Kelly Vandever - Communications for Everyone

Archive for the ‘Storytelling in Presentations’ Category

Be Original Already

In Presentation Tips, Storytelling in Presentations on August 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

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Original Blogging... Original Presenting

When I first started earnestly blogging this year, I created an elaborate two-part post based on a presentation I’d just watched.  The person who was doing the presentation is well known in her industry and for me, the blog post served as way to help me learn and reinforce the lessons I’d learned from her.  Take my word for it – the presenter gave great information and I wrote a brilliant accounting of her wisdom…

You have to take my word for it because of what happened next.

As I was finishing the post, I realized that much of what I was saying was her intellectual property.  While the information may be around in other forms, the way she packaged the information using trademarked acronyms and methodologies was thought up by her.  So I sent her a nice email, told her what I’d done to reinforce my learning, sent her a link to my posting – which by the way provide multiple links back to her website – and asked her if she minded me talking about her intellectual property.  I told her if she had a problem with the post, I’d be happy to take it down.

She had a problem with me using her intellectual property.  She asked me to take it down.  I did immediately.

I’d like to think that if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t have asked her to take the post down.   The way I figure it, if people are spreading my ideas and pointing them back to my site, that’s total gravy.  But she didn’t see it that way.  But it’s a good lesson to learn not just in blog posts but also in presentations.

Original Stories

One mistake that presenters sometimes make, particularly when they’re new to public speaking, is to repeat stories that they’ve heard or read.   They do it (or maybe I should say I did it) mostly because the story is funny or it illustrates a point.

I suppose it’s OK to tell someone else’s story if you give credit to the person whose story it is.  But consider that the story isn’t yours.  You can’t tell it as well as the person who originally told the story.  It’s THEIR story.  So find your own stories.  Many things have happened to you in your life.  How can you make the same point but by using one of your stories?  Challenge yourself to come up with your own material.

How Do YOU See It

One of the things I noticed in the text we used at Kennesaw State when I taught public speaking was that there were endnotes throughout practically every paragraph.  I understand with an academic setting perhaps it’s important to stress the sources of information but you know, someone had to originally come up with that thesis or had the original idea like Aristotle or Monroe.  I wondered what the authors actually thought about public speaking.

If you’re giving a presentation where you are always crediting some authority on the information, then where do YOU come in?  When does the audience get to hear your original thoughts?

Give your opinions.  Talk with conviction about how you see the world.  You’ve had experience.  You have a mind.  Talk about where you stand.  Let your audience know what you think.  After all, you’re who they came to listen to.   So tell them what you believe.

 Write About It

When I first started blogging this year, I was bummed that this person who I wrote about asked me to take down my blog posts.  But she probably did me a favor.  It forced me to think about how I felt about presentations and how to be more effective in communicating a message to an audience.

If you’re not sure how you feel about the topic you’re presenting on, force yourself to write about it.  And find a way to hold yourself accountable.  I used a blog because it was a way to hold myself accountable.  If I don’t write regularly, my blog hits will fall. You don’t have to do a blog.  Maybe it’s an accountability partner or a writers group.  But force yourself to write down your thoughts and holding yourself accountable for doing it.

What Do You Think?

Do you disagree?  Do you think it’s important to you as a presenter to use other authorities to support your point?  Do you as an audience member need to have other validation?

Please add your comments below!


Unused Story Files Stories – Tough Gal Waitress

In Storytelling in Presentations on April 5, 2011 at 11:15 am

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Does the Tough Gal Waitress Story Make a Point about Presentation Skills?

This will be my final post in my “stories in search of a point” series – but we’re going to change it up a bit.

I could see a few points that could come out of this next story but here’s the twist – I’d like to see if there’s a point I could make that relates to presentation skills.  After all, the programs I do are all geared toward presentation skills so it would be good if the point of the story could some how be tied back to presentation skills.

Here’s the story… you supply the point!

Tough Gal Waitress

It was the summer I was working the graveyard shift at the Truck Haven Café restaurant in Jefferson, Iowa.

It was about 11 PM on a Saturday night and the place was packed.  We had several large parties in the back section and all the booths were full.  There were only two waitresses and one cook that night so we were hustling, trying to keep up.

I was at the food pick up window when I heard a commotion.  I spun around and there are two dudes in the back section where the big tables were and they were in a bear hug.  One of the men was dressed like he’d just come from a wedding and the other man was dressed like he’d come from a softball game.  I guess it was the body language of their companions that let me know that this was not a friendly hug.   I can only guess that one guy had just swung at the other one and they were doing that boxing rope-a-dope move made famous by Mohammed Ali.

