The element of surprise is a characteristic of any good speech or presentation. Depending on the event and the audience it can range from the theatrically dramatic to the unexpected use of storytelling. Whichever, it is surprise that keeps your audience listening with enjoyment, hearing what you say and wanting more- even if your subject is not itself surprising.
The vicar of St Peter’s in Notting Hill, Mark Hargreaves, is a master of surprise. His deceptively simple ‘talk’ at the annual carol service took surprise as its theme.The very real surprise of the birth of Christ contrasted with the sad lack of surprise of so much of what goes for its celebration today.
His talk captured interest from the start as he talked about the Leonardo exhibition, referring to the mosaic replica of the Last Supper, hanging in the church. He pointed out the surprise on the faces of the disciples and from there in everyday conversational language helped us imagine the genuine surprise of the innkeeper, Mary, the wise men and, especially, Joseph.
He has a rare gift because he does not just find the right thought-provoking words. He delivers them in a way which is itself surprising in a place of worship where so often the manner is still that of the preacher lecturing rather than that of a friend engaging in a personal conversation. You felt he was talking only to you.
It is a pity, indeed a surprise, that in a world where so much of the trivial is accessible on our iphones that a talk this exceptional, not written down or recorded, was a one-off enjoyed only by those at the service that day. It seems to me that a box-set of Mark Hargreaves talks would be a Christmas gift worth having!