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How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk

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?

killer bottom line8 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. I 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.

Have More Impact Every Weekend

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In the Art of Better Preaching, Mark and I share everything we’ve learned about communicating in a way that will help your church grow without compromising biblical integrity. We cover detailed training on everything from interacting with the biblical text to delivering a talk without using notes, to writing killer bottom lines that people will remember for years.

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In the meantime, what helps you write a great bottom line?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

23 Comments

  1. Karissa on July 13, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Thanks Carey. So helpful! I realize bottom line literally means last line, so this might seem obvious, but how soon do you drop the killer line into the talk? Do you wait until later near the application, do you start with it, do you repeat it? What is your preference?

  2. Volunteer Pastor with other jobs on March 27, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    When you say “talk to your team”, I feel like I’m suffocating. (Where’s my water buffalo? Why don’t I have a water buffalo? We’re going to get nasty letters from people… – Archibald Asparagus in The Waterbuffalo Song)

  3. Glyn Knight on March 27, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Thanks so much for your investment in others Carey – so practical and challenging – what a privilege we have and may we never tire of seeking to learn and grow in communicating the best message!!

  4. Bryan on June 29, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you for continuing your blog posts. It is one of the few places I can get content about preaching. (I am a preacher at a very small church and I am the one man band). I realistically only have 3 days each week to write my message before I have to have my scripture slides done. I am preacher, youth leader, webmaster, outreach minister, and in charge of social media. I hope one day to have more time but right now it just isn’t realistic and my elders want me to preach 48-50 weeks a year. I am grateful for your information. I am doing my best, but often feel discouraged.

  5. JG on June 10, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    I usually start with scripture and develop my bottom line from the scripture itself. I then write out my sermon completely, but maybe not for the reasons you think.

    I don’t preach from my full script, but I generally pull points from my script as I write it down. Through that process, my bottom usually forms into it’s final state as I begin to learn how to explain things more simply and in a way that is easy to remember.

  6. […] If you want to know how to write memorable phrases, here’s my methodology. […]

  7. Brendan Van Wagner on May 3, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    I love this idea, especially the part about getting done a week or two in advance. However, you talk about having a creative team, but I’m it. I have no staff, and my church leadership believes that if it comes from the pulpit, it has to all originate from me. Pass or fail I have to come up with all the content. I guess I need to find out how to get them on board with the idea that we all will grow more if we have a team approach to growth. Any ideas on that?

    • JG on June 10, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      Maybe consider having a review board that hears your sermon during the week before you preach it on Sunday. That way the content and ideas are yours but you are getting feedback on what is resonating from the team. They should also be able to let you know what you can cut tat doesn’t emphasize your point and if your bottom line really sticks. It’s been the best move I’ve made in sermon prep.

  8. mel on November 8, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Good stuff

    Reminds me of Andy Stanley

  9. […] If you want to learn more about how to craft simple statements that convey complex truths, I wrote about the methodology here. […]

  10. […] If you want to learn more about how to craft simple statements that convey complex truths, I wrote about the methodology here. […]

  11. Anton Lim on October 12, 2016 at 9:21 am

    I wish I had read this sooner when it was first published, but glad I’ve come across this.
    Brainstorming your bottom lines: do you ever go to things like instagram or some quote site to see what exists already with sticky statements? Or does it more or less shape in front of you as you play around with it?

  12. 6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust on March 3, 2016 at 12:04 am

    […] Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk […]

  13. Michael De Haan on March 2, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Carey, thanks for sharing. This is very helpful. I wonder, do you write a bottom line for both a talk and for the series? It seems at times you talk about developing a bottom line for a specific talk within a series and other times you talk about developing a bottom line for a whole series. If so, what is the difference between them—or better, how do you go about developing them differently? How do you allow the series’ bottom line to influence or guide the weekly talks’ bottom line? Thanks!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 4, 2016 at 5:33 am

      I have done it both ways…with a series bottom line and without. Sometimes the bottom line from the intro message (part 1) provides a bottom line for the series. But the messages are far more critical than the series for clarity in my view.

  14. 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes on February 25, 2016 at 12:51 am

    […] Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk […]

  15. 6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust - Carey Nieuwhof on February 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

    […] Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk […]

  16. […] Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk […]

  17. Brent Dumler on February 19, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. Such helpful content, right as I’m preparing for my first conference at the end of March. I’ve added this link to my Evernote planning page. One method I’ve used in trying out new bottom lines is similar to sharing them with a team. But I Tweet them as quotes and then look to see what level of interaction each one gets. Thanks again for this, Carey. I’m referencing this post again!

  18. […] Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk […]

  19. […] Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk […]

  20. Brian Cunnington on February 18, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Another ‘home run’ Carey — a way back in the 70s our preaching prof used to tell us that people will only remember one sentence from your sermon — anything that competes with that one sentence is a distraction, so trim trim trim!!! — I wish he had had access to this post to help us know how to trim trim trim — thanks so much Carey

  21. Garry Firth on February 18, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I love sticky statements. Thanks for putting this post together. BTW you have two points labelled #7 instead of 7 & 8.

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