The retreat talks are not intended to teach, though those listening may learn. They are not intended to convert, though they may result in conversion. They do not intend to be preachy, though they may convey the essence of the Good News. In witness talks, we are presenting the rich tapestry and texture of our lives, represented in our struggles, moments of personal richness, faith stories, and experiences of growth. The intent of every witness talk is to invite the other participants to look into their own experience so that they can understand the unique tapestry and texture of their lives.
The model witness talk is a realistic portrayal of life itself. Everyone has their story. It is through these stories that people encounter Jesus through the experiences of another. In the stories that we tell in everyday life, we do not discuss life theoretically or abstractly, but we simply present it, allowing life to speak for itself. The stories are open-ended, so that the participants hearing them can make their own applications and find truth in their own lives.
A leader giving an effective witness talk story keeps in mind these key principles: Stories are specific, not general; colorful, not bland; human, not idealistic; descriptive, not analytical; personal, not pious; genuine and real, not contrived and untrue; faithful and prayerful, but not preachy; engaging, yet not manipulative; deep, but not overly heavy. Here are some helpful hints to prepare your witness talk:
- Look at your faith life and your experiences: Where has the theme of your talk been evident in your life story? Remember the events, the people, feelings, scenes, and slices of life that made those moments what they were. Move beyond the “this happened to me” to a deeper more reflective mode that addresses such questions as: How has this affected my faith? How have these experiences formed who I am today and my notion of Christ and God? What have these experiences challenged me to do with my life?
- Use personal stories: Use rich language in you imagery, detail, and description.
- Connect your stories to the theme of your talk, to what precedes and follows your talk. Be open, honest, and be your genuine self.
- Invite your listeners to be involved, to dwell upon their own similar experiences.
Challenge your audience, offer questions, and build in moments of silence into your talk for participants to reflect upon those questions.