[This is the third post in our Public Speaking in the Church Series]
Every talk, whether it’s a Bible study, a presentation, or a sermon, should have one key message, one ‘big idea’. We discussed this in the previous post, but the question is:
How do you find this big idea?
It starts with digging deep into the content of your talk. You always want to have twice to three times as much ‘info’ as you actually need. This will not only help you feel prepared—thus inspiring yourself with confidence—but it will also help you in realizing what matters most.
Whenever I am prepping a talk of some kind, I ask myself these three questions to help me find my key thought:
What do I want them to know?
What do I want them to feel?
What do I want them to do?
Out of everything you have prepared, all the information you have gathered, what matters most? What’s the most crucial piece of information (‘know’), emotion (‘feel’) or action step (‘do’)?
Let me give an example. Recently, I did a talk for a after school middle school club. Most of the students are un-churched, so it’s a challenging environment. The topic was on the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus and how even though people had known these passages, they still had a completely different expectation of who Jesus was or should be.
We read several passages from Genesis, 2 Samuel, and Isaiah. We talked about Judah, the Davidic throne, and Galilee. Yet I did not expect them to remember all this. My key point was this: Jesus birth was prophesied hundreds of years before He was actually born (= know). I wanted them to be in awe of this and to get curious about Jesus (= feel). And my goal was to get them to show up next week to learn more (= do).
Now, you won’t always have all three in one talk. Sometimes, you focus on just the feeling or the doing and less on the knowing—or the other way around. That’s fine, as long as you have a crystal clear goal you want to reach: your big idea.
The Big Idea
It helps to formulate this key message into one short sentence that’s easy to remember. Jesus’ birth was prophesied hundreds of years before He was actually born. One sentence. And yes, I did explain what a ‘prophesy’ was to these students 🙂 (using movie and book references by the way, thus speaking their cultural language).
If you can’t boil down your message or presentation to one sentence yet, you’re not done. You’ll need to start digging and shaping until you find it.
When we talk about sermons specifically, there’s a word of caution. Depending on the length of your passage, it’s possible to distill more than one key message from your Bible verses. Theologians have heated debates about this, whether or not a passage has one key message. A verse is relatively simple (when analyzed within the context) but with longer passages, it’s a lot harder. What helps is to read commentaries to see what others have discovered in terms of key meanings, interpretations, and applications.
This big idea is the center point of your message. It’s what you focus on. Everything and anything that does not contribute to this key message has to go, no matter how fascinating it is.
And let’s not kid ourselves: that’s hard. When you love digging into God’s Word and you find these beautiful nuggets of wisdom, like word studies, or cultural aspects, or foreshadowing to something else, it’s hard not to include them. But if it doesn’t center around your key message, it has to go. It will only distract and thus confuse people as to why you’re including it.
Let me make this clear with another movie example. If in the beginning of a movie, you see a woman leave her house and leave her cell phone on the kitchen counter by mistake and the camera zooms in on this cellphone, you know it’s gonna come up at some point. You know that later on, there will be a situation where the fact that she forgot her phone turns out to be crucial, right? If that doesn’t happen, if that phone turns out to be inconsequential, you feel cheated somehow.
It’s the same with talks. You need to manage expectations. If you highlight something, your listeners expect it to matter. If it doesn’t, if it was just filling, they’ll be not only confused, but sometimes even disappointed or upset—even if its; unconscious.