Archive for the ‘Anecdotes’ Category

The only way I will care about your story is if you make me care. You can’t expect your reader or audience to care unless you make it happen. You are in control. You create the emotional link. Think of three basic steps.

1. Your idea

Your story can be stand-alone or it can be illustrating a point. Either way, the basic idea is one that your readers or audience can relate to. It seems obvious. A group of women with small children will relate to a story about toilet training but a group of business men will think that a waste of time.

Let’s look at those businessmen. Are they entrepreneurs? Franchisees? Local business? International? Well established?  Focused on a product or a service? In other words you need to know more about this audience as you formulate your ideas. Define as precisely as you can the concept of what this audience is looking for. What is their primary interest? What are they hungry to know more about?

Once you can state what they are hungry for you have found your basic idea.

2. Your perspective

You are speaking or writing about this topic or idea because other people want a piece of the experience and knowledge you have. Experience and knowledge add up to an educated perspective. Some people may have the knowledge – they may have read lot about it. Some people may have hands-on experience but feel they lack the theoretical background that would give them a wider understanding.

Your perspective melds these two together to  unite the best in both those worlds. And you have stories and anecdotes from your experience to bring this to life. Every point you make you will be illustrated by a carefully chosen story from your experience. This is the story that vividly adds context and meaning to your basic idea.

Your  story or anecdote and your perspective are closely linked. The story supports your idea and your perspective – it it doesn’t do this, then pick another story.

3. Your words

Once you’ve found an idea that will draw people in and a perspective that offers your unique knowledge and experience you can start building your story to give that idea depth and meaning. A story is built from words. Try to use simple direct words wherever that is possible.

Tell your story through the senses. What do you see in the story – a landscape, a streetscape, a room? What components can you see? Trees, parked cars, a bookshelf crammed full of books?

What can you hear in the story – bird song, the screech of brakes, heavy metal music? Is there the smell of cedar, garbage or furniture polish? Do you feel the wind, the elevator button or the smooth leather chair? Can you taste the tomato in the sandwich, the popcorn, the repulsion of milk turned sour?

All the senses draw people into your story, bringing your idea to life and making your perspective real to audience or readers. and we haven’t even started on the immediacy of dialogue.

So, to make people care about what you have to say choose and hone your idea with care, present it through the lens of your own knowledge and experience and spend time selecting the words that will bring it to life.



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It’s all very well saying that your presentation or your article should be illustrated with anecdotes, but where do you find them?

Most top speakers have an anecdote file. When they have a quiet moment they think back on events in their life that still resonate with them. When they think of one that had lain forgotten for years they jot it down.

They may write it in a notebook or file it in a computer – the storage doesn’t matter. What matters is that their anecdote is now available as raw material for a future presentation.

The anecdote may be dramatic – the time when you lost, for just a few moments, your daughter on a crowded beach. That moment of panic, the fear, the feelings. That moment of panic connects you with your audience or readers. They have all felt it. This is an anecdote that will connect you at a deep emotional level.

The anecdote can be funny – a mistake you made, large or small. You could perhaps exaggerate the consequences, dramatize your humiliation. People in the audience will have made mistakes too, and been humiliated.   They will connect with that.

Your anecdotes don’t have to be moments of huge significance.  It could be something somebody said, especailly a child. There’s a wee girl in my neighbourhood who has adopted me as ‘Auntie Val, the Queen of the garden”. I was an only child so I’ve never been an auntie, and I’ve certainly never been queen of anything before. There’s a plant in my garden that she calls “Shrek’s ears”. Her sayings, her chatter and stories are going to be a huge source of anecdotes for me. They have a freshness, a charm that will pull the audience in.

My friend went to renew her driver’s licence and she came away with the new licence AND an anecdote she had uncovered as she chatted to the person behind the counter. She says she feels sorry for people who go to get a new driver’s licence and all they come away with is a new driver’s licence.

I came away with a great anecdote as I was stopped in a construction zone and chatted with the flag person. So you are not limited to your own experiences; you can use your skill to draw them from other people.

People who write memoir or family history stumble upon great anecdotes that reveal a moment in time, or a characteristic.

Almost anything you observe people do or say that is outside the ordinary can be the basis of an anecdote. Listen for them and jot them down. You’ve just been given raw material for  presentation.

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Clear anecotes

Any kind of writing – whether it’s for reading or for speaking – can be made clearer and more immediate if you use an anecdote or a story to clarify your meaning.

But first the anecdote has to be carefully chosen to enhance your overall purpose. And second, the anecdote itself has to be clear. If it isn’t clear you’ll lose the reader or audience.

Try the clarity test:

1. Does it contain all the necessary facts and information? If it’s important to know that the protagonist is a man with a limp, did you show him limping?

2. Does it have too much information? Is it therefore too long? Are there any words or paragraphs you could delete to give you a crisper illustration and avoid any chance of boredom?

3.Is it clear who is doing what? If, for example, you have two women in the story, when you write “she” is it clear which one you mean?

4. Is it clear why the person acted the way you have described? If the protagonist acts or reacts strongly, is it clear why he hasn’t just smoothed things over and walked away?

5. Have you chosen strong, vivid words that are right for your audience? Have you avoided long words and technical terms except where you really need them? The actual words you use can help to focus thinking or be a distraction.

6. Can you be sincere about this anecdote, or is it “Ho, hum, I’ll throw it in because it seems to fit” ? If you can put some feeling into it your readers or audience will ‘get it’ at a much deeper level.

An anecdote can be the lens that brings the overall meaning of your writing or speech into sharper focus. Its clarity can add depth and bring the message home. Spend time polishing it

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