In the deepest, loudest voice I could muster I simultaneously hollered across the restaurant “KNOCK IT OFF OR I’M CALLING THE COPS” and stormed the distance to where the rope-a-dope twins stood.  I possessed far more assertiveness and authority than I had the right to exude as a naïve 19-year-old chick from a small town in Iowa.

I broke up the fight and luckily for me, the baseball team had just finished their meal and got up to leave while the wedding party was just starting to eat.  The two warring factions were being naturally separated.  I went to the cash registered and checked out the softball crew, placating them with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  They’re real jerks …”  When softball team left, I went back and placated the wedding party, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, they were real jerks, …”

When it seemed clear that the storm had passed, I went into the back of the restaurant where the dishwasher was… and started bawling.

What’s the Moral of the Story?  Can It Be Tied Back to Presentation Skills?

I want to hear from you!  Please add your comment and recommendations!



Unused Story Files Stories – Serving Dinner to a Biker Gang

In Storytelling in Presentations on April 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm

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Motorcycle Enthusiasts - Not a Real Gang

In my last post, I mentioned having several stories in my Story File that I’d never used in a speech or presentation.  I pondered on my blog if there were any points that could be made with these stories.

I mention my personal stories because I’m a firm believer in using personal stories for two reasons in particular.  (1)  If you tell a personal story, it will be new and fresh to your audience.  You know they won’t have just read the same story on the internet before hearing your presentation.  (2) Telling a personal story helps build rapport with an audience.   As you tell them something that happened to you, they get to know you better and they appreciate you as the speaker opening up.  So I advise my clients to find and include personal stories in their presentations.

And of course since I want to practice what I preach, I have my Story File that I refer back to as a way of incorporating stories when I need to make a point or add interest to a presentation.  But I haven’t used certain stories in my presentations before because I didn’t think they made a point that would be relevant to my audiences.  So I’m planning on using maybe one or two more blog post with you smart folks out there in the world in hopes that you might find the moral that I’m missing in these stories.

Here is the next of my orphaned stories in need of a point.  As you read it, think if there are any larger life lessons that might be learned from this story.

And so, I present to you…

Serving Dinner to a Biker Gang

Believe it or not, there is at least one motorcycle gang in Iowa.  Not a group of motorcycle enthusiasts like the group my husband Rich and I rode with this weekend (that’s Rich in the foreground of the above picture).  But real live, committing illegal-activity type of motorcycle gang, like in the TV show Sons of Anarchy but not made up.  In Iowa, the motorcycle gang I know of is called the Sons of Silence.

Attending my junior and senior year of high school in Iowa, I’d heard classmates talking about the Sons of Silence.  It sounded pretty scary.  But it wasn’t until after I’d graduated from high school and started waitressing at the Truck Stop Café that I had my first personal encounter with members of the Sons of Silence motorcycle gang.

I was 18 and it was my first summer waitressing.  The only other waiter I remember working that day was the 20-year-old son of the owner.  I don’t remember his name but let’s call him Chris.  Chris was tall.  I’m guessing 6’ 2” or better.  And skinny like guys that age often are.  He struck me as being socially awkward but otherwise a nice enough guy.  He was working the tables in the back of the restaurant and I was working the front of the restaurant.

The back section was actually the better section to work.  The front of the restaurant is where the special table reserved for truckers was located.  Only unlike you might assume given it’s name, hardly any truckers ever came and used the reserved truckers table.  The rest of the seats in that section were at one of two diner-style counters and then there were a couple of booths with room for 4 people.  In the back section were four tables that would sit 6 or more each.  Plus a couple of smaller tables for 4.  In other words, all the big parties, where the bigger tips came from, sat in the back.

Now my assumption was that Chris, being the son of the owner, got the better section of the restaurant.  I don’t know if that’s how things were decided.  But I was new and I was OK taking the “easier” section even if it meant smaller tips.

On this fateful afternoon around three, after the lunch crowd was long gone and well before the dinner group would come in, a line of motorcycles drove by the plate glass windows at the front of the restaurant and parked along the east side of the building.  It was members of the Sons of Silence gang.  There were eight men and two women that entered wearing grungy levis and the tell-tale denim jackets with the Sons of Silence logo emblazoned across their backs.    They strolled into the restaurant and headed to the big tables in the back.  They swarmed over two of the 6 seat tables which were side by side and spilled over onto one of the 4 seat tables.  Even though there were 16 chairs for 10 people, their presences filled the back section.

Chris came over to me, eyes wide.  “Do you see that?  Do you see that?”

The gang members were boisterously joking with one another and jockeying about for seats.

There was a strange look on Chris’ face.  Here was this giant almost a foot taller than me, but I was getting this real, wimpy, sand-in-the-face-at-the-beach type of vibe.  So I asked, “Do you want me to take your tables?”

