1. Write your sermon out in full
This is an important first step. In order to later go without notes, it’s important that you really know the content. Writing it out as you would say it really helps cement it in your mind.
2. Rehearse your fully written sermon with a timer.
I always rehearse my sermons in the week leading up to delivering them at least three times. The first time I rehearse is always to the full notes, with a timer, so I can see what I need to cut out or add. If you’re going to make major changes this is the time to do it. It’s important to rehearse out aloud in the manner you would deliver it from the pulpit.
If you’re uncomfortable speaking out aloud in your office or home then go for a drive and park somewhere. No one can hear you inside your car.
3. List out each logical idea in your sermon
Summarise your sermon into it’s logical ideas in order in a way that makes sense then list those out on a piece of paper. I usually have around 10 – 15 dot points the first go round.
4. Rehearse out aloud again.
This time rehearse to your list of logical ideas, try really hard not to look at your list.
If you are thinking, “I don’t know if I have time to rehearse”? There’s always time. Do a bit in the shower, while your driving, whilst doing chores.
5. Summarize your list into 6-10 key words or phrases
Whittle your dot points down to 6-10 key words or short phrases (3-6 words) and write them on a small piece of paper or a post-it note. By now your brain has done all the hard work to connect those small phrases with the longer points you worked out before.
This is the last time I write anything down. If I feel like I need my notes as a backup, then I will keep this copy on my lectern or on a post-it note in a Bible that I hold on stage.
It’s important to keep your ideas and phrases simple. You don’t want something complex you won’t remember.
6. Rehearse again without notes.
I like to go over my sermons while I drive. I know I have a few 20 minute drives in my week which gives me enough time to practice my sermon without looking at my notes. However if I don’t get to drive then parking by a nice nature spot is equally as beneficial.
At this point, you should know it. If you need to keep rehearsing again without your notes. Don’t go back to your full notes unless you have really forgotten something important. If you need to jog your memory try to only go back to your 6-10 key words or phrases.
7. Don’t take your full notes on stage.
If you take your full notes with you, then you will look at them. Best not to have them at all. If you’ve done the hard work of rehearsing the sermon then you don’t need your notes.
8. If you get lost, take a pause.
If you get lost or muddled, don’t stress, it takes practice. Relax, take a deep breath and keep going from the last thing you remember. Silence can sometimes feel like an eternity on stage. However, the truth is that it feels longer for you than it does the audience.
People are used to speakers taking a pause for dramatic effect, so relax. Take your time, gather your thoughts and keep going, people won’t think anything of it.
9. Keep a post-it note in your preaching Bible.
I keep my 6-10 key words on a post it note in my Bible which I have stuck next to the passage I am preaching from. As I refer to the passage I can quickly glance and see what my next point is if I’m getting lost. If you use a lectern you can also keep your cheat copy there. But, trust me, if you’re going to preach without notes it might be better to lose the lectern altogether as it’s kind of pointless then.
10. Put long quotes and passages on a rear screen or in your Bible.
If you need to read a longer passage or quote that you simply won’t remember without notes then put it on a rear projector or screen if you have one. If you don’t have that, then I would keep it in my Bible next to the passage along with my post-it note.