Tips for Preaching From a Manuscript

This post was prompted by a recent comment I received from one of the readers of this blog, who upon reading this post suggested it might be helpful to read more about the "hows" of preaching from a full manuscript, especially doing so in a way that prevents some of the hazards of doing so.

I've actually been asked by interested observers how I can preach from a full manuscript and yet retain as much freedom and spontaneity as I do in delivery. I typically answer that it's not one thing, but a combination of several.

Over the years, the manuscript format I've developed has been a huge aid to effective delivery of a sermon. I typically use 16-pt. Times New Roman, a font and size that can be read easily at a glance.

Also, as I write a sermon, I don't write in paragraphs but in phrases, making it much easier to absorb a series of phrases quickly. Thus, this paragraph would appear as something like this in my manuscript:

Also, as I write a sermon,
I don't write in paragraphs but in phrases,
making it much easier to absorb a series of phrases quickly.
Thus, this paragraph would appear
as something like this
in my manuscript.
I also use other formatting techniques: Scripture portions and quotes are blocked and indented; major points are boldface; emphasis may be indicated by italics, all caps, or by spacing.

I will also use colors to distinguish text and make the manuscript "pop" to my eyesight. For example, Scripture is always a bright blue, and green font is a visual cue to step away from the manuscript and deliver the next portion without reference to the text.

When I used printed manuscripts, I would print out the sermon on both sides of 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of white paper; this would allow me to see two full pages at a time and turn pages less frequently. Since making the switch to preaching from an iPad, of course, that practice has changed.

Finally, I make it a habit to review and practice orally from the manuscript several times in the day or two prior to speaking, often memorizing certain passages to allow for greater freedom or emphasis. I write cues to myself in the margin, and even further refine the text based on what I want to achieve verbally.

These are some of the techniques that work for me. A lot will depend on the speaker's skill level and comfort level, as well as on their speaking style. For example, I am actually liberated by the printed page; knowing where I'm going often frees me to ad lib and go "off script," knowing I can effortlessly find my place again later. Some, however, would be more inhibited from speaking extemporaneously.

I have no interest in defending my practice, nor in suggesting that anyone else ought to do things my way. I don't agree that there is one right or best way for every preacher. It depends on the person, and what works best for me may not work for anyone else. But if my practice is helpful to anyone else, I will be honored.

2 comments:

  1. How do you write margin notes on an iPad?

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  2. Good question, David. You can't. I convert the Word documents (with marginal notes) to PDFs which I then sync with my iPad. Thanks so much for helping me clear that up!

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