If you've ever tried to preach a sermon you will immediately hold in higher regard those who do it for a living. I will never forget the first time I was given the honor of trying to handle the Word for others. I think I prepared for over twenty-four hours for a sermon that lasted less than one, and it was terrible to boot!
As in anything, however, mentors and information from the correct source can be infinitely helpful. This was true in the case of my (attempts at) sermons.
Seeing my lackluster ability, no doubt, inspired one man of experience to recommend some good books to me. In a particular book I learned a simple little insight that not only applies to sermons, per se, but to all effective communication:
State - this first step requires the speaker to effectively communicate, in clear fashion, a statement of what is to be communicated. This may be a proposal, theory, or principle. This one is a bit obvious, and unfortunately, many speakers never get beyond this one. Instead they simply state things and then state some more things and then state even more things and thereby think they've communicated. State your main point clearly and simply, and realize you have only begun.
Illustrate - this second step is where many a speaker falls off the cliff. Remember, the best way to tell someone something is to tell them a story. Stories are the most entertaining, capture the listener's attention, and are the most memorable of all verbal communication. Stories are simply illustrations for the main points you are making. Choose or create a story (or analogy, or colorful example) to "illustrate" the point you have made in the "state" step. To assist in this, ask yourself, "What is a real life situation that would paint a picture or image of what I'm trying to say?" or "What is like this?" or "What story from history, or movies, or books, or my own experience would reinforce my main point?" or "What do people first think of when I state my main point?" These kinds of questions will be helpful in coming up with illustrations for your points. Consider the most famous communicators of all time such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and others, and you will quickly find they were experts at illustration.
Apply - in this step you make the information and illustration make sense in the life of the listener. It's one thing to make grand statements and color them with clear illustrations, it's quite another to make them relevant to the audience. Ask yourself the question, "What is in it for them?" or "Why does this matter in their life?" or "How can they apply this to get practical results in their own lives?" The answers to these questions will give you ways to demonstrate for the listener how he or she can integrate the new information into their own experience. This may be the hardest step of all, but remember, every listener you will ever encounter will be asking (either consciously or subconsciously) "How does this apply to me?" or "Why should I care?"
In every instance of communication, whether one-on-one or to an audience of thousands, these three principles are relevant. Now that you know them, I'll bet you will be able to pick them out as you listen to effective preachers, teachers, and leaders. All the best have some form of these three elements in their communication.
Do the hard work of thinking through these steps as you prepare your material and get ready to experience an uplift in your ability to connect with others. Remember: it's better to make one point really, really well than to make several poorly.