Effective stories like Jesus’ Good Samaritan or Paul’s testimony in Acts 26 have an introduction, crisis, and resolution making a point. The crisis creates suspense and may evoke emotions. A resolution should bring closure to recipients.
We observed one couple tell about a horrific traffic accident and then continue their presentation. But the group mentally stayed right there at the accident scene wondering, “What happened next?” Frequently we hear stories meaningful to the teller or one they enjoy repeating, but without a point. Only stories illustrating spiritual principles communicate to change lives.
Everybody has suffered through long and boring stories. Rarely should a spoken story be longer than 500 words—about three minutes—or you risk losing the listeners’ attention. Jesus’ “Good Samaritan” story is only 179 words. His longest parable, “The Prodigal Son,” contains two stories totaling 487 words. Paul used just 460 words speaking to King Agrippa.
The most effective verbal stories are prepared in advance. To communicate concisely and clearly, eliminate details not needed or relevant to the point. President Woodrow Wilson, known for succinct and effective communication, was asked how long he spent preparing to speak. “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
Listeners, especially young adults, respond best to verbal stories if you act out the story with exaggerated voices, expressions, and gestures. You may feel foolish. But our purpose is communicating, not feeling good about ourselves.
But the most important audience for our stories is ourselves. God is continually seeking to teach us through our experiences, just as He did to hundreds of men and women documented in the Scriptures. What can we learn by reviewing our own lives? What can our personal stories of faith and folly communicate about God to others?