life stories and disclosure in presenting

As an eight-year-old boy growing up on the south coast of England during the 1970s I have strong memories of lighting candles during the power cuts, the IRA and Steve McQueen’s bid for freedom every Christmas. There is also another important memory I have from 1974 - it was the only time my father ever spoke to me about the Second World War.

He started to tell me the story of a Japanese soldier who had just surrendered to the Philippine President 29 years after the War had ended. He had survived on stolen rice, bananas and even shot cows to make dried beef. The story fascinated and confused me. How could a so-called intelligence officer possibly avoid discovering that the war had ended almost 3 decades earlier? A single year I thought was possible, but not 29.

Over time I forgot the story of that soldier - although strangely not his name. That was until today when it was reported that Hiroo Onoda had died at the age of 91. All of a sudden the memories flooded back. Although it was not the story of Mr Onoda I was taken back to but the memories of my father and how little I knew him and his own time spent during the War. Two years after telling me that story in 1974 my father died suddenly - and his stories were lost with him.

In a presentation, stories from our own lives are incredibly powerful. They can help illustrate messages and take us on journeys of disclosure that can be lasting. They can also help us when things go wrong. Knowing that you have a selection of stories that you can tell when the video doesn’t play, the projector explodes or the clicker stops working can be very reassuring.

In 2007, during one of the most high profile presentations in recent history, that’s exactly what happened. Steve Jobs was giving his now famous keynote presentation, which unveiled the first ever iPhone, and everything ground to a sudden halt -  no slides, no anything. Rather than panicking (a la Michael Bay) he told a simple story about himself and his business partner Steve Wozniack from when they were at college until the glitch had been fixed.

Not many of us have a tale to equal that of Mr Onoda’s, but our lives are still full of stories that fascinate others and you never know when you might need one.

Image credit: Flickr


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