Short anecdotes for speeches are a fantastic way to end a presentation with a bang. These stories can be fiction, actual incidents from history, or even just funny stories from your own personal life. When you deliver them well, though, they have a lasting impact. I often use these short anecdotes for speeches where I am training to teach something meaningful to the audience. So, in most instances, these stories are used in training sessions or motivational speeches. The anecdotes themselves are often entertaining, some are even funny, but when you use the story to relay a greater message, they have a magic quality. The important part of the process is to spend time at the end tying the incident back to the main point of your presentation.
My daughter graduated from High School last weekend, and the keynote speaker was a local pastor in the area. He used a well-known anecdote in a masterful way as the start of the commencement speech. Since he was a pastor, he told the story of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Being a professional speaker, myself, I was wondering exactly how he was going to tie that story to a graduation ceremony. He went on to explain how many Christians might see a “Baptism” as the ending point. In Jesus’ case, though, that was the start of his public ministry. The pastor then shared with the graduating class that many of them are likely seeing the ceremony as the end of their schooling. In reality, though, commencement means the beginning. It was really well done and very inspirational to the graduating class.
So, I thought that it might be fun to just jot down a few of the most inspirational (or just funny) short anecdotes for speeches that I have come across in my career. Perhaps you can use them in your next presentation.
Short Anecdotes for Speeches
The Parable of the Pebbles
A merchant in Alexandria had a trade route across the desert where he traveled from village to village selling trade goods off the back of his camel. On one trip, he got caught in a massive sandstorm and lost his way. The sand had covered up the trail, and he had run out of water. Just about the time that he was on the verge of giving up, he saw miles ahead of him what looked like an oasis. He moved as fast as he could through the sand, and just as the sun set over the horizon, he welt cool water on his sandal. He dropped to his knees and began cupping water into his mouth with his palm — the whole while thanking God that he survived. Then, out of the darkness, he hears this big booming voice from heaven say, “Merchant! Reach down, pick up some pebbles, put them into your pocket, and in the morning you will be both glad and sad.”
Well, when a big booming voice from heaven tells you to do something, you tend to do it. So, he reached into the stream, picked up a few pebbles, packed up his camel as fast as he could, and took off. When he felt like he was far enough away from the voice that he was safe, he made camp.
Laying under the stars, he finally realized that he had been pretty dehydrated, and he convinced himself that the voice was just his imagination running wild. The next morning, though, when he woke, he felt something in his trouser pocket. He reached in to discard the pebbles, but when he looked at them in the light of day, he was amazed. They weren’t just ordinary pebbles. They were precious gems — diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies… At that moment, he realized that the voice was absolutely right when he said that the merchant would be both glad and sad.
The merchant was glad that he picked a few pebbles up…
He also was very sad, though, that he didn’t pick up more.
The parable of the pebbles is an analogy to training sessions. When we finish a training session without putting a lot of effort into the skill development, we will often be glad that we gained some skill. However, we can often look back and wish that we had worked a little harder so that we could have developed more.
Rocks in a Jar Time Management
A consultant was hired to help a team of high-achieving executives develop more work-life balance. He brought in a one-gallon glass jar and filled it with large stones. He asked the group if the jar was full. The group agreed that the jar was pretty full.
However, he pulled out a bag of smaller pebbles like you would see in a fish tank, and poured them in as well. As he shook the jar, the smaller pebbles fell into the spaces between the large rocks. Again he asked, “So, is the jar full?” The group was more hesitant, now, though. So, they waited to see what he would pull out next.
Not to disappoint, he pulled out a bag of sand, and poured it into the jar as well. “Now is the jar full?”
One of the high-achievers in the front row, learning his game said, “No, you can still pour water into the jar.”
Of course, he did.
The same woman in the front row then said, “I get it. The point is that no matter how busy our schedule is, you can always cram something else in, right?”
The consultant smiled at her and said, “Not exactly. My point is that the big items only fit into the jar at all because we put them in first. If you don’t focus on the big things like, spending time with your family and having a strong spiritual life, the little things will always seep in and take up all the space.”
Use the Rocks in a Jar Time Management parable to encourage people to focus on the most important things in life.
The Obstacle in Our Path Parable
A wise king had a boulder placed in the middle of the main road leading into and out of the kingdom. For most of the day, busy merchants and wealthy nobles, although greatly irritated, just made their way around the obstacle. Many of them cursed the king for not having the boulder moved. Finally, a vegetable farmer with small cart, seeing that the boulder was a great obstacle for his fellow merchants with wagons, decided to try to help. He pushed and strained as fellow travelers watched. Eventually, he was able to clear the boulder from the roadway. As he went back to retrieve his cart, he noticed a money bag where the boulder had been. Inside was a dozen gold coins along with a note from the king thanking him.
The Obstacle in Our Path Parable can be used to show how every obstacle in our path is an opportunity for reward. However, most people see the obstacle and go the other way.
The Ripple Effect
Have you ever wondered, “What is the ripple effect?” Most likely, the common phrase in economics and other industries came from this parable. The ripple effect basically just means that there are often unintended consequences of any action. This short anecdote for speeches can be used to teach that concept.
A troubled monk goes to his Abbott for guidance, and after listening intently, the Abbott asks the monk to join him on a walk. The arrive at a pond near the back of the monastery. The Abbott asks the monk to pick up a stone and toss it into the center of the pond. The monk complies. “Now,” said the Abbott, “as the ripples come closer to the shore, stick your finger in the water to try to stop them.” The monk tries, but as he sticks his finger in the water, the action just creates more ripples.
The confused monk looks at his mentor and says, “Abbott, I can’t. My actions just cause more ripples.”
The Abbott smiles, and says, “So, you cannot stop the ripples?”
“Correct,” said the monk.
“But could you have stopped yourself from tossing the stone into the pond in the first place”?”
This short anecdote has a ton of applications in a speech. I sometimes use it to show that often we spend a lot of time trying to mitigate a symptom versus fixing the actual problem causing the symptom. For instance, people will often come to my classes to reduce the number of times they say “uhhmm” in a speech or to avoid speaking too quickly. Those are just symptoms of nervousness, though. If you try to treat the symptom, it’s like trying to stop the ripples. However, if we help the presenter reduce the actual nervousness, the ripples go away all together.
Tell Us Some of Your Favorite Short Parables for Presentations.
If you have a compelling story, anecdote, or parable that you like t use in your presentations, share it with us in the comments below. We will try to make this page a repository for great presentation anecdotes.