Bitesize Messages: Nailing the one point.

One of the pivotal rules to communicating any type of message clearly is the ability to reduce it down to a single motif.

I should come away from your sales pitch, event flyer, email, Sunday sermon, or training seminar able to distill it into a simple sentence and then recognisably say it back to you. If I can’t, then something was probably missing from your preparation or design.

The one-liner is to a message as blood is to the body, without it nothing else works. In an essay, every paragraph should in some way serve the thesis. If it doesn’t then you’ve wasted words and lost the reader. My wife is an editor, and awesome at it! She talks about leading the reader by the hand and pointing things out along the way. She makes sure nothing is missed and that everything serves the whole. This is true in any communication that you want to be clearly understood by a varied audience.

The point of a one-liner isn’t to simplify your message to the spoon-feeding level, and it’s not supposed to remove complex ideas or deep explanations from your messages either. The reason you want a clear one-liner is the same reason an academic essay needs a thesis, or a research paper a hypothesis. A message needs to translate throughout with clear transitional flow between all the auxiliary pieces so that it will deliver a working application to a varied audience. Basically, to the best of your ability, you need to be sure that we got what you wanted us to!

Arguably, if you can’t tell me what your message is about in one sentence, then you just haven’t got your message yet. Once you have your one-liner – that’s the motif you want everyone in the room to come away with – then your message (however funny and confidently delivered) will be fractured, disjointed and ultimately ineffective. If you can’t clearly point to your one-liner, then your audience will tend to take away only one point anyway, and without a clear lead from a purposely defined message, it might not be the one you wanted!

The 3 Point Sermon Myth.

I started public speaking when I was about 14 years old, and man was I bad at it. I would just plagiarise everything I’d ever heard from real speakers and thread it all together randomly. I fell quickly into the ‘three-point-sermon’ trap, making sure I always had an ‘abc’, ‘123’ or ‘3 Cs’ structure for each message.

The classic three-point sermon, however, doesn’t really exist; or at least, not like you’d think. There are actually 3 types of three-point sermon, and I believe that only one of them is effective:

1. The 3-but-really-5 point sermon.
This is where the speaker throws in three points, but also an absurdly long introduction and conclusion which, rather than setting up the points, adds to the body with new points. We end up with a huge, misweighted, grab bag of facts, stories, applications and ideas in the hope that one or two might stick.

2. The literally 3 point sermon.
Here, there really are three points; completely different points with little if anything to connect or consolidate them. Time being a factor, each point is represented only one way, so are usually only grasped by a few people in the room that connected with that particular teaching style or story.

3. The 1-point-3-ways sermon.
This is the one that I think works! Coming at one idea from three perspectives broadens your teaching scope meaning almost everyone will leave with the same key teaching understood in their own way. This respects the variety of the room, allows ideas to percolate and cement, and moves the whole congregation on together.

Find your message!

If we as youth workers can work on making all of our communication revolve around single clear ideas, and make sure everything else supports them, we will be so much more effective and memorable! This is true for talks, studies, posters, websites, letters to parents and evangelism too. If we don’t do this, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are misunderstood or taken out of context.

For an interesting thought experiment, think about these questions:

  • What one-liner would the young people you know associate with your teaching?
  • What one-liner would the young people you know associate with your teaching?What one-liner do you try to make the clearest when talking to non-Christians?
  • What one-liner do you try to make the clearest when talking to non-Christians?What one-liner would young people use to describe you?
  • What one-liner would young people use to describe you?What one-liner would young people use to describe the God you represent?
  • What one-liner would young people use to describe the God you represent?Looking back at your last three talks, what was the one-liner you wanted to get across? Did you have one?
  • Looking back at your last three talks, what was the one-liner you wanted to get across? Did you have one?Asking young people and leaders (who were present at those talks), ask them to write down what they thought your one-liner was.
  • Asking young people and leaders (who were present at those talks), ask them to write down what they thought your one-liner was.Look back over your last bulk communications (letters/emails/blogs), and ask a few of the recipients to email you back a one-line summary of what they felt the most important thing you were trying to communicate was.
  • Look back over your last bulk communications (letters/emails/blogs), and ask a few of the recipients to email you back a one-line summary of what they felt the most important thing you were trying to communicate was.
  • Show a bunch of people in your target audience your last few flyers; ask them to tell you in one-line what the key piece of information was.