My personal faith story is too long

Would you like to tell your personal story of faith in Jesus in a way that people will listen to and remember? Would you like to be able to remember all the important parts of your story so that you can confidently tell people your story?

If you have followed this series of posts on telling your faith story, then you may already be planning what to say.

We all like being listened to. And your faith story is important and worth listening to.

But if you talk for too long, or add too many details, then the person you are telling may not follow what you are saying.

(And here I offer my apologies to all those who I have inflicted my own rambling tales on!)

Your personal faith story is unique!

Your story itself is going to be fine. It is your story; it is unique, and your story with God is very special and worth telling! It may need a little structure. And if it isn’t too long, then people won’t get lost.

What is the secret to your story being listened to and remembered? The answer is to get all the important stuff into the conversation. And take only as long as it needs to do that, and then stop.

How long should I speak for?

Part of the challenge here is how long a person can concentrate. Have you ever wondered why a scene in a TV soap (like ‘Eastenders’ or ‘Coronation Street’) is so short?

Would you believe most TV show scenes are not more than about 80 seconds!

On the very edges comes a 3-minute scene.

So why is this? Quite simply, so that the viewer doesn’t get bored. I guess it is based on research. Whatever, it is a good guide for our stories.

So how can we get a long story which may take about ten minutes to tell, below that 3-minute max barrier?

I have had to learn over the years to share only what is necessary for my stories. And then leave it to the listener to ask more questions. The longer I spoke for, the less people listened.

The guide to keeping your faith story short and sweet

Firstly, don’t worry about trying to fit everything in. Something I have learned recently is how little you need to say about anything to get the idea across. Unless they are taking notes, people don’t remember everything you say.

People rarely sit there taking notes of conversations.

What people remember about details of a conversation is more like an iceberg. You can only see the tip of the iceberg. Only the top bit of a story – the highlights – are noticed. But with an iceberg, you know it isn’t just the bit on the top but loads of ice underneath. And told in the right way, you can tell the bit of your story, which is on top and your listener will FEEL the bit underneath.

Tell the highlights, feel the important underneath bits. Without even having to tell them!

What do I mean by ‘feeling the important moments’ for storytelling?

Let your emotion spill over into your telling, even as you tell just the highlights. You do this by remembering how did it feel at the time as you write.

As you write and consider your story, let yourself feel how important it is to you. We can call this ‘connecting with your own story.’

If you let yourself connect with your own story, then your telling of it will affect people. And I think the reason is that your story will touch their story! That is the nature of story.

Connection beyond words

It’s like that with art. A painting, a poem, a sculpture can touch us. A photograph or a 3-minute song has emotional power. A little is sometimes more than enough. They are little triggers that connect with our story. They remind us of things we have forgotten. That moves something inside us, and we respond to the smallest of images.

So art, poems… songs… icebergs… your story. It’s all the same. You only need to see the top bit to feel everything underneath. It just takes a bit of thought, care, and letting your feelings out as you think about what you are going to write.

So exactly how short does this need to be as you write?

A rule of thumb is not to speak for much longer than 3 minutes. That is around 400 words if you were to write it out. That’s a good place to start.

1) Make sure that you have read this guide on what makes a story work plus the example of my own faith story.  Structure is important, and a terrific way of avoiding unnecessary words.

2) Write out your story in longhand. Don’t worry about how long it is. You can of course type it!

3) When you have finished, count how many words it is.

4) If it is too long (over 400 words long), I suggest going through with a pen and marking all the important parts. Or cross out all the not important parts! Whichever way you choose, how many words does that leave you with now?

Sometimes it is worth rewriting everything out again. Then repeating the exercise if you still have too many words.

If you can, don’t aim for 400 words. Instead, try to make it 300 words. Why 300? It will give you space for the inevitable ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ you will say in real-world telling!

Turn your faith story into bullet points.

If you take another sheet of A4 paper and fold it in half once; then again; then again; and then one more time (folding in half each time), you will get to A7. On this small piece of paper on one side write everything you need to jog your memory about that 300-word story. No cheating and don’t use your tiniest writing. Use your normal handwriting.

That will really help you refine what you want to say. And it will make it easier for you to remember.

What else might help you to tell your story?

Find someone to try your story out on. Perhaps another Christian with whom you are doing the Talking Jesus Course. Help each other refine the best bits by reading out the 300-word version you have to each other. Then once you get to that point, turn it into bullets point notes as before. Use those notes alone to remind you what to say and see if you can keep below 3 minutes.

I used to practice telling my stories as I was driving my car somewhere. Or in the shower. Or while I was praying.

Dealing with feeling like you’ve forgotten something from my personal faith story.

Firstly, remember what I said about poems, icebergs and so on?. Don’t worry.

Secondly, they may ask for more details! That’s great! Leave them to make that decision.

The most important thing is that at the end of this process you have a clear and concise way of telling your story. And that you can tell your story to anyone in a natural and confident way. If what you are saying has a simple structure to it people will be able to follow it. If it isn’t too long, and if it has a clear point to it people will listen all the way to the end and remember it. If they can do that, then it may touch their emotions and their story.

They may even retell your to other people because they can remember it!

Who to contact

Revd Andy Gray, Faith Sharing Enabler