My OC16 Breakout

Hey Friends!

Perhaps you found yourself so riveted that you couldn’t take notes?  Maybe you were bored out of your skull and fell asleep?  Or, you thought: “That guy sounds hideous, I’m picking a different breakout.” Whatever happened, I’m sharing my content.

Here are the slides, handouts and documents from my Coaching the Best out of Your High School Volunteers breakout at the Orange Conference.  If you’d like to continue the conversation, send me an email.  I’d love to connect.

Here’s the handout:  Aaron Buer Breakout

The slides:  Aaron Buer Breakout Slides

Our leader blog:

And, the expectations docs:  Resource Docs

Stay tuned.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about these concepts, including all the genius stuff I was forced to cut out.

1 Thing You Need to Become a Great Teacher

When it comes to improving as a communicator, practice has made a huge difference for me.  But, practice, while a very good discipline, isn’t as impactful as taking one additional step.  That step is inviting feedback.  If you’re working to improve as a speaker, it is absolutely imperative that you seek feedback.  Because, as the saying goes:  Practice doesn’t make perfect…it makes permanent.  You could very well practice for hours only to perpetuate distracting mannerisms, nervous twitches, or filler words like “ummm.”

Let’s be real, we all know that one communicator who always says or does super awkward and distracting things….you don’t want to be that guy and I don’t either!  So, we need to invite feedback.  But, let me warn you.  Feedback hurts.  It can be deflating but it is a crucial step in mastering the art of speaking.

So, if you’re interested in seeking feedback, here are two simple steps to get you moving in the right direction.


About three years ago, I became the primary communicator in our student ministry, which involves teaching through video 2x a month.  The funny thing about video is that you get to watch yourself.  Let me tell you how awful this experience was in the early days!  I found myself saying, “Why in the world do I move like that?”  “I blink my eyes every millisecond!!!”  “I have to stop saying ‘like.’  and “Wow, I used used the word ‘hugely’ 14x in a 7 minute video.”

It was incredibly enlightening (and humbling) to watch myself teach.  I discovered all sorts of things that I do that are distracting or confusing.  And yes, it was wickedly deflating.  But over time, I have improved dramatically just by watching myself.  Now, we video every teacher in every environment so that we can learn and grow as communicators.

So, I would encourage you to video yourself teaching.  At first, you’ll basically want to die.  And to be sure, you will be harder on yourself than anyone in the audience but I guarantee it will help you sharpen your skills and ditch a few distracting habits.



If there’s one thing we’ve done in the last year that has helped our student ministry teaching team improve, it is inviting critique.  In our ministry, every large group teaching gets a test drive in front of our team about a week before we go live.  And whoever that lonely soul is, who is practicing that day, gets a heavy dose of feedback from all of us.  In fact, we practice everything that will be said from the stage, including the welcome, games, and announcements.  This practice run-through has dramatically improved our program and the teaching in particular.

LL practice

I realize that many of you don’t work on a team of student pastors but I bet you do have other student pastors in your area.  And, I bet those other student pastors want to improve as communicators.  What if you created a network where the goal was to offer each other helpful feedback on your teachings?  Sure it would be awkward at first, but I’m telling you, the payoff would be tremendous.

If that sounds awful, invite a volunteer to give you feedback or ask a teaching mentor to watch a video of you teaching and offer you a few thoughts.  If you don’t have anyone in your life to help you out with this, I’d be happy to give you my 2 cents.  Just email me a link.


How to Teach Without Notes

Recently, after speaking at a student conference in which I delivered a couple different communications without notes, a friend asked me about my preparation process for teaching without notes.  This post is a summary of my answer…

First, teaching without notes might not be the best practice for you.  As a communicator, the goal is to deliver a great communication.  For some, that means notes and others none.  With that said, I think everyone should attempt to go noteless for a season (don’t give up after 1 or 2 tries!) to see if it works because speaking without using notes will help you communicate in a more conversational and authentic voice.  For student ministry, this is paramount.

Also, this is my 13th year of full-time student ministry.  I have been a primary teacher for 8 of those years.  I just started teaching without notes two years ago.

Anyway, here’s my preparation process for speaking without notes:



Step one in teaching without notes is to work way ahead.  I’m at my best when I…

  • Map my teaching content for the entire year during the summer
  • Write outlines a month out
  • Work through edits three weeks out
  • Write full scripts two weeks out

Working way ahead creates mental space for creativity and memorization.  For me, cramming will always yield an inferior teaching.