Evidently I’d correctly interpreted whatever I’d seen on Chris’ face because he gladly turned over the waiting duties to me for our new visitors.

Over the next hour or so I got them menus, silverware, and water.  I got their drinks, I placed and delivered their orders.  I cleared empty plates.  I got refills on drinks.  The normal things that I did with any customer.  My mother taught me to treat all people with respect and so I did.  I determined that I’d treat them like any other customer.  I was polite.  I smiled.  I occasionally cracked jokes with some of the members that seemed to have a sense of humor (though that did garner some nasty looks from one of the women in the group).  I did my job like I was supposed to.

And nothing bad happened.   They ate their meals.  They paid their bills.  And they left the restaurant.   They were like most other customers – except they left no tip.  It’s not the first time I’d given good service and received no tip.  But I was satisfied because I’d survived to tell the tale of serving dinner to a biker gang.

After they left, Chris came over to me and stammered something like, “I… ah… I…ah I hope you know, I wasn’t scared.”  I think I said something like, “Oh, yeah, no, sure.” but I remember thinking, “Ah… yeah, ya were, ya big chicken.”  I felt like a tough cookie — little 5 foot 3 inch Kelly wasn’t afraid to serve the people that terrified a guy two years older and nearly a foot taller.  (Is it any wonder I went on to join the military?!)

Now What?

That’s the story.  Much taller, slightly older guy – chicken.  Tough short chick – served a biker gang.  Short chick got no tip.

What life lessons, if any, can you take from this story?  How might the life lesson be applied in another context?  Any thoughts?   Please add them to the comments section!


Unused “Story File” Stories – The Drunk Guy Who Fell Asleep in his Soup

In Storytelling in Presentations on April 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm

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Is There a Point to the Drunk Guy Story?

Though I’m sure he wasn’t the first to coin the idea of a story file, it was Craig Valentine who I first heard talk about making a story file.  Since then, I’ve heard others talk about their versions of a story file.  Typically a story file is an electronic or a paper system which documents the stories of a speaker or presenter so he or she has a collection for use in future speeches and presentations.  Since stories add interest and impact to the spoken word, it’s valuable to have a collection of stories we can use when we speak to help make a point and increase listener retention.

Some people have very elaborate systems for their story files.  I’ve heard of speakers that have file folder systems subdivided by topic.  I’ve heard of databases with key words indexed for faster sorting.  Personally, I keep a single document on my hard drive and when I remember a story or live a new story, I jot down a few key words or details to remind me of the story and I let it sit there in the document until I need it.

When I’m putting together material and want to break up the content or use a story to make a point, I got through my file and ask myself… which of these stories makes my point.  It’s worked well for me in adding stories to my programs.

Well I noticed recently that I have a few stories that I’ve never used.  I wrote them down because I’d told them to my friends more than once so I thought there must be some life lesson I learned that made that story stick.  Maybe I was wrong and they’re just interesting stories.  Perhaps I learned something but just haven’t discovered how the life lessons applied to anyone else.  But in the next few post, I’m going to play with some of those stories and perhaps together we can come up with some morals for these stories!

Here’s the first story…

The Drunk Guy Who Fell Asleep in his Soup

The summer before my sophomore year of college, I worked the graveyard shift at the Truck Stop Café on Highway 30 in Jefferson, Iowa.   I witness all kinds of new sights working from 10 at night to 6 in the morning.  One of the sights was my first seriously drunk guy (who wasn’t a college student).

The “Drunk Guy” came in about 11 PM and stammered over to the diner-style counter by the front door.  I came over to give him his water, menu and silverware and even as young and naive as I was, I could tell he was drunk off his…stool.  I was finally able to understand his order for vegetable soup and noticed while I was waiting for the order to come up that he was talking to the dude next to him.  The only problem was, there wasn’t anyone sitting next to him.  He was alone in that part of the restaurant.

I set his soup in front of him and scooted away, not really wanting to talk with him.  I noticed after a few minutes he had fallen asleep in his soup.

I was extremely anxious.  It seemed like he wasn’t going to sober up anytime soon.  Someone had to do something.  I didn’t want him getting back in his car.  He could kill someone.  And my younger brother was driving somewhere out there.  The only other person working that night was a fry cook who was probably about my age.  He didn’t want to get involved.  I guessed I would have to be the someone who did something.  So after agonizing if I was making the right decision, I called the cops.

When they were taking him away, he hollered back at me, waving his fist, “I’ll get you for this!  I’ll get you for this!”  He sounded like he meant it.

I told my parents about the incident.  They didn’t seem too concerned.  Even though Jefferson is a small town, I didn’t know the guy.  But I was really nervous that he’d make good on his threat.  He was an averaged sized guy, maybe even on the thin side.  And he had to be in his 50’s.  But he seemed threatening to me.

