12 Things TEDx Speakers Do That Preachers Don’t

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Ever seen a TEDx talk? They’re pretty great. Here’s one I happen to enjoy, and have used in a couple of sermons.

I’ve wondered for a long time, “How in the world do each of these talks end up consistently blowing me away?”

So I did some research and found the TEDx-talk guidelines for speakers. Some of the advice was basic—but some of it was unexpected. Much of it, I think, is a welcome wake up call to preachers who are communicating in a 21st-century, postmodern, post-Christian context. Obviously, some of this doesn’t fit with a preacher’s ethos—but much of it does.

That said, here are 12 things TEDx speakers do that preachers usually don’t:

1. Present one great idea.

“An idea isn’t just a story or a list of facts. A good idea takes evidence or observations and draws a larger conclusion.”

Of course, TEDx talkers often have multiple points, but they always have direction: They’re always moving forward to a set conclusion (and that’s all big-idea preaching is, for all the flack it gets).

They also suggest to the speaker: “Get your idea out as quickly as possible.”

2. Set a time limit.

“Shorter talks are not lesser talks. It may only take five minutes to make your point unforgettably.”

Ouch—yes, I often speak too long. Like Pascal in his letter, most of us preach long sermons because we don’t have time to prepare short ones—certainly not 20 minutes—but we could all stand to lose a few. 

Here’s how they approach this: “Make a list of all the evidence you want to use. Think about items that your audience already knows about and the things you’ll need to convince them of. Order all of the items in your list based on what a person needs to know before they can understand the next point, and from least to most exciting. Now cut out everything you can without losing the integrity of your argument. You will most likely need to cut things out you think are important.”

3. Collaborate.

On the above suggestion: “Consider making this list with a trusted friend, someone who isn’t an expert in your field.”

During rehearsal stage, the guide recommends “listening to criticism.” Calvin made it a rule for pastors in his region to collaborate on their texts before preaching.

Personally, I wish we didn’t see the preparation of a sermon as a lone-ranger event: Why not ask the perspectives of people who represent those who will be listening to this thing, believers and nonbelievers alike?

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Nicholas McDonald
Nicholas McDonald is husband to lovely Brenna, father to Owen and Caleb, M.Div student at Gordon Conwell Theological seminary and youth/assistant teaching pastor at Carlisle Congregational Church. He graduated with his Bachelors in Communication from Olivet Nazarene University, studied literature and creative writing at Oxford University, and has spoken internationally at camps, youth retreats, graduations, etc. He blogs about writing, preaching and the arts at www.Scribblepreach.com, which has been featured on The Gospel Coalition, Knowlovelive.org and Challies.com. He currently resides in South Hamilton, MA.

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