Personal stories are an important part of most great presentations. There will be times in your presentation when you want your audience to feel a specific emotion. One way to do this is to talk about a time when you felt that very same emotion. This technique establishes a connection between you and the audience that’s sincere and credible. A catalog of personal stories related to various emotions can be a helpful resource.

One instinctual way to recall stories is to reflect upon a timeline of your life. You can go year by year, or cluster the years into phases like early childhood, elementary age, middle school, high school, college, career, parenting, grandparenting, and retirement.

There are other ways to recall useful memories besides the chronological approach. Disrupting the chronological flow can lead you to a deeper—and possibly dormant— group of stories. Instead of focusing on chronology, focus on people, places, and things. While exploring these three areas, draw sketches based on your memories and make notes about the emotions 
 they trigger.

People: You can call up relational memories simply by making lists of people you’ve known. Begin with a hierarchical family tree that shows the conventional familial links. Then, go beyond those links and connect your relatives to one another based on relationships or situations where they have interacted in some way. You can also sketch people who have influenced you, and explore relationships you’ve observed such as teacher/student, employer/ employee, friend/friend, or enemy/enemy. The power dynamics in these relationships can generate exciting stories, so recall the feelings and think through the relational dynamics you have with the people in your list.

Places: Recall spaces where you’ve spent time and sketch them. These could be your home, your yard, your neighborhood, an office where you worked, a church you attended, a sports stadium, places where you went on vacation—any space, including virtual spaces. Then, use these memories to create spatial recollections. For example, mentally walk from room to room, recollecting and drawing as many details as possible. You’ll “see” things you’d forgotten. This process will trigger memories of long-forgotten scenes, scents, and sounds. Sketching allows you to “change gears” and access other parts of your mind and body, allowing you to surface more memories.

Things: Make a list of the things you’ve owned that are valuable to you. It’s not important whether or not they were expensive. What counts is their emotional significance. Then ask yourself what’s the story behind these things that make them so precious to you. Do you cherish an old beat-up car because that’s where you had your first kiss? Or a teddy bear because it stayed with you in your bed after you had your tonsils taken out? Draw pictures that show these items in the environment where you usually found them with as much detail as possible. This will evoke even more memories and feelings.

Sketching your memories is a wonderful aid to recalling and classifying stories. If the idea of sketching makes you uncomfortable, you can look for images online or in magazines to represent your stories. The point is to create visual triggers for memories and then write down as much as you can —giving special attention to how you felt throughout the story. Then, whenever you have to relate a personal anecdote with conviction, you can refer to this collection of stories.

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