How to Teach With Visuals

How to Teach with Visuals

I confess, I have become a bit of a prop guy when teaching or preaching. In fact, if you count pictures on a projector as a prop, I’d say there’s close to a 95 percent chance that there will be a prop somewhere in my teaching. If you fly me in to teach, I’ll probably bring my own props as well as ask you to pick some up whatever I could not carry or was too bulky to bring.

Last weekend I gave five different talks at a middle school winter camp over a span of three and a half days and had a prop of some kind in each talk. In fact, on the fifth and final talk, I decided to ditch my planned “new message” and simply do a response to the previous four messages. Since I had used so many visuals and teaching props in my previous messages, all I had to do was hold up the prop and ask, “What was this all about?” This lead to a remarkable response where all over the room of over 500 middle school students, hands were shooting up to tell me what the answer was. They could literally tell me almost word-for-word my stories, illustrations, scripture that I used and even the “so what” point. I really think without the visuals, this would have been all but impossible.
Simply put, using props and visuals always helps make the illustration or story I’m telling more memorable. It really helps those who are visual learners and rarely hinders those who aren’t. It is a no-brainer win if you ask me.
As an example, one illustration I used this past weekend was one with chocolate milk that I learned in college. It’s so easy to use and so powerful. Here’s how it works:
  1. Take a regular milk and pour it into a clear glass. Tell them this is their life. (If your crowd is big, feel free to use a vase or other large cylinder that can be seen from farther away.)
  2. Then take Hershey’s chocolate syrup and pour it in. Tell them the syrup represents Jesus. (You can have fun with Jesus being brown skinned or sweet tasting or just full of goodness if you want.) But the point I make is this: A lot of people claim to have Jesus in their life…and they might not even be wrong.
  3. Then point out the pile of chocolate syrup in the bottom and draw the analogy that the problem isn’t that they have no Jesus in them, it’s that you have to look in the right place to see or taste Him.
  4. I show them that if I cover up the chocolate syrup pile that forms in the bottom of the glass, then no one can tell if there’s chocolate in it or not. The same is true of a lot of “Christians.” They don’t look or taste like they have Jesus in them in about 95 percent of the environments they’re in.
  5. So I then tell them that if we want to have God in every piece of our lives, then we each have to stir up some stuff and at which point I use a spoon to stir up the chocolate.

This is a perfect illustration of the filling of the Holy Spirit and never ceases to prove powerful every time I use it. But without the visuals, it’s so much less impactful. I could explain it, but seeing it live is 100x better. It just is.

So…if you want to up your influence in your communication, and especially if you work with teens…let me encourage you to start using props. To that end, here’s a series of questions that might be worth processing as you prepare for your next teaching:
1. Is there a way that I can enhance this story with a visual? For example, if I’m going to tell a basketball illustration, would it be good to have a basketball in my hand?
2. If I don’t have a physical object to represent or use, can I get a picture instead?
3. Can I use a brief video to make the point?
4. Can I give one object in my lesson to everyone? Can a visual move my audience from observing to doing something? If so, what should I tell them to do with it or how can we use it in this talk?
5. Can I use one visual in various ways throughout my talk instead of just one time for one point?
6. Can I use a drawing board, white board or flip chart to enhance this talk?
7. Is my visual a distraction or a help? Should this visual be used to spark curiosity throughout my talk or should I reveal it from behind a curtain or box later in the message?
This article originally appeared here.
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Brian Berry
Brian is a 17 year veteran of student ministry and is currently serving as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, CA. As the generations pastor he is hands on in high school and oversees a staff that responsible for birth through twenty-somethings. He also blogs about his life and learnings, writes here and there including a column for group magazine, teaches youth ministry seminars, and speaks at various camps and retreats. He is married to his wife Shannon and together they have 5 kids.