The Value of Personal Anecdotes: Almost every great speaker-and some not so great ones-use personal stories. Politicians love them! Now, you can too! If you are a supervisor, manager, trainer, parent, coach, or conversationalist (that fits most of us), personal anecdotes can add color and sparkle to conversations. You do not have to have something new happen every day, simply use the many stories of your life. You can:
- Reinforce a learning moment.
- Share a human situation in your work or life history.
- Add humor, inspiration or energy to a meeting or presentation.
However, as you have likely discovered, effectively telling an anecdote of any kind is not easy, and telling a personal anecdote is even more challenging. If you have ever sat in a meeting or in an audience and mentally grimaced with embarrassment, frustration, boredom or irritation while someone told a story, you know you don't want to get the same reaction!
Some negative reactions to personal anecdotes:
- If you talk about your experiences or accomplishments excessively-even for the purpose of encouraging others or sharing what you have in common with them-you can seem to be bragging or living in the past.
- If you frequently talk about your mistakes, listeners may laugh with you but start viewing you as an incompetent who has no right to critique their work or offer advice.
- If you nearly always follow-up something someone else has said with, “That reminds me of the time when. . . . . . " it can seem as though you have a “war story" for every situation or that you are trying to top that persons story.
- If your anecdotes are lengthy, very detailed or not particularly entertaining, you may be considered boring-especially if you have told the same story repeatedly.
- If you tell stories that clearly are very exaggerated or not true, even for a good purpose, you will lose credibility and people won't believe the true stories you share.
Don't get shut off! If you are not skillful at telling stories and anecdotes, listeners will shut you off mentally the moment you start to use a personal illustration-and eventually they'll groan about them to others. That is not the way you want your conversations or presentations to be remembered!
- Practice the story. Practice before you tell it the first time, and occasionally after that, so you don't misspeak, or cast about mentally for the times, dates or details, and so you can tell it concisely and clearly.
- Have a purpose for the anecdote. Do you want to reinforce a point, connect with people on a personal level, redirect thinking, or share a smile? Choose a story that is right for your purpose, rather than tossing in a story just to say you told one.
- Tell the truth. If you tell it as though it really happened, it should have really happened. Otherwise, it isn't a personal story, it's a lie. You can change details or put a funny or dramatic spin on it, but keep it true, especially your role in it.
- Keep it brief. You may enjoy replaying every tiny detail in your mind, but others may wish you would hurry up and get to the point.
- Keep the emotions you display and the tone of voice you use, appropriate for the story you are telling. If you laugh about details that a reasonable person would not find amusing, or tell an otherwise amusing story in a somber way, listeners may misunderstand your purpose, or think you are not very discerning about the situation.
- Put energy into it. Tell an interesting story, don't just ploddingly recount an event. You should nearly always speak a bit faster when telling an anecdote. Be appropriately and comfortably animated and speak with forcefulness. Act it up a bit!
- Finish and move on. Finish your anecdote with a few words to remind listeners once again of what the story was designed to illustrate, then segue back to the original conversation or presentation.
Keep an anecdote notebook: Consider keeping a notebook or computer file to remind you of situations that have illustrative potential, and review your file occasionally or when you are preparing a presentation, so you don't forget.
The python story: One of my brothers once reminded me of a situation I had told him about, and said, “That python story was the funniest story you ever told me. " I had completely forgotten that incident-but now I use it in presentations quite often to illustrate several key points. The python story is one of the stories of my life. Look for ways to effectively share yours.
***Tina Lewis Rowe is an “informational, inspirational, insightful" presenter, trainer and writer. Her online training journal at http://tinalewisrowe.com provides a fascinating mix of workplace tips, thoughts on life and work, and occasional lapses into philosophy.
Tina speaks and trains about personal, professional and organizational development, with a focus on supervision, management and leadership. She brings a unique background to all of her work, since she is undoubtedly the only one of her kind in the world:
She is a twenty-five year veteran police officer, a former presidential appointed United States Marshal, one of the Workplace Doctors on the Ask The Workplace Doctors website, http://workplacedoctors.com - the author of a book on police promotional processes, as well as the author of the most widely read PDF on the security role of church greeters and ushers, ever written!
Tina presents to business, government and criminal justice work groups and is an energized, warm and witty, yet thought provoking and inspirational presenter for conferences and meetings. Audiences love her!
(Tina wrote every word of this hyperbole and swears it is true!)