90 hours prep for 1 hour talking?

My summer reading this year includes a book about making effective presentations by Nancy Duarte. I started skimming it a bit this morning just to get my bearings.

Early in the book she lays out a timeline for developing a one-hour presentation that includes 30 slides.

6-20 hours: Research and collect input

1 hour: Build an audience-needs map

2 hours: Generate ideas using sticky notes

1 hour: Organize the ideas

1 hour: Have colleagues critique or collaborate about the impact ideas will have on audience

2 hours: Sketch a structure and/or story board

20-60 hours: Build the slides

3 hours: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

Total: 36-90 hours

I think I read once that Adam Hamilton spends 10-20 hours per week developing his sermons, which tend to run 30 to 40 minutes. If you take out the 20-60 hours to build PowerPoint slides from Duarte’s list, then Hamilton fits in the lower end of her time frame.

Even adjusting down for the fact that my sermons tend to run 12-17 minutes, I know that I do not cover her bases. I’m curious what thoughts and reactions other preachers have to Duarte’s ideas.

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8 thoughts on “90 hours prep for 1 hour talking?

  1. If all we had to do was preach sermons and be public speakers, this would be great. However, those of us who claim the mantel of pastor are possibly the last generalists. We are one part preacher, one part CEO, one part teacher, one part resident theologian, one part counselor, one part prayer-in-chief, one part comedian and one part grief counselor. There are probably some parts I’ve left out. While sermon and worship preparation are a part of our calling, we are called to do much more as well. So, giving 90 hours probably isn’t realistic.

    I wonder if all of Duarte’s ideas are for people who regularly present. After all, if you’ve been in the same congregation for years you probably have a pretty good idea of what their needs are. It’s unlikely that you’d need a whole hour to assess their needs every week. Also, if someone is putting a new presentation together every week, the organization is likely to start to look the same. Some time might be saved there as well. Overall, I think that if I were to put a talk/sermon together on a subject that I knew nothing about to an audience that I knew nothing about, this would be realistic. But, having a familiarity with the Christian faith and my congregation, much of this time could be shortened.

    All of that having been said, I do think I wish I had more time to spend on my sermons. I give them the time that I have, but occasionally have the feeling that I might have missed something or might have been able to make a point in a more effective way. I regularly wish that I had better illustrations and spending more time searching for them would probably yield better results.

  2. I saw something similar recently. Looks like the infographic under Lesson #1 did, indeed, come from Duarte: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/34274/7-Lessons-From-the-World-s-Most-Captivating-Presenters-SlideShare.aspx though she broke it down a bit differently there and suggested 90 hours of prep for 1 hour of presentation. So this would mean a 30-minute sermon would take 45 hours of preparation. A 15-minute sermon would require 22-1/2 hours.

    I’d say I get 15 hours of prep time in on my best weeks – though my role is a bit different than most, and I don’t preach every week. If I were committed to getting in this much prep time, it would allow me to prep a new, 30-minute sermon every three weeks. For what it’s worth, I do believe my preaching would be more crisp, more engaging, more clear, and more deep if I devoted 45 hours to every sermon. But you do that either at the sacrifice of many other duties, or at the sacrifice of preaching weekly.

    I don’t like the option of cutting out the other stuff. However, the possibility of preaching less often to allow better prep time for those sermons I do preach is intriguing. Allowing others to preach in our setting has made me realize how much our people would be missing if only I preached — things I’ve never considered. I also wonder if I could preach the same sermons in more locations. I wonder how many times Wesley and the early circuit riders preached the same sermon. Probably enough to merit a lot of time prepping and refining.

  3. I had the privilege of sitting in on the weekly worship planning meeting e at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection every Monday morning for two months while I was on a sabbatical 10 years ago. It was a revelation for me to see the amount of work Adam Hamilton puts into developing his sermons. While I was on my sabbatical, I was also reading Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Church; and I realized that Adam uses Rick’s methodology for many things including sermon preparation.

    The process begins at least 2 years in advance. The pastor solicits ideas for sermon series from church staff, leaders, and members of the congregation. Then the pastor goes on a sermon planning/prayer retreat and prays as he determines the sermon series for the next two years. (See Warren’s book for more details.) By planning so far in advance, the pastor can begin preparing by reading appropriate material and assimilating it WAY in advance.

    So, by the Monday before the sermon is scheduled to be preached, the preacher has already put in a significant amount of preparation and research. In addition, the musicians of the church have known what to expect LONG ahead of time, and can purchase and practice music that compliments the preaching.

    In the worship planning meeting, the participants review and critique the previous weekend’s services. If there were any glitches they address them, and they also intentionally focus on what really worked well. Next Adam looks ahead–sometimes months ahead. But the bulk of the Monday meeting is discussion of the chosen scripture passage. Adam invites the worship planning group to share insights, examples, and ideas. They discuss the hymns/songs and media that will be used during the next weekend.

    Generally Adam sets aside Thursday to actually write the bulk of his sermon; but by then he has put in many, many hours–even YEARS of preparation.

    It was honestly humbling to see this process up close, and when I returned to preaching after my sabbatical, I made some significant changes in my own preaching. As a small church pastor with virtually NO staff, I could still meet with the piano player on Monday each week to plan the service. I began planning sermon series a year in advance, so I had more time to prepare.

    Preaching the Gospel of Christ should be the central focus of a pastor, The pulpit is where we have the most contact with people. I wish I had learned the discipline of sermon preparation much earlier in my ministry than I did.

    Blessings on those of you who still have the privilege and responsibility of preaching God’s Word on Sunday. Take a look at Rick Warren’s book for some good advice about the process. I think Adam has written about it too, but I’m not sure where….

  4. As a life long student of John Wesley- Approach and re approach.
    Share your best messages to the multitudes and do not allow the trails dust to settle.

  5. As a school teacher who made three hours of actual presentation, five days a week, I am amazed at the lack of quality achieved by many preachers in many hours. Mostly they are too heavy on meaning a greek word, or what some long dead theologian said; irrelevant to a person wondering how to meet a life problem now. I served as supply pastor, while teaching. I spent approximately the same 2 hours in sermon preparation as I did for teaching my science or history classes. My congregation seemed very pleased with the worship services over the five years I served. At local convalescent homes I have often learned the scheduled church failed to come, and led impromptu worship services no previous prep time at all. For 16 months, when my collegues were in Iraq, I led services in a convalescent home. I rarely spent over an hour in preparation for the two 15 minute meditations I delivered. If a person cannot hold a 20 minute conversation without hours of preparation, he or she should not be a preacher.

    1. I had hoped to get some agitated response to my rant. I guess preachers are used to some layman telling them they don’t know how to do a good job.

  6. I get interested in this topic as well, John, because I do two kinds of public speaking that require very different types of preparation: preaching sermons before congregations and delivering lectures before classrooms of students. I wonder if you can relate to that, given your own bi-vocational status as preacher and professor.

    My sense is that Nancy Duarte’s standard is not very realistic, but I also think it makes an error in reasoning. It seems to assume that presentations are cut out of whole cloth, with ‘preparation’ beginning when the speaker decides to present on a given topic at a certain point in time. If you take a sermon as an example, then how does one quantify the previous years of bible study, theme development, and cross-pollination from other sermons preached or topics taught? (I think that what Holly Boardman was suggesting about Adam Hamilton’s method bears on this.) When I go to prepare a sermon or a lecture, I am never starting with a blank slate. And I would have no idea how to quantify the time spent developing the resources, either in mind or physically on file, that I bring to bear to assist me in each given endeavor.

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