When it comes to preparing notes, I…

  • Write in my speaking voice.  This helps with internalizing the material.
  • Write a full script.  This script is word for word, exactly what I want to say, but never exactly what I will say when I teach.
  • Translate the full script into practice notes, which is an outline of keywords and phrases.

The process of writing an outline, then a script and then practice notes helps me memorize the content, and even more importantly, the flow of the content.  Specifically, this is what I memorize:

  • Intro
  • Transitions
  • Bottom Lines
  • Conclusion

If these elements are memorized, the rest will fall into place.



During the week I will be communicating, I…

  • Practice three or four days out using my practice notes
  • Practice repeatedly while driving around in my car (this makes me look like a crazy person at stop lights)
  • Do a full dress rehearsal three hours before teaching (on the stage with lights, mics, slides and everything)

In order to teach without notes, I simply have to practice a lot!  The key here is that I’m gradually moving away from my notes and adjusting as I go.


For me, learning to teach without notes has dramatically improved my delivery.  It isn’t terribly complicated or difficult, it just takes a whole lot of discipline.  Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.


image credited to Matt Roberts via Flickr

Check Your Flow

I’m currently blogging about the secret sauce of speaking…at least my secret sauce.  I don’t pretend to be a guru.  Anyway, so far, I’ve written about engaging the internal conversation of the audience and the importance of tension.  Today, I writing about flow.

What do I mean by flow?  I’m talking about the structure of the teaching.  I believe that every good communication is a journey from a starting point to a destination.  It should move because the purpose of preaching and teaching is to motivate people to move, change and grow.

One of the most difficult aspects of writing a good communication is creating a clear flow of thought that moves from starting point to destination.  Too many communications have rabbit trails and side notes that detract from the overall flow.  One thing that I’ve learned is that what makes sense in my head won’t make sense to the audience unless the flow is logical and linear.  An audience that is confused is an audience that will tune out.


The way I was taught to write a sermon or teaching is not at all how I write today.  I was taught: introduction, 3 points and conclusion.  In my opinion, there is too much potential for confusion when we write and deliver this way.  When I write, I think journey.  There may be 2 or 3 stops along the journey toward the destination but there aren’t 3 unrelated points.  So, instead of writing a point and then writing a second point, I write thought by thought.  Each thought flows into the other.  As I write, I use a conversational voice because writing in the voice I speak in helps me remember the material.  And, writing thought by thought keeps everything I write in relationship and therefore connected and linear.  In other words, you will be clear.

I do often have 2 or 3 “points’ (although, I never call them points) but they flow into each other and are all on the way to the destination.


Another technique that I use, that I was taught by our senior teaching pastor, is to simply tell the audience what you plan to do.  Why keep it a secret?  When the plan is known, people can follow more easily and also have better expectations for how long you’re going to talk.  Here’s an example from the teaching I plan to deliver this week:

My goal for tonight is to describe 3 different friendships that we all need.  In each of these friendships, I’ll show you how your friends shape your future.

They know upfront that there will be 3 different friendships that I’m going to talk about, they have a general idea of how I’m going to try to influence them, and during the 2nd friendship conversation they will probably say, “OK, he’s almost done, I can hang in there for a few more minutes.”


I get pretty violent with my scripts.  I firmly believe that less is more and any ideas that aren’t directly related to your destination will be distracting at best, and confusing at worst.  My best communications have been parred down for the sake of clarity.  I try to keep in mind that within two days my audience is only going to remember one or two things that I say anyway.  Cut every rabbit trail, side note and parenthetical idea.  Clarity is better.


If you’re like me, something can read brilliantly on paper but fall flat when communicated verbally.  Over the last two years, my communicating skills have grown significantly, largely because I’ve begun to practice out loud.  Nearly every time I practice, I find myself saying, “That doesn’t make sense” or “I don’t think these two ideas are as connected as I thought.  Basically, practicing out loud is another way to improve the message and make sure that the flow of thought is clear.

There you have it.  That’s my basic methodology for creating a communication with a clear flow of thought.  Next time I post, I’ll share a few ideas on how to speak without using notes.


photo credited to drestwn via Flickr