Sharing stories while speaking at a conference is commonplace. It’s such a good conduit to learning that many speakers rely on its visual and experiential reference. We can more easily recall those stories, and then, hopefully, connect them to certain principles or ideas taught. Even in my collegiate days, I didn’t want to miss attending class (notice that I said “want to”). I could better remember what was taught by visualizing where the professor was when he/she shared stories and examples on the material presented. I knew my learning pattern.
What stories do you have to tell?
There of those of us who have a story for everything. We’re naturally inclined to highlight a point by recalling an experience in great detail. Our minds are nostalgic rolodexes filled with “I remember once’s.” It’s easy for us to recall, relate and remind others.
But for some of us, it’s not so easy. We struggle to come up with the right response at the right moment. And by the time we do think of a great story, the moment has long passed. Like George Costanza on Seinfield. You remember, right? A co-worker Riley, upon seeing George scarfing down shrimp said, “Hey George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” The rest of his team laughed at his expense and he couldn’t think of a comeback. And when he did think of something, he tried to make it work days later, and of course, it fell flat. We’re afraid of the same thing.
When it comes to examples and stories, you’ve got a longer window to come back to people. Your intention is not to humiliate (sorry, George), but rather to illuminate. It’s okay to return back to someone a day or two later, and say, “Hey, remember when we were talking about the EEO? I thought of something that happened to me that I wanted to share.” And then move into that sharing.
For both kinds of storytellers, here’s a few helpful hints:
1 – Know the point of your story before you start. You might be so excited to tell this really funny story that you put your energy into the delivery rather than in the lesson or consideration. People will remember the story, but likely have a hard time remembering the product. We’ve seen this with television advertising, right? Hilarious commercial, but what was it for again?
2 – Be concise. Most people don’t have time for a 20-minute diatribe on the misgivings you have around non-monetary compensation taxation. Keep the example brief, but poignant or memorable. Repeat the point twice during the story (not in a row, but as a matter of discourse).
3 – Focus the attention on the takeaway not on the deliverer. We all love to talk about ourselves, I get it, but if this is to be a learning opportunity, then keep it as such. If we’re approaching the “stage” in our minds as we share, then we’re likely to make it about us. Again, point 1 – know the point of your story, but also maintain that as your directive in sharing.
We all have things to share. Yes, even those reading this thinking, “I don’t have any good stories,” you do! HR and management work gives us stories daily! Yes, you will need to change names to protect identities. Perhaps you’ll need to speak a bit abstractly. But you have stories. Take the time to categorize a few and be ready to share when the time comes.
Storytelling is as old as human existence. Take care in handling them. Respect the knowledge passed down and the contributions you’ll be making. Encourage the hearers of your examples to consider a different option, to open the door to a new process and to welcome robust, healthy communication. It’s your gift of experience to treat respectfully and to offer willingly.
No one wants to be the jerk that gets a call from the jerk store.