Walking History: A Great Source

   A source for great speech content is the people who have lived several decades and have observed much history as it was made. I enjoy asking them questions and having them tell of significant events they have experienced or observed.

For example, I interviewed several relatives and friends over the past two decades and learned more about the depression, WWII, anecdotes from various Presidents beginning with Roosevelt, and family history before I was born.

For example, I learned from my 87-year-old cousin that my Uncle Omer was shot and killed in the 1920s during prohibition because he was mistaken for a rumrunner. He and a buddy were driving through Montana and a state prohibition officer shot him as he stood by his car. I’ve used that story in speeches to discuss jumping to conclusions, for example.

A friend from church was on the USS Detroit in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on that fateful day in 1941 when the Japanese attacked, and he was an eye witness as the USS Arizona exploded in a spray of fire, water, and debris.  Sharing his account of this historical event to talk about how events change our directions in life personally and as a nation is powerful in a presentation.

I enjoy chatting with people about their careers and interests in airports, elevators, ballgames, and before or after a presentation. You never know when an instance or story will become invaluable in your next speech.

Questions which I will usually ask a senior is, “What is the most unusual/significant event in your career?” or “What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?  ” or “What is a  lesson you learned in your 30 years as a…?” Sometimes a question will come to you that is unique to his/her life. For example, I sat by Pat Day, one of the winningest jockeys in the history of horseracing, and learned how difficult the life of a jockey is. They must maintain a certain weight and face multiple dangers involved in the sport. Talking about his life is a great way to discuss self-discipline and perseverance.

Caution:  Don’t begin a conversation with the questions I mentioned earlier. Instead, check to make sure the person is willing to talk by asking where he or she is from, or what brings that person to the city, conference, or game that you share in common. For example, in chatting with a well-dressed elderly couple in a hotel elevator on a Saturday afternoon, I asked if they were attending a wedding in the hotel. His response was, “No, we are getting married here later today.”  That motivated a different approach to the follow-up questions.

So much information is available on the internet that finding unique supporting material can sometimes be challenging. Thus acquiring anecdotes from your conversations and finding ways to incorporate them in your presentations gives you fresh and stimulating content to help assure success in your next engagement.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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