William Willimon in his book, A Guide to Preaching and Leading Worship notes:
"It takes two to preach: someone to speak and someone to hear. The aim of preaching is to enable better listening to the gospel. The test for preaching is never how eloquently we are speaking but how well people are listening. Good speakers are always good listeners and keen observers. So, in a sense, the first way to improve our preaching is to improve our listening …
"Don’t picture yourself before an appreciative audience of accepting and passive listeners. Sit where they sit. Think less about what you are saying in the speech and more about what they are saying to themselves as they listen. Where will they be bored, angered, uninterested, confused? Assume they do not really want to be there listening to you. Reach out to them, grab them, convince them they really want to hear what you are saying."
If they’re not hearing, you’re not communicating.
When I was in college (studying with Plato under Aristotle) I got into a couple of harsh grade-changing arguments with instructors.
One was over the question, "If the student hasn’t learned, has the teacher taught?" One professor, (the department head) who was incredibly opaque and "always right" insisted that such was not the case. The teacher may teach, whether or not the student has learned. She used as an example Jesus:
Premise 1: Jesus was the perfect teacher
Premise 2: The scribes & Pharisees didn’t "get" his teaching
Conclusion: Therefore, a teacher can teach even though the teacher’s students haven’t learned.
(I know it is not in perfect logic form. I lay it out this way for illustration purposes)
I disagreed (and still do). I believed that her second premise was wrong: I hold that the scribes and Pharisees DID in fact "get" Jesus’ teaching. They knew he was claiming to be God in the flesh. They KNEW that this would affect their standing. Therefore, they killed him. They killed him in part because THEY DID UNDERSTAND what Jesus was saying.
I held then (never convinced her, however) that one cannot teach unless the student learns. That lays some of the burden on the instructor to adjust to how students learn. I understand that in a college environment there are other constraints and it is the students, not the professors who get the grades, but that does not totally let the instructor off of the hook. If an entire class fails a class, one may fairly question whether or not the instructor taught.
Too much preaching is along those lines. "I will preach and it is the Holy Spirit and the listener’s job to pick up what I am saying." Not discounting the work of the Holy Spirit, we do not need to make the Spirit’s work harder than necessary.
As Willamon says:
Think less about what you are saying in the speech and more about what they are saying to themselves as they listen.