A good illustration has the power to lift an abstract idea to a position of interest and practical application. It can snap a wandering mind back to attention, convince a doubting mind of truth, and clarify a difficult concept. But before you can use illustrations, you have to find them. As it turns out, the best illustrations are all around you. Secrets of Dynamic Communications will help you increase your effectiveness as a speaker and learn how to recognize great illustrations that present themselves in everyday life.
Capturing Life’s Illustrations
Pastors need to be constantly on the prowl for illustrations, not just for the project you are working on now, but also for future sermons that have not even been developed yet. You need the eye of the hunter to recognize good illustrations when you see them.
Most of us go through life with a kind of tunnel vision that causes us to pass up hundreds of potentially good illustrations every day. Every time you go for a walk, read a book, listen to a speaker, or go to the supermarket, you are in prime hunting territory to gather excellent illustrations. But you have to know what to look for.
When I first started driving to Estes Park, Colorado, with our staff for a conference, we would pass through some of the finest big game country in the world. Because I have hunted all my life, I have trained myself to be on the lookout for animals at all times. During this beautiful drive I would spot elk or deer standing in the forest near the road. I would jam on the brakes. The car would screech to a halt and I would spend the next fifteen minutes trying to get my staff to see what I had trained my eyes to see. “See the big rock about halfway up the mountain?” I would whisper, pointing frantically in the direction of the rock and the animal standing next to it. “Look just to the left of that big rock, under the tallest pine tree.” Sometimes after physically holding their heads in the direction of the animal and sighting down the part in their hair I could get my friends to see what I saw. Over the years I taught my friends what to look for. Now they spot animals before I do.
Animals, like illustrations, seldom stand out in the open where they can be seen from head to tail. They are partially obscured by trees, bushes, and other vegetation. The hunter develops a sharp eye for the clues that will alert him to the presence of an animal. For example, horizontal lines are a clue. In the forest they are present in only two basic forms: the back of a large animal such as a deer or the line formed by a fallen tree. If you see a horizontal line seventy feet long, it’s not likely to be a deer. However, every horizontal line is worth inspection because a certain percentage of them end up having legs and horns.
The color white is another clue. In the summer, the color white is seldom found in Colorado forests except on the rump of an animal. Close investigation of a small patch of white will often reveal the partially hidden body of an elk or deer. Any patch of white is worth investigating. Black buttons are another clue. In the winter rabbits turn white and are perfectly camouflaged against the snow. But their eyes don’t turn white. Many times I have stared for long minutes at a round black button in the brush only a few feet from where I stood. I couldn’t see a rabbit, only the button. As I stepped forward for a closer look, the button would bounce away, now connected to the totally visible body of a bunny.
The illustrations we encounter in everyday life are like those animals hidden in the forest. They are partially hidden by our preoccupation and the circumstances that surround them.
Train yourself to keep your eyes open every minute of the day for those experiences and stories that will make your sermons unforgettable.
What are the Signs to Look For?
Quite simply it boils down to this: anything that moves you emotionally has the potential to be a powerful illustration. If something catches your attention, if it makes you laugh or cry or want to scream, it has the potential to do the same for your listener. If an event in your everyday life has that effect on you, chances are it will have the same effect on an audience.
Anything out of the ordinary should snap you to full attention. That rude driver who cut you off in traffic, the little boy who asks a bizarre question, the story in the newspaper of the cat who followed a family after they moved five hundred miles away, a powerful blog, a poignant line in a motion picture—all these can provide excellent possibilities for adding light and color to your talks.
Join the Conversation
Where do you find your best illustrations for sermons? Do you think storytelling comes naturally for some people or is it a skill that can be cultivated? Leave your comments below – we’d love to hear from you!