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Posts Tagged ‘memory’

(The first in a series)

“Yes,” she said, “I’d like to use anecdotes in my speech like he does, but nothing interesting ever happens in my life.”

Oh really? There might be a hermit somewhere who has absolutely nothing interesting happening in his life but for most of us, with families, jobs, hobbies, shopping, church, and/or school going on we have life experience that is full of anecdotes.

Human nature, with its actions and reactions, its clashes and its strange turns of fate is just full of stories, and an anecdote is just a shorter-than-usual story. Where though, do you find them?

Don’t limit your search to yesterday or last week. Go back as far as you remember. Include:

– all your schools and classes, your college days

– every job you ever had, right from a lemonade stand, summer jobs, helping your sister move, to career moves

– volunteering

– all the groups, formal or informal, you ever belonged to

– your friends and your not-so-friends

– your holidays, neighbours, church and professional associations

– your family; not just close family but great uncles, second cousins, in laws and all their spouses and children

– the odd people you’ve seen from time to time and wondered about,

Think about all the people you can remember (and some you’ve forgotten) who have influenced your life in some way. Maybe¬† in just a tiny way, but perhaps more than you have thought. Do you remember anything they did, anything they said that is still in your mind, years later? Could you write it as an anecdote?

If you were writing an anecdote and you wanted to put in it a person who was, say,  bossy or ultra-feminine would you be able to draw on your memories and think of someone who was just like that?

My high school principal was the most delicately feminine person I’ve ever met. She had a gentle Irish brogue, big blue eyes, curly hair and she always looked slightly lost and indecisive. She also had a post-graduate degree from Oxford University and you didn’t ever want to be sent to her office. Not that she lifted a finger to you. She didn’t even raise her voice; it got even softer and more Irish. She didn’t dictate punishment, she just quietly asked, “Why?” But you left there, close to tears, feeling like something the dog had chewed up and spit out. Few people were sent to her office more than once.

You can see how I could turn my visit to her office (Yes, I was sent there – once) into an anecdote. I would describe my ‘sin’, my feelings, cocky to start with, but changing rapidly. I’d put direct dialogue in there, although I’ve forgotten by now exactly what was said just as I’ve even forgotten why I was there in the first place. But I’ll never forget being in that office, facing that person. I know now that she influenced me by showing that feminine and soft were not the same as weak. It’s a lesson that will be with me forever.

That’s how you turn a person who remains strong in your memory into an anecdote. You dress the memory in emotion, action and dialogue. The anecdote doesn’t have to be strictly true, just true to the spirit of your memory and to the message you want to communicate.

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Let’s suppose you are a fairly new Toastmaster and you have this speech coming up. You know you aren’t supposed to use notes, but how can you possibly remember 5 – 7 minutes worth of material?

It works like this: First you plan your speech as you have been shown – a beginning, an ending and three major points between. Perhaps your speech is about buying plants for your garden. You develop a snazzy introduction and a strong conclusion that links back to it. Now consider your three main points. You’ve decided your three main categories will be plants for sunny spots, plants for shade and plants for rockeries.

You have chosen a topic that interests you so we’ll assume that either you have a garden or have had gardens, or know gardens and gardeners very well. Now you’re going to delve into your memory bank about gardens and come up with little reminiscences.

Thinking about this topic I dug deep into my personal history and came up with the memory of being about eight years old and my grandfather being too ill to plant his front garden. On a whim I said I would look after it. I went to the store and bought a couple of packets of seeds – nasturtiums and marigolds. I dug over the little plot, planted the seeds and waited. Amazingly I got a full crop of bright red, yellow and orange flowers that bloomed all summer and made a vivid display that had people stopping to admire it. Beginners luck, of course. By sheer chance the garden was in full sun and and the seeds I picked out do best in full sun.

This story could be stretched to at least a full minute, then be followed by a list of full-sun plants. The strong points of the story are that it is personal, full of strong detail and that it illustrates exactly the point you want to make (and if it didn’t you could adapt it).

Follow this with similar stories or anecdotes about shade plants and rockery plants for your remaining two points.

Now you don’t have to memorize a complete script, you just have to recall the beginning, ending and one anecdote to match each of your main points. Practice them ahead of time so they re well polished.

And let me know how it works for you.

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