Confusing your audience in stories

Last night I watched a speaker say something like this: “Do you remember the scene where they tore the page from the textbook in Dead Poet’s Society? ”. He then proceeded to relate the scene in the movie to his speech.

While using a quote, idea or story from a movie to help make a point is a useful and powerful technique, you need to be a little careful not to make one of these two assumption:

  • We had all seen the movie
  • We all remembered the scene/quote.

Those of us who had seen the movie will try to remember exactly what happened, and the rest of us have no idea what the speaker is talking about. This confused the audience and they loose the connection with the speaker.

Here are three suggestions.

  1. Pick an example that most of your audience can relate to.
  2. Give a brief summary of the scene; just enough to help the audience understand why it emphasises your point
  3. Provide context for people that may not be familiar with the example, so that they can relate to the story.

This doesn’t just apply to scene’s from a movie, it could be a quote from a famous speech, or even an important event. For example if I was giving a speech on national unity, I could say something like this

“Do you remember when Nelson Mandela walked onto the rugby field in 1995 after South Africa won the world cup final?”

The South African’s in the audience will remember the moment, but not many others will. Here is an alternative:

“It was 1995, and South Africa having just come out of years of racial segregation, was hosting the Rugby World Cup competition. Due to anti-apartheid sporting boycotts, this was the first year that South Africa was allowed to enter, and they beat New Zealand in the finals to take the trophy. Nelson Mandela walked onto the field wearing a springbok rugby jersey, and presented the trophy to the captain Francois Pineaar, and a nation cheered.”

Which example do you prefer?

Mandela, Rugby World Cup Final, 1995

Even if I gave that story to an audience that does not follow rugby, they can probably relate it to a similar story that is relevant to sporting matches that they follow.

Keep your examples powerful, relevant and simple to capture your audiences, build powerful connections and leave memorable messages.

3 thoughts on “Confusing your audience in stories”

  1. Yep — the second example is better because it reminds us of the moment. More importantly, it tells the audience what the SPEAKER’S point is. Every person who witnessed the example has a different interpretation. A more comprehensive example gives the audience the context the SPEAKER wants to create.
    So very good advice.
    Erich Viedge

  2. popular anecdotes are okay but storytelling is not, in public speaking that is.

    popular anecdotes establish relativity or common ground and they have been proven to engage listeners. but speakers should keep in mind the average attention span of the people who are listening to your presentation. playing it too long will only make their attention stray away from you. thanks, great post! :)

  3. Good points. One additional point should be added: not everyone is going to understand unique terms that are a part of some stories.

    You brought up a good point when you mentioned Rugby – popular in South Africa, but not played as much in other countries (American Football has the same issues). If your story required your audience to know about Rugby (scoring, team names, etc.), then there would be even more explaining to do…

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental Communicator Blog
    “Learn How To intimately connect with your audience in order to make an lasting impact in their lives.”

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