With these words Mark Hargreaves, vicar at St Peter’s in Notting Hill, had everyone in the congregation sitting forward and listening, really listening. He started his short sermon, in the annual carol service, explaining how the subject came to him whilst rummaging around in the church basement searching for figures for the crib.
He found Joseph, Mary and the three wise men easily enough but had to search harder for the small figure of the baby Jesus, eventually discovered buried under the christmas tree lights. From this simple and personal anecdote he developed the the theme of his compelling sermon.
The moral of this tale is that if you want your sermon or your speech or your pitch to connect with people, don’t just preach or lecture or present, tell a story.
Anyone with young children will have heard these words. Rapt attention and eager anticipation, your reward when you give in. The great comics are all about story-telling. Think back to the seventies when every mum’s favourite, Max Bygaves, started every performance with his catch phrase ” I wanna tell you a story”. Think now, Billy Connelly or Ricky Gervais.
Away from comedy, think Barack Obama. His acceptance speech was mesmerising, its impact undeniable. And yet, how much of what he actually said do we now remember? I tested a few friends. Their limited responses included ‘yes we can,’ ‘change’, these united states of america’ and ‘a puppy dog for the children’.
However, what they all recalled, with ease, was his story.
“This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But the one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Alabama. Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old. She was born just a generation past slavery: a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky….”
Storytelling is the most neglected area of pitch stagecraft yet good stories, or personal anecdotes, will stick in the mind long after the charts. They provoke thought whilst engaging and entertaining the audience.
“Please tell us a story, please…..”