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“What were you thinking!!?”

The teenager had been to a party and had driven home drunk. He had driven his dad’s car off the road. Luckily none of the four kids inside were badly hurt. Picking him up at the hospital the dad exploded,

What were you thinking!?”

Truth be told the kid had been using adrenaline instead of brain cells. Thinking was just not happening. Now he was struggling, still half drunk, to remember the point at which it all went pear-shaped.

He had intended not to drink (much). He had intended to walk home if he felt he was drunk (even though he was not going to drink). But the feeling of fun and excitement had overtaken him and even the best of thoughts (Maybe just one drink) had not been strong enough to make a difference.

He hadn’t felt drunk, he had felt relaxed. He had just felt happy and on top of the world. He felt perfectly capable of driving home. He had felt, he had not thought…

His dad meanwhile – what was he thinking?

He struggled between worry and relief and anger and self-reproach. His innermost thoughts were, in fact an expression of feelings.

“I should have driven him myself.

Oh, thank God.

I should have taught him better.

Thank God he’s OK

I’m going to give him a piece of my mind when we get home.

He’s never going to drive my car again.

Thank God.

He’ll pay for every cent of the damages.

What if he had killed himself and his friends?

Oh thank God. Thank God he’s okay. Thank God.”

You feel for these two, the teenager and that dad but what were you thinking?

Actually, there is no thinking at all. It’s all emotion.

There’s no reasoning, no careful consideration. Just feelings. That’s where people spend most of the time – in their feelings.

So that’s where you need to go if you’re trying to reach people. If you have a message to get across, don’t worry about what they’re thinking.  Focus on what the audience or your readers are feeling.

Access their feelings of the moment. Make them feel different and deeper emotions. You’ll get your message across more effectively.

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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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