Communicating can be challenging. Communicating effectively is even more difficult.
One of the best ways to do that is to develop a killer bottom line.
A bottom line is the main point of your talk summed up in a single, memorable sentence.
So how exactly do you do that?
Bottom lines have received a lot of attention in the last five years. In fact, some days it seems like everyone uses them. Just check Instagram for proof.
It’s extremely difficult to come up with an accurate, memorable bottom line (at least it is for me), but so worth it.
Crafting a great bottom line will:
Make you a better thinker.
Help you understand your talk more deeply.
Force you to simplify complex subjects.
Make your talk more memorable for your audience.
So, how do you do it?
8 Steps to Crafting a Killer Bottom Line
Here’s the general process I use. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me.
And, sure, not every bottom line will be killer. But if you keep at it, your potential to write a few increases.
I hope it can help you.
1. Begin with a general idea
When I’m thinking about a series or talk, I try to come up with a ‘general ballpark’ for it.
For example, I’m thinking about a sermon series for later this year on worshipping idols.
Right now, that’s all I know.
Other times, if I’m preaching, I won’t start with an idea but with a text that I want to teach.
I’ve done series in the last few years on Esther and Psalm 101. I didn’t know where I wanted to take them, but I knew I wanted to preach them.
Just start with a subject.
2. Expand your research and thinking
I keep an Evernote file for sermon ideas and bottom line ideas.
And when I get to the series development or talk development stage, I create a file that I can easily come back to on any device I’m on with random thoughts, scripture, articles, pictures, videos or anything else that I can use to expand my thinking and research on the subject.
I try to collect far more ideas and angles than I can possibly use.
3. Let it simmer
This is key. During a Preaching Rocket conference several years ago, I heard Louie Giglio say that writing a sermon or talk is like having a baby. It starts with conception (an idea) and then moves through gestation, delivery and presentation.
Louis said the problem with most preachers is they sit down at the keyboard on Friday or Saturday and say “I need to have a baby”.
Great sermons don’t work that way. Neither does pregnancy. Or a great stew.
I agree with Louie. If you’re a last minute writer, change immediately by starting a week out, or two weeks out.
Then move to collecting ideas a few months out. There are some series I’ve done that I’ve been thinking about for 2-3 years.
4. Make your first attempt
At some point you have to ship. So usually a month before the series is ‘due’ I take my first crack at bottom lines.
Don’t get discouraged. The first attempts are often terrible.
That’s okay. Just go back to step 3 and let it simmer some more, and then go back the next week and have another go at it.
Personally, I can’t write the outline for the talk until I have the bottom line so I often start with the bottom line.
5. CREAM It
Rework your bottom line using the tools in the CREAM acrostic (another tool I picked up from Preaching Rocket.)
C – CONTRAST Combine two contrasting ideas – the past and the future, the light and the dark, the rich and the poor, truth and lies, laughter and sorrow. In a series several years ago at Connexus where I teach, I profiled Haman (a politician featured in the book of Esther), I used contrast to come up with this bottom line: “A life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone.”
R – RHYME This is one of the oldest memory tricks in the book, which is why you remember one of Benjamin Franklins quotes: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The bottom line for Andy Stanley’s Comparison Trap series was simply “There’s no win in comparison”. Sticky.
E – ECHO Repeating a word or phrase is a powerful way to help people remember. In a recent series on the messages that playback in our mind, I used this bottom line: “Fixing your mind on Christ fixes your mind.”
A – ALLITERATION Alliteration may be overused by preachers, but don’t entirely abandon this technique – it’s powerful. “Your boldest moments are your best moments” (from our Bold series) is memorable because of the double b. Simple but it works.
M – METAPHOR Metaphors engage people’s imagination, and when that happens, people remember more. The Bible is actually full of metaphors (like a ring in a pig’s snout). In a series on the Supernatural, I preached on miracles with this bottom line: “Miracles are signs that point beyond themselves to something greater.” We actually built road signs that pointed to the beach, to Disney and more and explained that the sign is not the destination…the sign just points to something great, in the same way that miracles point to the power of Christ. You can watch the message (Part 2 of Supernatural) here.
6. Test it with a team
I almost always bring my bottom lines to our team before finalizing them. Extra input either tweaks them so they become better or finds better options.
It also tells you whether you’re ideas are resonating or not.
7. Avoid cheese and superficiality
Bottom lines are not your goal. Effectively communicating God’s word is your goal.
I’ve seen a lot of bottom lines in the last few years that follow the CREAM method but are actually just cheesy, simplistic or superficial.
What’s an example of a cheesy bottom line? How about God loves prayer because he cares.
It doesn’t actually mean anything. It turns God into a teddy bear. And it’s schmaltzy enough that you wouldn’t want to repeat it to your friends, assuming you want friends.
It’s actually better to have slightly less memorable bottom line than it is to settle on a cheesy bottom line because it rhymes.
8. Build the rest of the message and series from there
Once I have my bottom line created, I go back and produce everything else—a series summary, weekly summary (a short paragraph about each week’s message), small group question and everything else that goes into a series.
Then that goes to our creative team anywhere from 2-6 weeks before a series begins for them to finish the design work and get everything into print and online.
In the meantime, what helps you write a great bottom line?
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