Thursday, December 8, 2016

Personal story practice: What's your dining-out story?

If you're struggling with how to incorporate a personal story into your speeches, talks, or presentations, there's an easy way to practice: Use a story on which you've been dining out for years to practice shaping and delivering a personal story.

You know the one I mean. You've told that story over and over, to many different groups of friends, or every year at the family reunion, or when you want a sure-fire tale that will entertain, shock, or surprise your closest friends. It may be funny, self-revealing, or somber, but it's one you know backwards and forwards. You've added to it or eliminated lines here and there over the years, so it's familiar and well-worn and comfortable.

Such a story is the perfect practice tool. Take that story of yours and write it out fully. Use the 120-words-per-minute test to see how long it is. Then edit and polish it. Can you make it into a talk of five minutes or less? That's usually easy to do with a dining-out story, since no one wants to bore their nearest and dearest. A five-minute talk is a useful tool to have in your back pocket.

Then work on memorizing the polished version of your story, which also shouldn't be too tough, since you know it so well. Use my memorization tactics so you can see how they work. Now you have a talk you can give at any time in your back pocket, a real advantage should someone call on you to give an impromptu speech--that's just what I did for a high-stakes, last-minute speech. The fact that you know it and are comfortable with it will work in your favor, and let you apply yourself to the grace notes of the talk: laugh lines, pauses, dramatic effects.

You may find, at the end of this practice, that your dining-out story has some relevance to a work situation or lets you make a personal or larger point in a talk for a public audience. That's the goal. My impromptu speech linked above would not have worked for a different audience--it was precisely relevant to the event and the group. And not all of your dining-out stories will be appropriate for work settings, but if they are and can help you get your point across, so much the better. If your story involves big emotion or something personally significant to you, do practice it in front of people other than your dining-out gang first, so you can see whether emotion overtakes you in a different speaking situation. Then put this polished personal story into your repertoire as a speaker.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by _SiD_)