Two weeks ago I gave a sermon at my church about what I learned from my father about fatherhood for Father’s Day. It went well. Afterwards some people told me what a good story teller I was, which was nice. I’m sure a few left thinking what a gasbag I was, which is fine too. I was asked whether I got so wrapped up in the story that I forgot that people were listening. Not really, after all, the whole point is to get everyone to focus their attention. Here are some things I did that I hope made that more likely.
I told the story about what I learned from him about fatherhood. I did this by relating things that had happened between him and me in our life. When I “wrote” it, I observed the “rule of three”: the big story (the sermon) had three separate main incidents. Why three? I draw an analogy from geometry when I explain this to my students: it takes three points to define a plane in space, and without that plane, we have nothing on which to stand. I’m sure there are corollaries to this rule: two points make a line, which is only good for tightrope walkers; four points make a solid which will block the reader. Besides, I only had 15-20 minutes: three is enough.
There was plenty of connective tissue to get from one incident to the next. When one shares a story from one’s life, it can be easy to forget to make the connections because they seem so obvious to whoever lived that particular life. I was cognizant of the fact that I wasn’t simply telling my story, I was telling a story based on things that happened to me. My life was the evidence–I still had to make the case.
When delivered it, I put my written notes aside, and followed the outline I had practiced over and over during the month I had to prepare. This is not a useful strategy for everyone. First, not everyone is used to speaking in public, and a strong written text can be an enormous support. Second, one needs to practice a speech to be delivered extemporaneously: the odds of ramble increase exponentially without a firmly rehearsed structure. The advantage was that I could listen to the hundred or so people who were listening to me while I delivered the sermon. I knew what I had to say; I didn’t know how people would hear it. I was able to tinker as I spoke to fit the way people were listening.
Did I end up leaving things out? Sure, I always over-prepare. Was it perfect? No, but what is? Did I get to my conclusion? I think so. It felt done. And now on to the next story.