Public Speaking – How Analogies and Anecdotes Enlighten Your Meaning

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Humanizing your speech — adding human interest to it — makes it meaningful. It moves beyond the plain facts, the raw data, to make it interesting for your audience. When you humanize your presentation, you make it mesmerizing and memorable. Two powerful humanizing elements are the analogy and the anecdote/story. Here are a few examples:


* A graduation speaker: “In thinking about life and work, remember what you learn in squeezing a tube of toothpaste. You’ll get a little out of it if you insist on starting at the top, but you’ll get a lot more if you’re willing to start at the bottom.”

* The survivor of a plane crash: “28 minutes. That’s how long it took from the time the plane took off, crashed and I got pulled out of the water by a ferry boat. So in the time it takes me to give this talk today, that’s how long it took for my entire life to be changed.”

* A college president, addressing an audience of about 100 women, on the privilege of a college education: “Pretend for a moment that the hundred of you in this room represent the population of the world. Here’s what you would look like: 57 of you would be Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere, and eight from Africa. 51 of you would be female, 49 male. 70 of you would be nonwhite, 30 of you white. 66 of you would be non-Christian. 80 of you would live in substandard housing. 70 of you would be illiterate. 50 of you would suffer from malnutrition or go to bed hungry every night. The six of you at this table would hold half of the wealth in this room-you six are Americans. And only one of you has a college degree.”


* The IT specialist for an accounting firm on the need for security of information: “Years ago, when I first started with the firm, I came in one Saturday to get caught up on some things. While I was working away in the silence of the office, I thought I heard a door open and close. I didn’t give much thought to the security of our office in those days since we’d never had any problems in the building. And I didn’t think much of it since it wasn’t unusual for other associates to come in on the weekend. But I thought much differently a second later when I looked up and saw a strange man walking down the hall towards me-and all he had on was a grin.”

* A customer service representative: “When I was little and played hide and seek with my siblings, my little sister would hide by standing behind a skinny little sapling and closing her eyes. She thought that as long as she couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see her. For too long, that has been our approach to customer feedback. If we close our eyes, there must not be any…”

* A diversity expert on the challenges of inclusiveness: Once there was once a giraffe who lived in a fine home in the jungle. For many years, the elephant was kept out of that home, but finally the giraffe changed his attitude and invited the elephant to live in the house with him. The elephant was warm in the winter and cool in the summer, had food to eat and a place to sleep. But he was not happy.

“What’s wrong?” asked the giraffe, appalled that the elephant would not appreciate his new environment. 

“Well,” replied the elephant, “it’s a really nice house, but I’m not entirely comfortable in it. For example, all the windows are very high up, so I can’t see out. All the doorways are so narrow, I can’t fit through, and the stairs are so steep and narrow, I can’t go to any other floor.” 

“Well, that’s easy to fix,” replied the giraffe. “First of all, we’ll put you on a diet, so soon you’ll be slim and trim and can fit through those doors. We’ll take you to the gym where you’ll exercise on a stair stepper so you can get the hang of the stairs. And then we’ll put you in a neck traction device so you can stretch your neck enough to eventually see out those windows.” 

Sometimes, this is the way we deal with diversity in our organizations.

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