While staying with some relatives, my wife and I visited their church. The pastor began his message with an anecdote, a personal story involving him and his wife during their dating years. The story was humorous and seemed to get the attention of the church congregation. He then continued into a 3-point sermon about… something. I don’t remember the message and all I remember about anecdote was it involved a futon. I do remember being very confused as the message and the futon anecdote had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
In a small twist, I’d like to take this anecdote and actually put it to use.
Anecdotes are recommended to presenters (including pastors) to help break the ice, bring comic relief and engage the audience. The problem is when the anecdote doesn’t relate to the message. Even if you’re not a presenter, this is relevant to you.
What is the TRUTH about your company’s story, your family’s story, your story?
If you ask this of your colleagues, your employees and your customers, will you get mostly the same story or greatly varying answers?
Why would they vary? Because everyone has their own personal experience. We possess our own anecdotal evidence to support our perceptions about most everything. And this personal story IS our truth. Unfortunately, we may be telling a story that doesn’t connect with what people experience. Like the case of the pastor’s sermon, the anecdote and the message don’t relate.
The idea of telling a consistent story isn’t new. Not even close, but are you paying attention to the anecdotes you are creating? Every interaction with someone else is an opportunity to frame the story they tell. If others all start telling the same basic story, then you may reach a (tipping) point where people who haven’t interacted with you directly are helping tell your story. We could call this Critical Anecdotal Mass.
It isn’t about manipulation or distortion of the truth. It’s about being authentic, but intentional. They are stories about Apple’s hyper-controlled design standards, the brilliant generosity of Tom’s Shoes or the affordable build-it-yourself eurostyle of IKEA.
So, let’s put down the futon anecdote, step away slowly and start telling the stories that matter.