Seminars were first used to preach the Truth in Australia by the Blackburn (Vic) Ecclesia under the theme, “Bible Discovery Course”. Initially Cumberland and then all of the Suburban ecclesias have undertaken seminars either in their own halls or at independent venues. At the same time that the Adelaide Ecclesias began to use the seminars, it came to our attention that the North Industry (Ohio, USA) Ecclesia had developed the “Learn to Read the Bible Effectively” series. This series was subsequently tried out in Adelaide and has been re-run countless times. Since then, there have been variations and other ideas used to improve the seminars—from different topics to alternative venues. This article brings together some of the outcomes of these experiences for consideration in our striving to preach the gospel.

What Works and What Does Not Work

 The important matter to understand is that the seminar is not a less formal lecture. It requires much more preparation and planning.

Do a dry run: In the early days, brethren were required to do a dry run of their presentations every week, before the actual presentation of their seminar. Even though this practice is not as critical for the more experienced in presenting seminars in more recent times, without practice the seminar can become little more than a standard lecture in style, content and presentation. Therefore, even for the more experienced, the value of a dry run with positive and constructive feedback cannot be overstated. For brethren new to seminar work, a dry run is imperative. It ensures that the content is positioned at the right level, the hand-over to the next speaker is well managed, and the timing is correct. It is not uncommon in business circles for an important presentation to be “dry runned” two or three times.

Provide special Bibles: It is a sad fact that most friends who attend the seminars are completely unfamiliar with their Bibles, if they even possess one. So, when we come to refer to some of those obscure passages, for example the minor prophets, friends could experience acute embarrassment as they fumble through the pages or quickly consult the index. One solution is to provide Bibles to friends and to advise the page numbers for each reference used. Whilst it may be easier to put references verbatim on an overhead transparency, there is something to be said for the friends seeing the verse in a Bible for themselves, rather than believing the speaker. Obviously, it goes without saying that we should always use the Authorised Version. This is the version that we are most familiar with, and sometimes different versions cause confusion. Where the meaning is unclear in the Authorised, an alternative rendering should be used on a transparency.

Use an independent venue: Experience has shown that an independent venue is likely to attract a greater number of friends compared with those conducted in our halls. This is not to take away from those ecclesias who do this. However, there is no question that independent venues will consistently attract more new friends. The venue should generally be well known in the local vicinity, have good parking facilities, be comfortable, be able to be set up in seminar style, and be well lit. There appears to be an abundance of well equipped community halls or education facilities that meet these criteria, usually at reasonable cost. Some ecclesias have conducted seminars in the convention areas of various facilities with significant success, especially where parking is conveniently available.

Ask questions that can be answered: Presenters asking questions can sometimes be a huge success and at other times a dismal failure. We first need to ask ourselves, why are we asking the question? Then ensure that it is phrased correctly, and then ensure that the audience (especially the friends) knows the answer. The reasons for asking questions are basically two fold—to revise a topic before moving on, and to take the audience through a logical set of steps. Above all, the question should be able to be answered by the friends. If they cannot answer it then the whole objective has failed. If the friend can answer the question, it shows two very important things—first, they understood what was being asked, and secondly, that they are prepared to share their understanding. It also shows the presenter whether the group is ready to move on. To do so without making sure might be a mistake.

Avoid deviating from the notes: It is the practice of some speakers to either scantily refer to the notes or to totally ignore them. As many of the friends who are attending, and sadly many of our own young people, are not adept at taking notes, to significantly deviate from, or ignore the notes, does not help the attendee to follow the speaker. In the majority of cases the notes have been developed after many iterative reviews and editing, and to deviate from them will result in the central message being lost. If a presenter must deviate from the notes—make sure the audience knows what is happening, so there is no confusion as the audience searches their notes in vain for the material being covered. In most instances there is more material in the notes than can be conceivably addressed in the time, without the speaker needing to add more. Therefore it is strongly recommended to keep deviations to a minimum.

How to put a Seminar Together

 Pray: The use of prayer is absolutely essential before preparing or presenting a seminar. It is noteworthy that when Peter declared that the Lord was the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16), the Lord stated: “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (v17). Prayer is our constant reminder that we are but the agents of God in revealing Him and His Son. Our efforts will therefore be motivated by the highest ideals.

Choose your topic carefully: There are some topics which are not well handled in a seminar setting. Experience has shown that complex prophetical subjects are not well suited, irrespective of the speaker’s knowledge of the subject. They do not lend themselves to the shorter style of presentation and generally require involved explanation on many detailed historical or symbolic points which the average friend cannot grasp. Rather, choose subjects which are easily divided into short logical hops, to ensure that the attendee is not frightened away from the series on the first night.

Refer to other material: The next step in preparation is to gather together all other available material. The number of topics covered in previous seminars means there is a wealth of material which is well documented and has been improved upon over time.

