I use the map presented by Andy Stanley in Communicating for a Change—ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE (see my post, One Point Preaching).

The one stage I probably need the most work on is this one. I’m usually shaping the message up until the time of delivery. I would like to have it pretty well shaped a couple/few days ahead of time so that I could let the sermon simmer for a while.

Well, in a perfect world, this is what I try to do. The challenge, of course, is that Sunday comes every seven days, which leaves little room for getting too far behind!

The Preacher’s Burden

Recently, I wrote Developing the Preaching Gift where I listed five steps I am taking to grow as a communicator. One of the steps is to (periodically) review Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (for more on this book, see my post, One-Point Preaching).

I am in the process of reviewing the book now. At one point, Andy Stanley shares his dad’s perspective on preaching. Charles Stanley says …

You’ve got to have a burden. That’s the thing most preachers are missing. A burden. If they don’t have a burden it’s just a bunch of fluff. (113)

Andy says “you can tell when a communicator is carrying a burden versus when he (or she) is simply dispensing information” (113).

Andy notes that the key to finding your burden is by answering the questions, “What is the one thing I must communicate? What is it that people have to know?” (114).

The benefit of having a burden is that it “brings passion to preaching. It transforms lifeless theology into compelling truth” (114).

I’ve preached sermons where it felt like I had a burden. I’ve also preached sermons where it felt like all I was doing was dispensing information. I much prefer preaching with the preacher’s burden!

Developing the Preaching Gift

No matter what our gifts are, we should constantly work on developing them. That certainly includes those of us called to the work forming and equipping followers of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of God’s Word.

Unfortunately, too many people believe the old adage, “practice makes perfect.” I once heard John Maxwell say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent.” The reality is, you only improve if you are intentional about it, doing what you need to do in order to grow.

Recently, I’ve been feeling a discontent with my preaching (hopefully, a holy discontent). I will flesh this out in future posts.

In 2006, I read Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, and then immediately switched from preaching multiple-point messages to one-point messages (even before I finished the book). That was the biggest transition I’ve ever made in ministry. My post on One-Point Preaching is the most visited post on this blog (it usually gets two to three times as much traffic as the second most popular post in any given month).

But with any approach it’s possible to get in a rut. Every so often, you have to shake things up (I often say, there’s always a better way). I’m not looking to change my approach from one-point preaching, but I am looking for ways to develop the approach and to develop the preaching gift in order to become a more effective communicator of God’s Word.

Here are five steps I’m taking to develop the preaching gift …

Improve sermon preparation. Mainly, I would like to get to the point where I am working on sermons for more than one week. This will mean juggling multiple sermons in varying stages of development (I’m not really sure how well I will be able to do this). I’m also working on revising 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation, which I hope to post in the next few days.

Listen to effective communicators. When I may listen to sermon podcasts, I listen to Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Ed Young, Mike Slaughter, Adam Hamilton, or Erwin McManus.

Listen to my own sermons. Actually, I don’t do this very much, but I know it’s something that all communicators ought to do. But I don’t really want to!

Review Communicating for a Change and improve my understanding and use of one-point preaching. Reviewing the book will also help me as I try to incorporate what I’m learning from other resources and approaches.

Learn from helpful resources on preaching/communication—books (some of which have been on my reading pile for a while) and audio/video material, including …

I just finished Davis’ Secrets of Dynamic Communication. I plan to post some takeaways as well as how it might fit into Stanley’s one-point preaching approach.

The next resource I’m looking forward to getting into is also the one that I learned about most recently—Duarte’s Resonate. I have extremely high hopes for this book. I think it will have huge implications for my preaching. I also think it will tie in nicely with the one-point preaching approach.

Well, these are some steps I’m taking to improve my preaching. What are you doing to develop the preaching gift?