The Power of the Personal

While listening to thousands of speeches in my teaching and training career, I've noticed certain characteristics of truly effective presentations. One significant trait is the amount of personal disclosure included. Certainly the personal information has to be relevant to the topic, but when the story or narrative fits, the power of the personal application is often the key to influencing the audience to take action.

          For years I have talked about the importance of empathy in communication. But it wasn’t until I began telling the story of my daughter’s seeking to find her birth mother that the concept took hold in the minds of the audience. I’ve had audience members tell me later that the story motivated them to help a relative find a birth mother. The emotion in the personal narrative can be the key for action to be taken.

          Recently I had a workshop participant tell in a speech about his experience of being in the air en route to the United States during the attack of 9/11. He related how the captain told them they were making an emergency landing because of a “fuel problem,” but  their lengthy circling of a Canadian airport indicated there must not be a fuel problem. He then finished the story by telling how “adoptive” Canadian families took in passengers on the plane for five days before they could fly back into the United States. And since he was of Middle Eastern nationality he felt particularly anxious. The audience was riveted to each word he spoke. The personal narrative had a great impact on his ability to influence that audience.

          When the speaker wants to give the audience a little extra, the personal touch can be the answer.

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

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