Stories and anecdotes for your speech encourage people to listen because everybody loves a story. Once you promise to tell a story, you can feel the audience's anticipation. If you want to lighten the mood, use a short story, joke or humor. If you want to make your point memorable, a story or anecdote about a success or failure will help listeners remember.
Stories and anecdotes make your speech memorable. You create a real connection with your audience when you share a personal story they can all identify with. That's because people relate stories to their own experiences.
Data is great and necessary. But as Annette Simmons writes in The Story Factor, We are drowning in information. We don't need more. We need to know what it all means. And a story can explain what it means and make us feel like we fit in there somewhere. (p. 111)
Below you'll find short stories, humor, quotes and anecdotes on various topics that you can use or adapt in your speech to make your point more clearly. I've listed the source when known.
But as you plan your speech, please include some of your personal experiences that taught you an important lesson. Revealing something about yourself is a sure way to build a strong rapport with those listening.
A lesson in conservation
In Cuba, where both cars and gasoline are scarce, the government has figured out a way to get the greatest use out of these meager resources to help citizens get around. They have trucks fitted with wooden benches that run certain routes and stop at intersections along the way. People walk to one of the designated intersections when they are ready to travel.
Since the trucks are always full, if you get to your intersection and get on a truck, you’ll have to wait until enough people who are going the same way get on. There’s no guaranteed schedule but also no wasted fuel. Unlike here where most cars have only the single driver and we squander gasoline for casual trips, the Cubans are experts at fuel efficiency.
The concept is innovative but does not fit well with the American psyche that says “Time is money.”
judgment comes from experience. And experience? Well, that comes from poor
When enough is enough
John Bogle, the Vanguard founder who passed away in 2019, once told a story about money that highlights something we don’t think about enough:
At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough.”
Source: From The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
How stress chips away at willpower
Love yourself first
The late Senator Ernest Hollings, always ready with a clever comeback, was asked how he and his wife Peatsy had enjoyed such a long, successful marriage. His answer was simple: "We’re both in love with the same person."
Making the best of a bad situation
When the Chinese had surrounded his men at the Chosin Reservoir Battle in the Korean War, Marine Lt Gen. Chesty Puller famously said, “All right. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us . . . They can’t get away this time.”
The rest of the story – what was believed to be a doomed mission became a remarkable story of grit and courage as the Marines broke out and fought their way through multiple enemy divisions.
Thinking long-term, not short-term
Americans have always turned a critical eye to the government’s plan to spend vast amounts of money. Politicians who get slammed for big-budget spending might take comfort in this bit of history.
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson led the effort to complete the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million. That doubled the size of the country, extending it from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. Jefferson was soundly criticized that his actions would force citizens to pay a huge tab for wilderness that was virtually useless. Newspapers claimed that because of that deal, “Every man, woman and child will be saddled with a debt of $4.36.” That price amounted to about 3 cents an acre.
Source: The purchase of Louisiana from France | Britannica.com
The perils of stereotyping
A retired chaplain (Norris Burkes) who writes a weekly newspaper column described a recent outing when he was taking his daughter to lunch. They were in a poorer section of Sacramento trying out a Syrian restaurant. The only customers in the room, they were placing their orders at the counter when Norris heard a voice behind him say, “Don’t move.”
His mind immediately jumped to he and his daughter being victims of a robbery. The idea became more firmly implanted when he turned around slowly to see a light-complected African American male standing there. He immediately started to catalog details of the man’s appearance figuring if he survived, he’d need information to give the police. “And don’t panic,” the stranger said in a voice just above a whisper.
With a local crime rate nearly twice the national average, he continued his mental catalog of the stranger’s characteristics.
Then the man said, “It’s okay. I got this. Just don’t move.” A strange comment from a potential robber. But what he was talking about was that a wasp had settled into the hood of the daughter’s coat. The stranger took a piece of cardboard, gently coaxed the wasp onto it and then carried it to the door where he ejected it…removing the wasp, the chaplain and his daughter from any potential harm.
We can’t always trust our first impressions.
Source: Post & Courier, January 15, 2023.
