As I listened in the Paralympic Stadium on Sunday night to the speeches by LOCOG chairman, Lord Coe, and the President of the International Paralympic Committee, Sir Philip Craven, there was a crucial lesson in both for anyone who might do a media interview, make a conference speech or deliver a presentation to a potential client.
The lesson lay in what their audience, both alongside me and watching on TVs around the world, would remember from those speeches.
It was in the parts which evoked the most positive reactions from the ticket holders: the anecdotes.
Both men drew on something they’d experienced to illustrate the power and importance of the Paralympics.
In Coe’s case it was about a volunteer – a Games Maker – he happened to talk to on the Tube. The man turned out to be a doctor who, with tragic irony, had tended victims of the 7/7 bombings the day after Londoners discovered their city would host the Olympics and Paralympics.
Coe had attempted to thank the medic, but it was the doctor who wanted to thank the LOCOG boss for the opportunity to volunteer.
Then Craven described how his daughter’s friend had recently been reading a story to her son. The first page showed a man with an eye patch, a hook for a hand, a parrot on his shoulder and a wooden leg. The mother asked her son who the man was, expecting him to say “a pirate”. But instead he replied, “Well, he only has one leg, so he must be an athlete.”
By telling specific, focused anecdotes – powerful personal stories – both Coe and Craven had managed to demonstrate much broader points about the value of and reason for the Games.
So if you too have major concepts to convey, a raft of statistics and figures to explain, or perhaps a list of survey findings to discuss, try to find a real-life example to illustrate them. If it has a human angle, so much the better.
After all, pretty much everything in the news has an impact on people, whether it’s a company’s annual report, a pharmaceutical breakthrough or new broadband service.
Stats and figures can be as dry as a Las Vegas hotel minibar after a game of strip billiards has finished, but people are not.
Coe and Craven reminded us all how we love – and remember – a good story.
So if you tell one, just like the Paralympics, it might well have a very happy ending too.