One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about being a persuasive speaker is, “Save it for the cocktail party.”
Oddly, enough, that tip didn’t come from someone teaching public speaking. It came from Wynne Delacoma, the long-time music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. She taught an arts criticism class at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I was fortunate enough to be one of her students.
For her class, we would write arts reviews and she would critique them. One of the things that she did regularly to a submission was cut out details and anecdotes that were interesting and cool, but didn’t fit in with the theme of the piece. Her comment was, “Save it for the cocktail party.”
We were college students. We had no idea what she was talking about. I’m pretty sure most of us probably had never even been to a cocktail party. One of my fellow students finally asked what she meant.
This is a paraphrase, but pretty much Delacoma’s advice: “As you go through life you should collect interesting stories and facts and put them in your pocket for safekeeping. Because one day, you will be at a cocktail party and the conversation will crawl to a stop. There will be one of those awkward silences where no one knows what to say and people are looking down at the floor or the table. Then you can pull one of those interesting stories out to break the silence. And you will be seen as a hero!”
I took that heart. Over the years I have stockpiled interesting stories that have happened to me — or that I have read — as well as some cool facts about a wide range of subjects. Before I go to any gathering I think of one or two that the people there would be interested in, and during the event I work them in as appropriate.
You should do the same because it will help you become more a more persuasive and effective communicator. When you are interesting you become more likeable. And people pay more attention when they like you. They are more open to your thoughts and more willing to consider your ideas. And are more willing to help you.
You become more persuasive and effective as a communicator.
It really is that simple.
Please note: When I say stockpile interesting stories that have happened to you, be careful. You don’t want to come across as a braggart. Keep your ego in check. Your story about how you went to Vegas and killed it at blackjack, and then ended up picking up a hottie for the night, may be fine for your best buddies, but it’s not going to help you with most audiences. The key is to have a large enough stockpile of interesting stories so you can have an appropriate one no matter what the occasion. The key is the stories should be interesting to the people who are listening.
I’ll give you an example of how this can work.
About a year ago, I joined a local novel writer’s discussion group at the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild. There are about 12 of us, with half being published authors and half of us trying to become published. I am in the latter group. I have yet to get a novel published.
The group meets every two weeks and, as you might expect, the already published novelists do most of the talking, sharing their experience and knowledge.
Even so, whenever appropriate I share stories from my time in the newsroom. For instance, when one of the would-be novelists said she struggled with how to explain what her story was about, I told her there was a trick we used to use with reporters who were having difficulty explaining their article. “Pretend you are writing a postcard about it. What would you say?” That forced the reporter to focus on the main idea, and it usually worked.
I also would mention any useful ideas I heard from writing podcasts or read in articles on novel writing. I always bring something one or two things that I can share if the right time comes.
Two months ago, I mentioned in the group that I just finished a draft of a novel and planned to share it with some people to get feedback on whether it was any good. Two members, including one who has four novels out, came to me and volunteered to read the draft and give me help. I didn’t even have to ask.
There also is a ripple effect that can happen. This month I renewed my Guild membership. The president of the Guild, who I have only met once in passing, sent me a short thank-you note, which I suspect she does with every member. Even so, she included this sentence: “I hear great things about you from the novel group.”
Do you think she would be more receptive or less receptive to listening to my ideas if I have a suggestion or comment about the Guild? I can’ say for sure, but probably more, right?
Start stockpiling interesting stories and facts today, and incorporate them into your interactions with other people.
In other words, Save it for the Cocktail Party.