Read notes—or prepare them if none are available: If notes already exist on a topic, the presenter should become very familiar with their content, highlighting the key points that are going to be made during the seminars themselves. Do not attempt to cover every point in the notes, especially where there are a number of scriptural, historical, or documentary evidences to prove a point. Select one which you are comfortable with and during the course of the seminar refer the friends to the page, to show them that there are others which further support the point that is being made. Notes should provide adequate space for friends to add their own points. In fact, it is good to provide something for the friends to write down during the seminar, as this can re-focus those whose minds wander. Above all, the notes should be able to be read and understood by a 10–12 year old. Most tabloid newspapers are written with this age group in mind.

Prepare Overhead Transparencies: Using overhead transparencies in seminars is an absolute must, and is becoming increasingly necessary in all other public presentations irrespective of style. It is a well known fact that people, on average, retain only 20% of what they hear, and this increases to almost 80% when they see and hear together. We live in an age where visual stimulation has become the norm. In the visual media, a producer will go to great lengths to minimise what they call the ‘talking heads’ on the screen, because they will lose their audience. So we must use overheads. But if we do this, then we must do it well. Transparencies should be consistent in their format and style, and they should have no more than four to five major headings in a minimum of 24 point print. The content of the slide should be the answer to the question: “If the friend takes any message away from this presentation, what do I want that message to be?”

Practise, Practise, Practise: Never assume that we can present a seminar without some form of dry run. The more we practise, the more familiar we will be with the material, and the easier it is for the friends to listen to us—and that is, after all, why we have invited them to come.

Requirements and Capabilities of Presenter

 Be Animated: Animation about the subject can be infectious. If we show that we love our Bible and that we are excited about its message, the friends cannot but be impressed and, when we do stumble, as can happen from time to time for even the most experienced, they are a little more forgiving. Move around to ensure more focus on the speaker. Don’t be frightened to move your hands, but do not raise your voice above a good volume that can be heard by all. Shouting implies an emotionalism that is inconsistent with an educational seminar.

Time: In most cases you are working with another brother, so it is important to make sure that you stick to time; otherwise the entire evening may run dramatically over time and well beyond the concentration span of the friends and a good many Christadelphians. If on the odd occasion you do go over time, avoid making reference to it, as it only places unnecessary pressure on the next speaker to trim his material and distracts the attention away from the matters under discussion. However, it should be a very rare instance when the allotted time is exceeded.

Use simple vocabulary: We should avoid terms and phrases consistently used in our own circles. Terms like, “God manifestation”, or phrases such as, “the vicissitudes of life”, do not do anything for the friend and add little value to the seminar as a whole.

Explain matters simply: Use examples when explaining points so that the friends can understand. Also, only refer to historical points or documentary evidence in the level of detail required to support your point. Do not read large volumes of information as it becomes difficult for the average friend to follow.

Be flexible: Where necessary, a presenter must be able to deviate from the materials, to address any concerns or issues raised during the seminar or at one of the breaks. However, time should be monitored carefully when deviating so that it does not detract from the overall seminar. If it is going to be an involved question, take it off-line, as there is a very good chance that it may not be of interest to others who, in the process of giving the answer, you may lose for the rest of the evening.

Answers to questions: Friends come to seminars to have questions answered. However, if you do not know the answer, say so, and undertake to look into the matter and come prepared with the answer the next evening. Inviting others to help answer the question means that you may lose control of the seminar and you will run out of time.

Use visual aids effectively: Do not read the transparencies. They should never be your notes. Only refer to the points on them to draw attention to what it is that you want them to retain. Always turn off the projector when the reason for showing the slide has been served.

Do not read the notes: Reading notes or slides means that you have reduced eye contact and loss of attention to the speaker will result. Where possible, maintain eye contact at all times.

How to be Involved

 There are many ways that we can be involved in order to ensure that seminars are successful.

Invite friends and neighbours: Without new and fresh attendees the seminars can lose their vitality, apart from the fact that most attendees come from personal contact. Inviting friends is something that everyone can do.

Place brochures in shop windows and on shop counters: With the permission of the shop owners, seek out opportunities to place materials in their premises. Even if it does not lead to any friends coming, it may lead to a conversation with the shop owner about our beliefs.

Make talking to the friends a priority at the seminar: We should all make an effort to speak to the friends at the seminar. Leaving it to just one or two to do all the talking, means that there is great pressure on just those few. We are also seen as an unwelcoming community when the majority of the audience congregate in their friendship groups at the conclusion of the seminar. If they ask a question that we do not know the answer to, then undertake to get back to them with an answer. No one person is expected to have all the answers. Above all, do not become argumentative or dogmatic in discussions. This style of approach is recalled by the friend years afterward and is totally counter-productive.

Attendance at the Sunday night lectures: The place of the Sunday night lecture should not be diminished by seminars. The lecture has been and will probably continue to be, the way by which we witness to the Truths of the Word of God. However, important lessons learnt from the seminars can be applied to the lecture. The most important points are content and use of visual aids. If planned well in advance, the lectures can build on the subjects covered in the seminars.