Looking at a situation from all sides – humor
A lawyer, a priest, and an engineer meet each week for a game of golf.
One day, they get stuck behind the slowest group of players they had ever seen. They were hitting the balls all over the place, getting stuck in just about every trap and patch of rough, and missing just about every putt.
Finally, the group gets frustrated and heads to the clubhouse to find the manager.
“What’s with that group of players? They’re the worst I’ve ever seen! They’re holding up the course!”
The manager looks sheepish, “They’re retired firefighters, they lost their eyesight running into a burning orphanage to save the children. They love golf, so I let them play for free for charity.”
The priest looks ashamed of himself, “As a man of God, I feel terrible for getting angry at those men. At my next sermon, I’ll see if I can get a collection going for their families.”
The lawyer likewise looks chagrined, “Same here, I’ll check with my firm and see if we can’t open a case to get them awarded restitution for their pain and injuries.”
The engineer says, “Why can’t they play at night?”
Marriage – keeping the peace
A husband and wife had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except for one: The woman kept in her closet a shoe box that she forbade her husband from ever opening. But when she was on her deathbed—and with her blessing—he opened the box and found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue,” she explained. “Instead, I should keep quiet and crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. Only one doll was in the box—that meant she’d been angry with him only once in 60 years. “But what about all this money?” he asked. “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”
Marriage – rose colored glasses
Ah, marriage. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror one evening admiring my reflection, when I posed this question to my wife of 30 years: “Will you still love me when I’m old, fat, and balding?” She answered, “I do.”
Source: Michael Jordan, Moss Point, Mississippi
Cunning overcomes strength - The bear the moose and the wolf.
A bear, a wolf, and a
moose fall into a trapping pit
After a couple days with no food, the moose sees the wolf and bear whispering to each other.
The wolf turns to the moose and says "Look, the bear and I are both carnivores. It's been a couple days without food. You understand, right?"
The moose says "Yeah, I guess you're right. But, listen before you kill and eat me, can I just ask for one last request? There is this birthmark under my tail that supposedly looks like a word, but I've never known what it says. Do you think you could take a look and tell me?"
The wolf says "Of course"
So the wolf and bear get close to the back of the moose and lift up his tail. Right at that moment, the moose gets up on his front legs and kicks both the wolf and bear in the chest.
The wolf is killed instantly. The bear is fatally wounded, and with his dying breath says, "I don't even know why the hell I looked. I can't read."
Intelligence – do you know where you are going?
Albert Einstein, the great physicist who once was named Man of the Century by Time magazine, was traveling from Princeton on a train, when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets.
It wasn't there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn't find it.
The conductor told him not to worry. “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket.” Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.
The conductor rushed back and said, 'Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one.
'Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going."
The greatest of minds
John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement: “This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Calvin Coolidge – paucity of words
President Calvin Coolidge was sparing with words. According to legend, a dinner companion offered to bet she could extract at least three words from him during the evening. Coolidge turned to her and said, “You lose.”
So well known was Coolidge’s reputation for silence that when he died, American poet Dorothy Parker quipped, “How can you tell?”
Source: Johnson and Johnson, A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. Barnes & Noble, 2007.
Thinking long-term, not short-term
Americans have always turned a critical eye to the government’s plan to spend vast amounts of money. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson led the effort to complete the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million. That doubled the size of the country, extending it from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
Jefferson was soundly criticized that his actions would force citizens to pay a huge tab for wilderness that was virtually useless. Newspapers claimed that because of that deal, “Every man, woman and child will be saddled with a debt of $4.36.” That price amounted to about 3 cents an acre.
Source: The purchase of Louisiana from France | Britannica.com
Sermons – simply put
President Calvin Coolidge was stopped
by a reporter one Sunday morning as he was leaving church. The reporter asked,
“What did the preacher talk about?”
Coolidge replied, “Sin.” The
reporter pressed ahead: “What did he say about it?”
“He was against it,” the president replied and went on about his business.
