July 9, 2023
11 min read
If you’ve ever seen a television show, you’ve probably seen an anecdote.
When characters reminisce about their childhood or even about the dinner they had the night before, that’s considered an anecdote. These are useful devices for not only television show writing, but also in speeches and everyday conversation.
To learn more about anecdotes, how they work, and why you should use them, explore our below guide on this resourceful technique.
At its core, an anecdote is a story. Usually, anecdotes are true, personal short stories that the speaker or writer recalls to an audience. However, they can be fictional, too.
Because they’re short stories, they are simple and easy to understand. That doesn’t mean they’re all the same, though.
Anecdotes can be extremely versatile and differ greatly depending on the speaker and context. For example, it could be an embarrassing moment someone recalls or a serious, traumatic memory shared to educate or inform someone.
These are often personal, but regardless, they revolve around one person in most cases. These stories are usually interesting or amusing to the listener.
The word “anecdote” is pronounced like: “an-ik-doh-tuh.” This word was first recorded in the 17th century.
People often confuse other words for “anecdote,” such as “antidote” or “antedate.”
In terms of anecdote synonyms, there are a few similar words worth noting. These can help exemplify the meaning of anecdotes a little further.
For example, some of the most common anecdote synonyms include:
Cluttering can look different for everyone. No one person speaks the same. Still, looking at some examples can better demonstrate what this type of speech can look like.
Keep in mind that although there’s specific types of anecdotes, some people combine multiple types. For example, your own short story might fall into a few of these categories. Here are the five types of anecdotes you need to know.
One of the most recognized types of anecdotes is reminiscent. In other words, they rely on moments in the speaker’s past. Depending on the speaker’s purpose and intent, this type of short story can evoke emotions, especially nostalgia.
Humorous anecdotes are one of the most popular types, if not the most popular. These types of stories are mostly for entertainment, although they’re also commonly used in speeches. It might start out as a typical story, but the jokes and humor used can make the story humorous as a whole.
In media — such as television shows, movies, and books — you’ll start to notice that humorous anecdotes are often used directly after a serious or climactic moment in efforts to lighten the mood.
Some writers and speakers prefer to use anecdotes as cautionary tales. Negative consequences can be a great motivator for an audience to take your story seriously and grow from whatever lesson the story is meant to teach.
For example, you might use a cautionary anecdote if you’re trying to teach someone a lesson. You might recall a time when you chose to arrive at the airport half an hour before your flight. The consequence of missing your flight might encourage a listener to get there earlier so as to not make the same mistake.
Examples of cautionary anecdotes include:
If you’re trying to encourage, motivate, or excite your audience, inspirational anecdotes might be perfect for you. This type of anecdote uses serious, emotional, or dramatic recollections with moments that the audience can relate to.
For writers who specialize in speeches for example, inspirational anecdotes are the most common strategy to hook the readers or listeners. Politicians also use this type of short story to target their voters and motivate them to action.
For someone looking to further develop a character — real or fictional — characterizing is a great way to do so.
This type of anecdote leverages the story to shed light on what the character is like, especially with regard to their personality. These stories stand out because they show aspects of the character that the audience wouldn’t normally see.
You’ll see characterizing anecdotes in places like:
Whether you’re giving a speech, chatting with a friend, or writing a paper, anecdotes are a great way to captivate your audience. You can use them in so many scenarios that they’re considered a fantastic literary device.
If you’re speaking or writing and you need to include either background information or extra context, anecdotes are a good way to connect that information to your main story. You can also use them to grab your audience’s attention, especially if the primary narrative is dry, dull, or serious.
They can also act as a transition in both speech and writing.
Some worthy times for when to use an anecdote include:
However, these are just some examples of when to use an anecdote. Keep in mind that these can be used in so many various situations thanks to the versatile types you can use.
So, what’s the purpose of anecdotes?
In a nutshell, this type of short story is to make a bigger point and expand on the main narrative in a tangential way. They can connect complex topics and ideas in a simple, straightforward way while also captivating your audience.
