How To Do Anecdotes in Video Meetings

Regular readers will be aware of my embrace of storytelling in presentations and I have written on more than one occasion about the power that lies within a good story, well told. The anecdote in particular is a great way of personalising dull material, building empathy with your audience and leaving a short, sharp impression.

In a face to face meeting an anecdote is easier to pull off for the simple reason that you can read the room and its mood. There is also a certain amount of dead time normally built into the time slot. By contrast, video meetings hit the floor running and that dead time is normally wasted waiting for a couple of people to join. When this happens, most people pretend to be busy rather than waste time saying something they may have to repeat when all are present.

So here’s a suggestion. If the room and the mood is obliging (don’t launch the following exercise to with the AGM!), make a conscious decision to fill this ‘waiting’ period with a short anecdote. Make your story at least loosely pertinent to the meeting content (or context) and make sure you set it up to succeed – something along the lines of ‘As we’re still waiting I thought I’d share something that you might find interesting….” Is a good way to introduce the anecdote.

Elevator Pitch Your Anecdote

There are a couple of pointers that will help to ensure your success. Firstly, your timing is significant. I am not referring to your comic timing (as I have said on many occasions before – if you don’t do comedy… don’t do comedy!), but the ticking clock of a video conference room. Therefore aim for an anecdote that resembles an elevator pitch ie 30 – 60 seconds, with a well formed introduction, middle and conclusion. This means chopping out unnecessary details and quickly coming to the point.

Secondly, you should be thinking about ‘owning’ that video room! As the format naturally focuses on the head and face, take a moment to reassess what you are doing with your facial expressions. Are you putting enough emotion in to them and are you conveying the essential qualities of assuredness, confidence and energy? On this point I have noticed the advantage gained by those who operate from a standing desk, which gives a little bit of space, freedom and indeed poise to involve more body language.  If you don’t have a standing desk, a music stand will work just as well as long as you have a laptop.

Remember that an anecdote is very malleable. To illustrate, next time you have a story to tell (“a funny thing happened today”/”you wouldn’t believe what happened to me” etc), be aware of how your story changes the more you tell it. With each retelling, details you initially thought were relevant will melt away until you end up with a perfectly formed (and concise) story that literally rolls off the tongue the more you tell it. Take that lesson and adapt it to the workplace anecdote.

One thing I have noticed is that most video meeting participants are happy to have someone take the lead in the ‘waiting’ zone as it takes the pressure off them to make small talk. It also means that those late comers arrive to a buzz, curious to know what they have missed and galvanised to step up the energy. Meanwhile you kick the meeting off on a roll and, even if you say nothing more for the duration, you’ve made a mark!