Preaching in ASL: Clarity

I absolutely love preaching. Although resources abound for preaching in general, there are few to help people who want to improve their preaching in ASL! I am hoping to provide some resources to that effect. Last June, when I had the pleasure of going to the Deaf Baptist Fellowship of America (DBFA) in Pigeon Forge Tennessee, I was extremely intentional about watching how people preached in ASL, and I noticed a few things about the most clear preachers who used ASL that I will share with you today.

Photo Credit: Jin Neoh via

Photo Credit: Jin Neoh via

Besides the opportunity to meet and connect with different people from around the world who are passionate about Deaf Ministry (like I am), I also enjoyed watching and learning. Taking notes and seeing how people preached, led, and interacted and trying to ferret out practical things that I can take home and start using.

I want to share some of the techniques I noticed Deaf preachers, and hearing preachers who used ASL, used to make their message clear while preaching on stage. These techniques also work for interpreting, but I am a preacher before an interpreter, so I thought about it from that perspective. However, I promise that these will help any signing you do at a distance, whether preaching, teaching, or interpreting more clear.

[T]hese will help any signing you do at a distance, whether preaching, teaching, or interpreting more clear.


Less circles. Have you noticed that most people sign a little loop with signs like EXACT or PERFECT? I noticed the most clear preachers in ASL did not use those on stage. They made the handshape and brought them together without the loop. It surprised me how such a little thing can make a big difference!

Definite start and stop of signs. This is something that I noticed most likely because it is something that I struggle to do. All the preachers had clearly defined signs. Each sign had an obvious start and a stop point and it was clear what they meant to sign.

Slow and smooth. This one is more or less a spin off of the above point, but it still bears mentioning. The most clear preachers slowed down their signing. Even when they were signing quickly, there was still a smooth deliberateness with their signs which I would love to develop.

Nines not eights. This is most obvious with the signs UNITY and SPIRIT. I learned these originally with the EIGHT handshape. However, I saw many preachers using the NINE handshape for them while on stage and it had a pronounced effect on the clarity of the message.

Help and lead on fingertips. I noticed a few of the preachers do this, and was intrigued by this technique. Rather than grab the whole fingers on the non dominant hand for LEAD, the preachers would grab the fingertips. For HELP, rather than placing the A handshape in the center of the hand, they placed it on their fingertips. I had never noticed this before, but it improved the clarity of their preaching impressed me.

I know that these are odd things to notice and write a blog post about them. Most people would not have given these things a second look. However, I love preaching and I always want to do it better. If you look for preaching or public speaking tips in sign language, there is not a lot of practical advice on the internet. I hope I can add some practical insights to help people sign a little more clearly!

In closing, I want to reiterate that these are techniques I observed several seasoned preachers using to make their signs more clear. These are simply things I noticed, and since used, to make anything signed at a distance a little more clear.

What advice do you have to make preaching in ASL clearer?

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