“I can’t believe you remember that story!!”
That’s what I said when I recently had coffee with my young friend Ashley. I’ve known her since she was 12, when she was a student in my 7th & 8th grade Sunday school class. Now she is a college freshman, studying music and worship at a small Christian college. She was home for Christmas break and asked me to meet her for coffee. During our chat at Panera, we were laughing about my style of teaching Sunday School, which is LOADED with hilarious stories and lots of energy.
“Oh, Mrs. Zappala, you were so fun! Your stories were great! I still remember the one about the shoulder pad.”
I was utterly astonished. “I can’t believe you remember that story,” I said. (It was a 40 second fashion-faux-pas story about wearing HUGE shoulder pads in the early 90s; one day while speaking to a male co-worker, one of my shoulder pads dislodged itself and migrated to the center of my chest, with the intention of crawling up my neck. Awkward!) Wow…stories really do stick!
I have been teaching Junior High girls Sunday school for close to 20 years. I began in 1989 as a new Christian in my late 20s, and with a few breaks here and there, have been teaching almost non-stop. I was born for this ministry. I have created all of my own curriculum, and I will often recycle the lessons, but I will add different stories to keep everything fresh. That shoulder pad story is one that I used for a time, and then replaced it with some other illustration. But more than 6 years later, Ashley remembered it.
Now, I am not under any illusion that my students actually remember all of my lessons. I hope they remember at least a few of them! In fact, Ashley herself said “I don’t remember the point of the shoulder pad story, but I do remember the story!” What’s funny about it is that I clearly remember why I told that story. It was simply to create a connection with the girls, to provide some self-deprecating humor. That was it. The reason Ashley didn’t remember a point was because there was no point.
Wow. Imagine if there HAD been a point. As a speaker, do you see the significance of tying a point to a story? The point will be remembered if the story is.
As a speaker, I’ve learned to be intentional with choosing stories that mesh well with the point I want to make. I don’t often tell a useless story or joke just to get people laughing or interested. Their time is too important for me to trifle with them like that. It’s my responsibility to give them the best value for their time. All of my stories MUST have a point. And in order for my point to be remembered, it must have a story to carry it. I don’t want my story to be an orphaned story with no substance, like the shoulder pad story. So even though I know not all of my lesson will be remembered, if the points are tied to strong stories, I can increase the chance that they will be remembered.
Ashley reminded me of a forgotten lesson. She reminded me of the privilege I have when speaking, even if it’s in a Sunday School class to 12 year olds. Every word is significant, and can have long-lasting effects. Don’t waste the words, don’t waste the time, and don’t waste a story. Tie the story to a point so when the story is remembered, there’s a good chance the point will be too.