4 Purposes of a Good Story or Illustration
Last time we looked at Purposes 1 and 2 for telling a relevant Story or Illustration. Let's finish with Purposes 3 and 4.
3. A Story or Illustration Will Allow You to Repeat Yourself Without Boring Your Audience.
We all know that repetition aids learning, or at least makes it more permanent. And if a story or illustration can capture the audience's imagination and invigorate them, your important point has a better chance of going home with your listeners.
I speak in a lot of collegiate contexts, attempting to persuade students to prioritize a relationship with Jesus via a really old book called "The Bible" (perhaps you've heard of it? It's a best-seller). One of my favorite lines to drop early in a talk (to stir the audience) is the following outlandish sentence:
"God isn't the least bit interested in being a part of your life this school year."
This is guaranteed to get a rumble from the audience. "Did Dan just say that?" My hosts are thinking, "Why did we invite Dan here?" The audience looks befuddled, wondering if they've heard me correctly. After a long pause, I repeat myself this way:
"It's true. God isn't the least bit interested in being part of your life ... He wants to be your life."
Oh. Message received loud and clear. But the communication moment isn't over. It's just beginning. The question now becomes: "How can I get that same message across, without being off-putting, without repeating the exact same words?" Here's what I say:
"Is it possible that we treat God like he's a folder on the desktop of our lives? You know: 'I think I'll double-click on the God Folder for a minute – click-click. Yeah, ok ... enough of that. Hey, there's my Girlfriend Folder – click-click. Ok, that's tiring me out. Oooh, the Fantasy Football Icon! – click-click. Yeah! Well, I should open the Homework Folder now– click-click. Oops, I 'accidentally' exited out of that one.
"No! God is not a folder or icon on the desktop of our lives! He's the entire operating system. Without him, you can't function. Nor is He merely an app on our Smartphones – He's the entire OS!"
Makes sense, right? Spoken in their techno-vernacular. If the battery bar of your audience is approaching zero, you can plug them back in with a good illustration. God is not just a folder on the desktop of your life ...
4. A Story or Illustration Will Recapture Your Audience's Attention.
In 2015, Microsoft conducted a study on the attention spans of human beings.
A questionable graphic in the report stated that the average attention span had fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds. It's conceivable that people's attention span has declined since the onset of smartphones. But only eight seconds? I'm not buying. However, what made this factoid stick was an additional claim: the average goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Are we worse than goldfish?
Regardless, it's safe to say that audiences have always shown attention-deficit when their speakers are boring. Though we're probably more attentive than goldfish, the speaker's job is to help us out. He must repeatedly recapture full attention throughout the speech. The best method is a story or illustration.
Finding Relevant Stories and Illustrations
In our media-saturated culture, audiences need a variety of things to keep them engaged. Consider the following:
- Bring a Prop. Nothing beats a tangible item to log your message into their memory. I've used many props over the years: Daniel's slippers, my Duct-taped Bible, an exploded truck tire off the side of the road. I have a friend who gave a talk on The Power of the Tongue (from James 3) – he passed around a pickled cow tongue in a jar while he spoke! Attention recaptured!
- YouTube. It's a goldmine to recapture attention. I've used a clipped video of a Friend's TV episode to show the dangers of manuscripting your speeches. I've also used a YouTube mashup of Michael Jordan's and David Robinson's Hall of Fame Speeches, to highlight the biblical concept of Justification.
- Movie Clips. I'm a Lord of the Rings nerd, so several scenes have cropped up in my talks. I also remember showing a short clip from the thriller, The Sixth Sense, which hit home for the student audience.
- Real Life Events. I've made a discipline of writing down significant stories from my life. I call it my Top 100 Stories of My Life list. I'm currently at 82. Here is story #79:
Is God interested in the small details of our lives? I think so. A few years ago, when we moved from VA to IN, we stored all our belongings in a storage unit, while waiting to move into our home. We waited three long months and picked up a used, red loveseat in the interim.
But the loveseat had sagging springs, making it uncomfortable. While visiting a garage sale, Paula spotted a piece of cut plywood. "Dan, we should buy that board to put under the cushions of the Loveseat." I pounced on the suggestion: "Are you kidding? You can't just buy a random board and expect it to fit our loveseat!" Regrettably, my words were harsh, and I bent her fragile opinion. I repented and apologized immediately, went to the homeowner and asked, "How much you want for that board?" One dollar later, I shoved the board into our car.
Months later, when we moved into our home, I saw the red loveseat and yelled, "Hey Paula, where is that board we bought for the loveseat?" I found it in the garage, brought it upstairs, and ....
Go ahead and convince me that God doesn't care about the small things in life. I dare you! And I've got 81 more where that came from!
How to Find a Story or Illustration
Finally, some ideas for finding good stories and illustrations:
- Begin a list of your top 100 stories of your life.
- When you read an article or book, file away three stories or quotations. Get file folders (label one "Stories" and another "Quotes") and begin a system. For cataloguing online stories/illustrations you find, use Instapaper (my choice) or Evernote.
- After reading a book, type a simple book report of the outline/chapters and key stories or quotations. Keep it simple.
- Pay attention to your life. Our red loveseat is a good example. Things happen to us all, but we fail to capture them. Then we forget. The good news is you can still retrieve many of your stories, simply by remembering key eras of your life. Ask: what do I remember from Elementary school? High school? Worst class? College year 1, 2, 3, and 4? My first date? First kiss? Meeting my spouse? Our first year of Marriage? First job? First child? Etc.
- Don't offend with your stories. Avoid politics (nothing to gain, much to lose). Edit stories (most are too long). Ask permission if the story isn't yours and give attribution where due.
Remember, a good story or illustration will make your idea