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National Preaching Conference: Haddon Robinson | Student Live Blog

September 06, 2012

Session 2 speaker: Haddon Robinson--"Seven Dangerous Assumptions Preachers Make About Their Listeners"

The most important person in the room as a speaker is the audience. The audience is the most important, a subtle fact. In the operating room the most important person is the patient. We make many assumptions that get in the way of our communication, here are seven specific assumptions that are common:

1) If someone is looking at you it means they are listening. A good communicator learns to read the audience. When the audience is no longer interested, move (a moving speaker is more interesting and helps to get the audience engaged).

2) When you start speaking, the audience starts listening. Distraction carries over. Sometimes we need to work to get them to listen. A good speaker realizes he has a few seconds to hook the listener. TV shows go after your attention in the first 20 seconds. You have to make your beginning seconds count in the introduction, grab their attention. Start with an interesting statement and work to their need, surface their need. Do it with a story and you have really won. The first minutes of the message are essential. You are not only introducing your message, but yourself. You have to win them to get them to listen.

3) If I present the material well, people will remember what's most important. Is it your purpose to get them to remember? No. When we say that the sermon is an embodiment of a single idea, that's not being clever, but looks at the reality of what people actually remember. A good sermon is the embodiment of a single idea. It answers the question: what am I talking about today and what am I saying about it. There's a rule of primacy for the first and last thing you say, they are more likely to remember these statements.

4) Listeners stop listening when you finish talking. It sounds logical, but it's not reality. People stop listening any time they feel like stopping. People can think five times faster than the preacher can speak. Good transitions are key, it tells people where you have been, where you are now, and anticipates the future, it reviews, states and previews. Work on transitions, they are tough to work on because they seem boring, but do it. Also use as much variety as you can, keep your message clear.

5) If you speak accurately, the audience will be able to trace your message clearly. Everything you say that is important must be said at least three times. It takes restatement for the mind to get it, we have to help people. It seems tedious but it isn't if what you state is important. You can feel like your nagging the audience, but as a listener you welcome it! Handouts and overheads help memory too.

6) Listeners will process information in the same way I do. When writing have a few people in your mind, specific different people from your congregation and act as if they are there when you are writing. It is easier to imagine someone younger than you than someone in an older life stage than you, but it's good to think of all ages as you are preparing your sermon. You owe your congregation to think as they think.

7) If you explain things clearly people will know what to do with it now that you have taught them. They may or they may not. Good conclusions are specific and deal with the how and why. How do I put it into practice? We need to address this clearly and specifically. People have a hard time applying generalities, easier with a specific step. People need to know the preacher is taking it seriously enough to invite them to do something.


JT Holderman is pursuing a Th.M. in Homiletics here at Gordon-Conwell. He earned his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012. JT is currently in the ordination process of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with hopes of taking a call as a pastor in the coming year. His journey to Gordon-Conwell began when he sensed a deeper need for clear Biblical teaching in preaching to prepare him for ministry. He hails from Seattle, WA by way of Idaho and New Jersey. JT blogs at Praise and is an avid Mountain Biker and Bodyboarder.


Tags: National Preaching Conference 2012 , student blogger

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Thanks for the write-up! A question about: "You have to win them to get them to listen" in #2 above. I'm taking Gary Parrett's Semlink version of Educational Ministry of the Church. He makes the point that it's good to start with people as they are, but not necessarily leave them there. I think he'd call for training the congregation so that you don't *have* to win them to get them to listen. It may sound idealistic, but we can ask, isn't the Gospel itself "winning" enough? I've preached enough sermons to know that some people don't think it is, so Robinson's points are well taken. But what of the role of the preacher in helping to shape *how* the people listen to and engage sermons, and God's Word proclaimed, whether preceded by an attention-getting introduction or not?
Abram K-J 9:22AM 09/13/12

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