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The Power of Personal Stories
by Bill Stainton

Most people who know me as a speaker, consultant, or coach know two things about me:
  1. I love humor!
  2. I hate jokes!
Don’t get me wrong: I like hearing a good joke; I’m just not a big fan of their use on the platform. I think there’s a much more powerful resource for humor available to the speaker, and it’s called the personal story.

In my experience, personal stories—or personal anecdotes, if you prefer—have several convincing advantages over jokes, and I’d like to explore a few of those advantages here.

  1. Personal Stories Are Unique
    This is a huge, huge advantage! Your personal stories are just that: yours! They didn’t come out of some book that’s been read by 50,000 people. You’re not going to hear another speaker telling your stories (at least, not ethically). But more to the point, your audience will not have heard them before!

  2. Personal Stories Are Easy to Remember
    Let’s face it: jokes are tough to remember! And I’m sure there’s a corollary of Murphy’s Law that states that jokes are even harder to remember when you’re standing on a platform with a microphone in your hand in front of 500 people! That’s the beauty of personal stories! They’re easier to remember, for two reasons:
    • They come from your own experience
      You don’t have to try to remember what comes next; you know what comes next, because you were there! You’ve already told them dozens—perhaps hundreds—of times
    • These are the stories you’ve already told to your family, your co-workers, your friends.
      Sure, you’ll tweak them a bit for the platform—add a line here, clean up a segment there, bend the story a bit to further your message—but, by and large, you know how to tell these stories!
  3. Personal Stories Are "Bombproof"
    When you tell a joke, and it doesn’t get a laugh, you’ve bombed! You know it, and the audience knows it. That’s because the sole purpose of a joke is to get a laugh! Even if you’re using the joke to further your point, the joke itself is there to get a laugh, and everybody knows it. If it doesn’t get a laugh, you’ve got nowhere to go. It’s not a good feeling. Believe me, I know! Personal stories, on the other hand, exist first and foremost to further your point. If your story gets a laugh, that’s icing on the cake. But if it just gets warm smiles, or no response at all, you simply move on! Your audience will never know they were supposed to laugh; they’ll simply assume you’ve told them a mildly entertaining story to exemplify your point. Now, granted, you may have been expecting a laugh. But if you don’t show it, the audience will be none the wiser. As long as you keep your cool, you can’t bomb!
Okay, so hopefully I've sold you on the power of personal stories as a source of humor in your public speaking. Now you may be thinking, “But where do I get all these great stories; nothing funny ever happens to me!” That, my friend, is where you’re wrong, and I’ll prove it to you in an article called, appropriately enough, Where to Find Personal Stories!

Copyright Bill Stainton. All Rights Reserved.

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