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Sermons are Seen

10 December 2007

Quite a few years ago, 10BiggestMistakesFloyd Bresee in Ministry magazine listed out five good ways to improve pulpit body language:

1. Beware of mannerisms

Chances are you unconsciously making many meaningless movements in the pulpit. You may move your Bible or notes, adjust your clothing, put your hands in and out of your pockets or fidget with your glasses. These mannerisms are probably unconscious, yet they are extremely distracting to listeners. Ask someone you trust (like a spouse) to pick these up and share them with you. But if you do, care enough to listen & adjust!

cph: Loretta is an excellent help to me in this. I am not always as good as I need to be in following her critiques, but they are always fair & balanced.

2. Improve gestures in daily conversation

Watch how people express themselves as naturally through body movements as through words. Pretentiousness turns listeners off.

3. Be sure your body and mouth agree.

Body movement that says nothing can be very distracting to listeners. Logically, the time to move from one place to another is when your sermon makes a transition from one direction to another.

cph: Again, Loretta reminds me regularly that I need to SMILE more. (See my October 30 post on this). But it IS essential that my body and my mouth agree. She will point out that sometimes when welcoming someone into the congregation I am sour faced & look like I am not happy to have them. Whoops….

4. Keep you eye on your target.

Your eyes should focus on the people, not on the ceiling, or the back wall, or your notes. If your congregation cannot see your eyes and the expression on your face, they may miss half the sermon.

Quintilian says: “The face is the dominant power of expression. With this we supplicate; with this we threaten; with this we soothe; with this we mourn; with this we rejoice; with this we triumph; with this we make our submissions; upon this the audience hang; upon this they keep their eyes fixed; this they examine and study even before a word is spoken.”

5. See it, feel it, and forget it.

  • See it-see pictures in your mind as your prepare the sermon & you’ll naturally use gestures to describe what you see. Imagine yourself saying it from the pulpit.
  • Feel it-Gestures improve not from practice, but from feeling more. Generally the more you rely on notes the more difficult it is to use gestures well. Following notes makes it difficult to feel your sermon as you preach.
  • Forget it-A focus on gestures while we are preaching will make them seem unnatural and ridiculous. Once you are in the pulpit, focus on your subject, your audience and what you want your subject to do for your audience. Then feelings & gestures should come naturally.

(Others, not in Bresee):

6. The feet. The standing position should be easy, the feet at an angle of forty-five degrees, one foot in advance of the other, the width of the base depending upon the height of the speaker. The knees should be straight, shoulders even and chin level. Avoid rising on the toes and too frequent change of foot position. The most graceful effect is secured when the left foot is forward and the gesture made with the right hand, or vice versa. This combination gives balance, though it is not always possible to use it. The change of foot position will not be so noticeable if done in the act of making a gesture.

7. The hands are the most important tool you have to make a gesture in public speaking. Making a gesture with your arms will add a visual representation for your audience hence making it more interesting. All your hand gestures must be deliberate and slow enough for the audience to know what you are gesturing. Movements may be slow and gentle, slow and intense, swift and light, or swift and strong. The size, length, and velocity of a gesture depend upon the what you need to emphasize on.

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