Personal Anecdotes: 6 Pro Tips for teachers, trainers, speakers and leaders

I was the wittiest teacher in town until that day. Mid-joke, I suddenly realized that my students laugh because I control their grades. Damn. I shut my mouth and got serious about my job.

Which isn’t to say I’m solemn now—keeping things light helps learning, and personal anecdotes add depth to speeches. But my job is to serve the attendees, not to make it about myself. These days I keep the spotlight on the audience, participants or students.

6 Pro Tips for Excellent Teaching, Training, Speaking and Leadership 

  1. Don’t confuse attention with adoration. It’s easy to confuse participants’ attention with adulation. Most programs are structured so that the teacher, speaker or leader is the center of attention, but don’t be seduced by that. It’s good to be authentic and include your personality, but keep in mind that your role is not about you or your witty stories. Your job is less star and more server—you exist to deliver, coach, facilitate or inform.
  2. Share with caution. Be careful of what you share. Injecting a little bit of performance into your presentation is useful to maintain interest, but becoming a clown is not. You have to maintain the leader-participant covenant, which is that you are there to facilitate their success. If they lose respect for you, your audience is less likely to learn from you—it’s hard to learn from someone you don’t respect.
  3. Keep it minimal. Time management is a vital part of leadership. Extra information such as anecdotes and jokes adds to the time needed to get through your content. It can also distract participants; for every story you tell, someone will want to tell theirs. Some participants may resent what they consider a waste of time.
  4. Keep it pertinent. If your anecdote illustrates a point, include it.
  5. You don’t know your participants’ personal stories. Stories about the cute thing your kid said may build community. They also may alienate or distract someone. You won’t always know.
  6. Think about it from the participants’ point of view. How you would feel if someone told a similar story—would it help you? Although seeming to smile at your cute story, your audience may be thinking “I invested time and money for this?”

As leaders we need to remember that participants have given up time, money, sleep, and other activities to attend our program. It’s our job and responsibility to honour their investment.