Not our finest moments – Presidential Campaigns
Presidential campaigns are a cornerstone of American politics and frequently are rather nasty. Democrat Al Smith was the first candidate to appear on television in his run against Herbert Hoover in 1928. General Electric broadcast his acceptance speech in Albany to the GE plant 15 miles away. Smith had two qualities that worked against him with the electorate. He favored changing the laws against Prohibition and he was Catholic. Republicans cast him as a drunkard who would bring the pope to Washington.
The 1948 campaign between Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey had its predictably low moments. Republicans changed the phrase, “To err is Truman,” and labeled him as “soft on Communism.” Even Democrats at their convention carried placards saying, “I’m mild about Harry.”
And we only have to listen to the evening news to hear the surly comments political opponents make about one another.
A little history . . .
Presidential campaigns weren’t always so bruising. From George Washington until Lincoln’s 1860 campaign, no presidential candidate openly campaigned for himself. Such self-promotion was considered undignified for one seeking the highest office in the land. Lincoln even refused to vote for himself but was persuaded to cast a ballot for his party after his name was cut off the ballot. We can thank Lincoln’s opponent, Democrat Stephen Douglas for opening this Pandora’s Box by actively campaigning for himself and against Lincoln. The very act of his campaigning was considered offensive to most voters.
Source: David E Johnson and Johnnie R Johnson, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House, c2004.
John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. As the meal ended, President Kennedy made this observation: "This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
Shlemiel gets a job as a street painter, painting the dotted lines down the middle of the road. On the first day he takes a can of paint out to the road and finishes 300 yards of the road. “That’s pretty good!” says his boss, “you’re a fast worker!” and pays him a kopeck.
The next day Shlemiel only gets 150 yards done. “Well, that’s not nearly as good as yesterday, but you’re still a fast worker. 150 yards is respectable,” and pays him a kopeck.
The next day Shlemiel paints 30 yards of the road. “Only 30!” shouts his boss. “That’s unacceptable! On the first day you did ten times that much work! What’s going on?”
“I can’t help it,” says Shlemiel. “Every day I get farther and farther away from the paint can!”
Calamities can be a blessing – Father knows best
This is the Chinese folktale about the lost horse.
A man who lives on the northern frontier of China had a fine horse who ran away one day for no reason to the nomads across the border. He was distraught but his father said, “What makes you think this isn’t a blessing?”
Some months later the horse returned with a magnificent nomad stallion. The household was richer with the addition and his son loved to ride the horse. But one day the son fell off the horse and broke his hip. Again the man was distraught but his father said, “What makes you think this isn’t a blessing?”
Later that year, the nomads came across the border in force and every able-bodied man took his weapon and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine out of every ten men in the battle. Only because son was lame was he spared from the fight and lived so that the father and son could take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster and disaster to blessing.
Favorite Folktales from around the World. Edited by Jane Yolen. Pantheon Fairytale & Folklore Library, ©1986, p. 407.
Death of a Miser – Russia – You can’t take it with you
There was an old miser who had two sons and a great deal of money. When he heard Death coming, he locked himself up in his room, sat on his oaken chest, swallowed his gold coins, chewed up his bills and thus ended his life. His sons came, laid out the dead body under the holy icons and invited the sexton to chant the Psalms. At midnight a devil in human form suddenly appeared, took the old man on his shoulders and said, “Hold up the flap of your coat, sexton” And he shook the dead man saying, “The money is yours but the bag is mine.” And he vanished, taking the body with him.
Favorite Folktales from around the World. Edited by Jane Yolen. Pantheon Fairytale & Folklore Library, ©1986, p. 466.
Be careful what you eat
A preacher visits an elderly woman from his congregation. As he sits on the couch, he notices a large bowl of peanuts on the coffee table.
"Mind if I have a few?" he asks.
"No, not at all!" the woman replied.
They chat for an hour and, as the preacher stands to leave, he realizes that instead of eating just a few peanuts, he emptied most of the bowl.
"I'm terribly sorry for eating all your peanuts. I really just meant to eat a few."
"Oh, that's all right," the woman says. "Ever since I lost my teeth, all I can do is suck the chocolate off of them."
