Some preachers are able to use PowerPoint tools effectively to help illustrate points and provide a clear organization to sermon points and how they are connected. It can especially be helpful to parents of young children who may have attention taken away periodically during the lesson to keep the thoughts connected.
However, when PowerPoint is used ineffectively it can distract from the message, frustrate the audience, and confuse instead of clarify. Here are five things that preachers need to know to use PowerPoint more effectively.
- Don’t copy your outline to your slides. Few things are more frustrating than a sermon read-along. I’ve seen some preachers who will preach word for word from their “eye chart” PowerPoints. PowerPoint should not be a teleprompter or shared outline. It is a tool to help convey your message. The practice among professional presenters is no more than four bullet points of five words each (4×5 rule though some teach a 6×6 format). Simplicity is the key. PowerPoint is for main points not every point or every word. What is the takeaway? What is the key?
- Pull out quote highlights or use multiple slides per quote. Another challenge to reading is projecting a lengthy Bible or supporting quote. This is often very helpful but it can, like the OutlinePoint, be an eye chart. It is better to read the quote for context and put the smaller focus of the quote on display. If you feel that the complete quote should be displayed, consider breaking up the quote across slides so you have smaller sections in larger, more readable type. An easy way to do this is to copy the entire quote on one slide, clean it up, then duplicate the slide (Ctrl-D) multiple times. Edit each of the slides to show its part of the quote.
- Ctrl-Enter is the friend you didn’t know you had. I don’t know the Mac equivalent, but in Microsoft Office, holding the control key while hitting the enter key will add a soft return, that is, it shifts down to the next line without creating a new paragraph or bullet point. Using Ctrl-enter will allow you to clean up orphans (words that are alone on a line) by sending another word or two down to provide balance. It is also helpful when you want to balance the words in a multi-line title or subtitle.
- A slidedeck is not a handout. I know it is easy to dump the outline onto PowerPoint with the justification that you can give it as a handout but they are two separate presentation methods to accomplish different things. Better to handout a copy of your outline and use PowerPoint for communication assistance. Better yet, develop a handout for special lessons that have additional information that you cannot address in the sermon or links to other information. Failure to do this means your PowerPoint doesn’t have sufficient information to provide as a meaningful reference later, is not optimized for presentation during the lesson, or will be so long that you will have to kill a small forest to print it.
- One point per slide. PowerPoint doesn’t charge you by the slide. It doesn’t cost anything to create a new slide for a new point. You can even duplicate slides to match format styles to ease slide production. New slides signal a transition in thought as you progress through the sermon. Obviously, you may have a summary slide that brings together main points, but it can be confusing and hard to read a slide that has the three point sermon on one slide at all times.
An additional consideration is to ask if you need a PowerPoint slide at all. Most of the time when I preach I do not use PowerPoint unless I am using graphics, maps, or pictures as part of the lesson. I have an article, To Preach With PowerPoint or Without? that discusses some of my considerations when using this aid.
Used wisely it can be very helpful. Used ineffectively, it can distract. If it is a tool that we use for teaching, we need to make sure we can use it as skillfully as a carpenter uses a hammer.