Keep It Concise

Mark Twain had a clever and often humorous way to make a point through his stories. He told of a Missouri farmer who ran five times for the state legislature without winning. It wasn’t because he didn’t practice his speeches. He practiced his campaign talks every day while milking. He referred to himself as “my humble aspirant.”  He referred to his audiences as “my enlightened constituents.”  He talked of “obtaining a mandate” for his “legislative mission.” He did not understand the concept of being concise.

Then one day even his cow balked at these speeches and kicked him in the teeth. With his front teeth knocked out, the farmer could speak only words of one syllable. The result was he won his next election and kept getting reelected.

Introducing Ourselves Clearly

Josh told me this story to use when, as you begin your presentation or your workshop, you want your participants in a small audience to pronounce their names distinctly.

His friend Dean was in medical school at Indiana University and a teaching physician he saw periodically introduced himself as “Dr. Tonibaroni.”  So whenever Dean saw him in the hall he would say, “Hello, Dr. Baroni.”  To which the doctor would reply, “Tonibaroni.” Dean would think, Whatever.  He just figured some people preferred first names, but he wasn’t comfortable with that, so whenever he saw the doctor he would say, “Hello, Dr. Baroni.”  Again the doctor would reply “Tonibaroni,” and Dean would think, Whatever.

This happened several times until, one day, Dean discovered to his chagrin that “Tonibaroni” was the doctor’s last name! He had a first name also, so his name was something like Joe Tonibaroni.

This is a good example to encourage the group to speak distinctly, pronouncing both names clearly so everyone can distinguish between first and last names

Sharpening Your Axe

The story goes that in the fall of the year, a couple of men were chopping wood to heat their homes for the winter. They both worked all day. But one man took a break every few hours and the other man worked without a break except for lunch. At the end of the day the woodchopper who had taken his breaks had chopped more wood than the man who did not take breaks. So the man asked his chopping partner how he could chop more wood when he had worked hard all day long and he had taken a break every few hours. The man’s reply was, “Well, while you were continuing to chop wood, I was sharpening my axe.”  We all need to take time to sharpen our skills and we can see that this habit pays dividends.

Both Charles Miner and Ben Franklin told versions of the story so you know the story has been around for over two centuries. One of the reasons this story works is that the narrative has several applications you could make concerning preparation, keeping fit, cutting edge material, and many others.

You want the audience to know that the story did not really happen. I did that here by purposely keeping the details vague and identifying the narrative with “This story…” If the story were historical, you would certainly answer the “W” questions in detail. For a hypothetical story, you don’t want to make up the answers to the “W” questions because that would imply it was true. Other ways to introduce the hypothetical story might be, “Picture with me this scene…” or “Imagine you were driving….”

The hypothetical story is the weakest of the three types because the event did not really happen. If anyone disagrees with the application you are making, then a person can say, “Well, because that did not really happen, the example does not make your point.”  So the hypothetical story is best to help an audience understand, not to persuade.