The Power of Anecdotes

I do a lot of storytelling exercises in my work with corporate clients who want to improve their public speaking skills  for meetings and presentations. They want to be better at engaging audiences.

My background in professional theatre, combined with years spent developing and performing scripts for radio and writing a weekly newspaper column, have made me a reasonably good storyteller. I understand how to structure an anecdote so that it sets up the message I want to impart.

I’m a big proponent of opening a speech or presentation with something unexpected – something that sets up the rest of the piece and that isn’t, “Thank you.  This morning I would like to speak with you about…”

A relevant personal anecdote, a personal “story” can be a great way to begin.

I’ll sometimes open a speech on Influential Presentations with a story about the time, many years ago, when in the queue at a supermarket, my son mistook a brightly packaged box of condoms for a popular candy called Pop Rocks, which had the curious property of “popping” when activated by moisture. 

“Mummy, do these explode in your mouth?” he asked, during a particularly silent moment while waiting our turn to check out at the cashier. When we got back to the flat, I busied his little sister with an art project, grabbed the insect repellent (as this was not going to be a quick conversation) and took him out into the garden for “the talk”.

Having explained the use of condoms and human reproduction at some length, he queried: “So does it kill them?” Ready to launch into another dissertation, I began: “No darling, the condoms don’t kill the…” He then informed me he wasn’t talking about condoms, he wanted to know if the bug spray killed the mosquitoes. I’d lost his interest long before.  

“Balance what it is you want to share with your audience with what it is they need to hear” is how I wrap up the anecdote and begin my discussion on influential presentations.

So, two thoughts here. 1) Start recollecting stories. You already have thousands in your repertoire and they can be a terrific way to “grab” the attention of your audience and 2) be sure to balance what it is you want to tell them with what they need to hear.



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