Preach Like TED


Charley Reeb says preachers should take a lesson from TED Talks — the 18-minute internet videos that have reached over a billion people worldwide. The popularity of TED Talks suggests people still hunger for powerful, authentic discussion of ideas, especially when presented in novel and memorable ways.

TED Talks are watched 1.2 billion times a year! Whenever someone tries to tell me that preaching is an outdated medium, I give them that statistic. TED Talks are not sermons, but they are public addresses; and their staggering popularity reveals that the public still hungers for people to speak passionately about an idea. If a sermon is anything, it is an inspired speech about the one who had the first idea.

If you are not familiar with TED, it is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading ideas through short, powerful “talks.” These videos saturate the internet and the topics range from science to psychology to global issues. If you are familiar with TED, I imagine you have your favorite “talks,” and you have watched them more than once!

In my preaching seminars I encourage preachers to watch TED Talks to learn how to be a better communicator. Since we have been called by God to communicate the most transforming message in history, we must continually work at honing our craft. I can’t think of a better way to do that than to learn why TED Talks are so insanely popular.

Why are TED Talks so popular?

Why have over a billion people worldwide viewed these 18-minute speeches? Communication expert Carmine Gallo believes he has cracked the code. In his book Talk Like TED, Gallo give three fundamental reasons why most TED Talks are so effective: They are “emotional, novel, and memorable.” They touch our hearts, teach us something new, and present ideas in unforgettable ways. Now think of the best sermons you have heard. I’m willing to bet they were also “emotional, novel, and memorable.” This is the great triumvirate of all public speaking. Here’s why.

1. Emotional

The only way you will persuade listeners to learn and act is if you move them emotionally. Now I know we as preachers must always be careful not to be manipulative, but let’s get real. Listeners are not motivated to do anything unless their hearts have been touched.

You must be passionate about your sermon, and that passion must come through in your delivery. You must also communicate ideas, stories, and illustrations that not only stimulate the mind but also touch the heart.

2. Novel

Obviously not every sermon is going to present a new idea. We have over 2,000 years of preaching tradition! Sometimes the best sermons are those that remind us what we already know in novel ways. I believe this is why preachers like Barbara Brown Taylor and the late Fred Craddock are so popular. Most of their sermons do not express new ideas about the gospel; they communicate familiar ideas in unique ways.

Try new sermon forms and structures. Do you always preach sermons with three points? Try preaching a sermon with only one point. Do you always communicate your main ideas at the beginning of your sermon? Try preaching inductively and reveal your main idea at the conclusion of your sermon. Do you always end with a story? Try concluding your sermon with a video or skit. What metaphors, stories, or images can you use that will make your message come alive? Read and watch other preachers noting the approach and structure of their sermon.

3. Memorable

I recognize that if you are an “every Sunday preacher” like me, it is very difficult to do something memorable every Sunday. After all, TED presenters only have one speech to give! We have to come up with a new sermon every week! We can’t do stunts every week. We will be stuck with the impossible task of trying to top ourselves with every sermon. However, doing something memorable doesn’t always mean a stunt. Try sharing a personal testimony, using a visual aid, interviewing someone, including a song in your sermon, or giving your congregation an item that will remind them of the message. Big stunts work too but use those sparingly. I once heard of a preacher who had someone playing the role of Jesus interrupt his sermon. That’s memorable, but you can’t do those kinds of stunts every week.

Get a team of creative people together and hand them a list of your upcoming sermons. Invite them to think of creative and memorable ways to present the messages. Some preachers use their worship team for this purpose. Others ask members of the congregation to participate.

This material is excerpted from Say Something: Simple Ways to Make Your Sermons Matter (Abingdon Press, 2019) by Charley Reeb. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Charley Reeb is pastor of John’s Creek United Methodist Church near Atlanta. He is the author of two books on preaching: That’ll Preach! 5 Simple Steps to Your Best Sermon Ever (Abingdon Press, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon; and Say Something: Simple Ways to Make Your Sermons Matter (Abingdon Press, 2019), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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