Give without credit - church
A man had several large bags of aluminum cans. On his way to a recycling facility, he stopped and offered the bags to a visibly needy man who was walking along the road gathering cans. The man refused the cans saying, “I don’t need no charity.” So over the next hill or two, the man with the bags of cans tossed the cans a few at a time into the ditch. Later as he drove past the area, he noted that someone had picked up every can.
Generosity does more than meet a need. Genuine generosity leads to thankfulness on the part of the recipient and Thanksgiving directed toward God. and shows proof of our spiritual maturity. Christians are expected to show generosity to others.
Don’t be quick to criticize
A man went to church. He forgot to switch off his phone and of course it rang loudly during prayer. The congregation glared, the worshippers admonished him and the pastor scolded him afterward. All the way home from church his wife lectured him on being careless. He was thoroughly shamed.
After all that criticism, he never stepped foot in the church again.
That Sunday evening the man went to a bar. He accidentally spilled his drink on the table. The waiter apologized, and gave him a napkin to clean himself, the janitor mopped the floor, the manager offered him a complimentary drink. She gave him a smile and said, “Don’t worry. This kind of thing happens all the time.”
He continues to go to that bar.
It’s important to remember that sometimes our attitude, as believers, can drive a soul to a dark place. You can make a difference just by the way you treat people when they are most vulnerable. We all make mistakes. Spread love. Not hate.
Charity and giving - church
A $20 bill and a $1 bill were talking about their lives. The $20 had been used at great restaurants, in bookstores and for fares in limousines. After describing his great travels, the $20 dollar bill asked the $1 dollar bill, "What about you? Where have you been?"
The $1 dollar replied, "Well, I've been to the Baptist church, the Methodist church, the Presbyterian church, the Episcopalian church, the Church of God in Christ, the Catholic church, the Mormon church, the A.M.E. church, the Disciple of Christ Church, the...
"WAIT A MINUTE! WAIT A MINUTE !!", shouted the $20 dollar bill to the $1 dollar bill. "What's a church?"
Faith – famous people
Coolidge, the president most noted for
his sparce use of words, was stopped by a reporter one Sunday morning as he was
leaving church. The reporter asked, “What did the preacher talk about?” Coolidge replied, “Sin.” The reporter pressed ahead: “What did he say
“He was against it,” the president replied and then went on about his business.
Faith - Eternal sharing
Imagine in both heaven and hell people sit around a big banquet table loaded with food. But each person has only a fork six feet long. In hell, they starve because they cannot get the fork to their mouths. In heaven, they use the long forks to feed each other and do just fine.
Faith - Making your point through audience participation
A church lady was tasked with the job of raising funds to buy a new church bus. It was no easy task as the congregation had just completed a building project. Unfazed, she stood before the people seated in the pews and told everyone to slide six inches to the left. She stood silently until the people reluctantly did as she asked and moved slightly to their left. Then she asked people to slide six inches to the right. After some grumbling, everyone slid back and waited expectantly.
“Now you have collectively succeeded in dusting about 80 percent of the surfaces in this sanctuary,” she said. “If you can accomplish that only by moving your bottoms, imagine what else we can do together.”
Point taken. Everybody smiled and she got money for the bus.
The blessings of maturity
And on the eighth day God created Seniors. Most seniors never get enough exercise. In His wisdom, God decreed that seniors become forgetful so they would have to search for their glasses, keys, and other things, thus doing more walking. And God looked down and saw that it was good.
Then God saw there was another need. In His wisdom He made seniors lose coordination so they would drop things, requiring them to bend, reach, and stretch. And God looked down and saw that it was good.
Then God considered the function of bladders and decided seniors would have additional calls of nature, requiring more trips to the bathroom, thus providing more exercise. God looked down and saw that it was good.
So if you find, as you age, you are getting up and down more, remember it's God's will. It is all in your best interest even though you mutter under your breath.
Faith - When two parts must work together
Think of someone in a row boat with two oars. One oar is FAITH and the other is WORKS. If you have only faith without works, you will go round and round. If you row with only works and not faith, you will go round and round in the other direction. Only when using both oars – faith and works – can you go forward.