A few weeks passed and one day, as Mom and I were in line to check out at the grocery store, I noticed the Drunk Guy two people in front of us in line.  I half hid behind my mom whispering, “That’s the guy, the drunk guy I called the cops on.”  He wasn’t drunk.  Just a guy checking out of the grocery store line.

After a bit, I came out from around my mom, and eventually he looked over at me…. with zero recognition on his face.  He didn’t know me from Adam.  He wasn’t plotting his revenge.  He didn’t ever remember me.

I never did find out who he was.  I don’t know if he was an alcoholic or a man who made a bad choice one night.

I also don’t know if there is a point to this story!

What do you think?  Do you think this story makes a point that would applicable to some other aspect of life?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!



Tell Stories that Move Your Audience to Action

In Storytelling in Presentations on March 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

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What are the stories that will move your audience to action?

Don’t you just love winning free stuff?  I know I do.  I recently won a copy of the book Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.  I cracked it open over a bowl of cereal this morning.  I’d listened to a podcast of Clay Shirky speaking at the RSA in England about the book so I suspected that I was going to enjoy this piece of non-fiction.  Shirky starts the book with a story.  Immediately I was sucked in.  After a few paragraphs I realized, I needed to start eating again or my Cheerios were going to get soggy.

Whether it’s a non-fiction book, a sermon, or a presentation, stories have a way of pulling us into the real content of a message.  While the content of a message maybe what makes a difference in the audience’s life, if the audience has trouble tuning in for the message, the content can easily get lost in the information overload that is our modern life.  Adding stories to your presentations can be just what’s needed to sucks your audience into your content.

But what stories move our audiences toward our message and toward the action that we want?  Here are some thoughts.


Oh Yeah… Thanks for the Reminder

Exercise regularly.  Eat healthy.  Treat others with respect.  Have you heard any of these messages before?  Sure.  Do you believe in them?  Probably.  Are there times when you don’t do these things?  Absolutely.  Does being “lectured to” about them make you want to take action and change?  Eh, probably not.

When you have a presentation where you know your audience should know your message, but they don’t always follow it, consider a story that makes it OK to change course.  Where possible, tell a story that tells of your own failure to comply.  When have you violated your own advice?  What were the consequences?  Were you shamed into changing or was there a kind person whose wisdom helped turn things around for you?  By being vulnerable and showing that you made the change, you can inspire your audience to make the shift themselves.  People need stories where you make it OK that they aren’t doing what they should be doing and now but can then be motivated to change.  Your turn around can be the inspiration that they want to change too.

Geez, I Could Do That!

A lot of times, people don’t take an action because either they don’t know how or they don’t believe they can.  Do you know anyone that falls into that category whom you helped?  Were you the person who didn’t think you could do it but learned how?  If you seem like an approachable person and you did it… or if you showed someone else who was just like them (the audience) make a change… then you can create in your audience’s mind an epiphany that they can do it too.

Sometimes we all feel that we’re not ______ enough.  Fill in the blank.  We’re not smart enough… We’re not rich enough.  We’re not brave enough.  We’re not talented enough.  If you have a story that takes away the word in the blank, then you have a story that can motivate an audience.

I remember sitting in an audience in 2003 listening to a speaker who was talking about how he became a professional speaker.  He talked about his steps and I remember thinking to myself, “I could do that.  I could do that.”  He wasn’t handsome.  Or rich.  He wasn’t more talented then me.   If he could do it, then so could I!  And now I have.  Find that kind of story for your audience, and they can follow in your footsteps too.

I Never Thought about It Like That Before

Sometimes people feel an urge to change their behaviors or their thought processes, but their choices are ingrained based on tradition or what they’ve always believed to be right.  Most of us loathe to admit we’re wrong.  But when we’re given new information, the new information offers us a chance to change our mind but still keep face.  The new information makes it OK to change our mind because we didn’t know it earlier.

What new piece of information will inform your audience and give them permission to change their minds?  Do you have a story that illustrates the change in your position?  What new information made a difference?  It may not be the actual issue that you’re discussing but maybe it’s a story from elsewhere in your life when new information made you change your stance.  Either a direct or an indirect story can help illustrate to your audience how having the new information they now have can make changing their approach OK too.

Stories the Work

If you tell a story and you’re getting the results you want, than you’re golden.  If not, then consider the ideas above.  Are you giving your audience reminders and permission to change?  Are you telling them how they can change?  Are you giving them new information that makes it easier for them to change?  Try making the adjustments and watch your results improve.

Now It’s Your Turn

What stories have been successful for you?  What stories do you tell that move your audience to action?  Tell us the story and the action it moves your audiences toward in the comments section below!