Stories, anecdotes, and diversions


by Peter Watts

Anecdotes, stories, and diversions bring a presentation to life.

When we add something personal to a presentation, it is a gift from ourselves to the audience. It paints colour into our words, sharing our passion for the subject.

The secret is to not leave the anecdote to chance. Plan it carefully. Know at what point you are going to introduce it, and most importantly, ensure you know how to link back into the presentation afterwards.

This week I have had the privilege of working in Istanbul, and the even greater privilege of having a small portion of leisure time. During that day off, I found myself walking down one of the city’s principal streets.

All the usual suspects were there. Well known designer brands sat beside Starbucks outlets. Recognition of familiar branding gave me a feeling of being somewhere I knew. Rather like the main theme of a presentation it was easy to navigate.

Numerous smaller streets sat between the western chains. I took a diversion, and headed down one.

Familiar stores were replaced by street markets. The area around me had come to life. THIS was Istanbul. Like a good story or anecdote, my diversion bought me not just the colors of Istanbul, but it’s sounds, and smells, and textures, and tastes. All the senses engaged at once in a full memory locking experience.

I so much enjoyed my diversion, that I wandered further, following the twists and turns. My initial experience so pleasant that I was encouraged to wander deeper.

When we tell a story, the audience sits forward. Interest peeks. We are encouraged to keep going.

Before long, I became aware that the streets were becoming distinctly narrower and more neglected. Time to go back. The problem was that as I traced what I thought was my route back to the street, I realized that I was going in circles. I had passed the same fabric store three times. The store keeper was starting to recognize me. Hopelessly “lost tourist” had to be scrawled all over me.

If we haven’t planned a story thoroughly, before we know it, the walls can start closing in, and we struggle to find our way back to the main theme in a way that the audience start to recognize as a “lost presenter”!

I made it back to that main thoroughfare, and resumed my walk. But I was so disoriented by this point that I started walking in the wrong direction, and five minutes later found myself back-tracking in the heat over places I had already been.

If we become lost in an anecdote, we are so relieved to rejoin our main thread that we then become lost all over again.

My detour into the backstreets of Istanbul was the most memorable part of my day, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In just the same way, a well placed story will be the most memorable part of your presentation.

For it to be a success though, make sure that you know how far into it you want to go, and have a clear idea of how to find your way back out.

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