How to tell an anecdote

How do you tell an anecdote really well? 

Let’s start with what an anecdote is. It’s a short story about something funny, surprising or interesting that happened to you.

All anecdotes follow the same basic structure. They start with some kind of introduction, which will get your audience’s attention.

  • ‘Have I ever told you about the time when…’
  • ‘You won’t believe what happened to me when….’

Then you just tell the main events of the story in order, step by step.

In this part of the anecdote, it’s useful to include sequencing words like first, then, next, in the end, and finally. You can also include linking words like, so, and, and because. They show your audience where the story is going.

Finally, at the end of the anecdote, you could add a conclusion, for example, what happened that was dramatic and exciting? What did you learn? And what will you always remember from the anecdote?

Sounds easy, right?

But it can be really hard to get it right. So I’m going to give you some advice to make it easier.

Have you ever listened to someone telling a story that was like this:

“Last week on Monday, or it might have been Tuesday… maybe it was Tuesday, because on Tuesday it was raining, but then on Monday the weather was not…”

Nobody cares! 

1. Cut the boring details

I don’t care if your story happened on Monday or Tuesday, get rid of this level of detail.

The second piece of advice is connected to the first:

2. Keep the action moving

Once you’ve finished one step of the story, move on to the next one. Don’t pause every time to add details or evaluate what happened.

3. Practise the way that you say the anecdote so that it sounds interesting

A good way to do this is to think about the most important words in your story and make sure that you put emphasis on them. 

4. Choose interesting vocabulary

Instead of, “I was really scared” say, “I was absolutely terrified”. Instead of, “then I left the house”, try, “then I ran out of the front door”.

When you want to tell an anecdote in a foreign language, make sure that you:

  • practise in front of a mirror
  • cut out those boring details
  • choose interesting vocabulary

and the people listening to you will want to hear it again and again.

Watch the video above to hear Kate tell an anecdote you won’t forget!

Practise writing or telling a story with these exercises

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