They can strengthen arguments, inspire people to action, show a side of your favorite TV character that you haven’t seen before, or make your best friend laugh uncontrollably. The possibilities are essentially endless.
For example, TEDxABQED speaker Ian Esquibel recalls a childhood dog attack in his speech, and discusses times during grade school when he was bullied for facial differences.
To better understand the purpose of anecdotes, let’s take a look at some examples.
Because anecdotes are used so often (and have been for centuries), there are plenty of noteworthy examples that can give you a better idea of what these short stories can do.
For example, many famous speeches feature gripping or captivating anecdotes.
In speeches, an anecdote can connect complex ideas, motivate an audience, or something else entirely; they’re that versatile. Famous anecdotes in speech can come in many forms too, such as the ones seen in the top seven most motivational speeches.
For some more examples, check out these three anecdotes, in both film and speeches.
1. At the funeral of legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal shares a story of during his eulogy. He combines the reminiscent and humorous types to tell this tale of the time when Bryant first earned O’Neal’s respect.
2. Actress and “Saturday Night Live” host Jenna Ortega remembers her time as a child in the film industry. She expertly combines the humorous and reminiscent types to entertain her audience.
3. “Adventure Time” character Marceline recalls memories from her childhood and uses an anecdote to both flesh out her character more and entertain the audience. She also uses the story to describe what another character’s personality was like before he changed dramatically.
Anecdotes in literature are plentiful. From poetry to screenplays to novels, you can find these short stories in almost any form, including in monologues.
Here are some common examples of anecdotes in literature.
Anyone can write an anecdote, whether it’s for a speech or for school. Here’s how.
No matter the reason or context, the steps to writing a great anecdote are pretty simple. If you’re ready to get started on your own personal short story, here are four easy steps to write an anecdote.
1. Choose a relevant event or happening that you experienced. This could be anything. For example, maybe you’d like to tell your kids the story of how you met your partner. Or maybe you’d rather recall the time you went to explore the woods behind your house only to return with eight ticks to emphasize how important it is to wear bug spray. Whatever the story is, it’s best to choose one that somehow relates back to your original narrative.
If you were talking to an environmental science class about to collect water samples from a local creek, the tick bite anecdote might be the perfect way to motivate the students to practice outdoor safety.
2. Identify a type of anecdote for your story. Remember the types of anecdotes mentioned above? When you’re telling or writing a short story like this, it’s easier if you choose a theme or two from the types list.
If your story is meant to be comedic and light-hearted, you’d want to steer clear of the cautionary theme. Nailing down an initial theme can help keep you on the right path.
3. Structure your story for your audience. Your anecdote will depend on your audience. For example, if you’re an author trying to flesh out a character, a backstory that takes place with the character was younger can show a bit of their history and background. This can further illustrate who the character is.
Your structure would be different if your audience was a group of young teenagers who you’re trying to motivate to study for the upcoming exam. If this was the case, you might recall a time when you yourself failed to study for an exam and paid the price with a failing grade.
4. Connect your anecdote to your larger narrative. Lastly, make sure your anecdote makes sense to the main story by clearly connecting it to the larger narrative. This is perhaps the easiest step.
To do so, think of the meaning behind your main topic. If you’re writing a screenplay in which a character is explaining why they became evil, make sure your anecdote that reminisces on the character’s past relates to their origin story.
Here are some more tips and tricks for crafting the perfect anecdote.
If you’re aiming to include an anecdote in your writing or speech, here are some tips to ensure you get the most out of sharing your short story.
There are three main tips for writing the perfect anecdote, from writing it out to incorporating direct feedback.
No matter if you’re giving a speech or writing an essay with an anecdote, be sure you first write the entire short story out.
Although you might envision it as a waste of time — especially if the story is for a speech — writing out your anecdote lets you see it in its entirety, right in front of you. It’ll be easier for you to see any mistakes, awkward areas, or other minor inconveniences when you can visually see it.
If you’re telling an anecdote as part of a speech, there’s no question about it: You need to practice.
A great way to practice your story after you write it out is through an AI speech coach like Yoodli. You can upload a video of you practice (or record one directly on Yoodli) and get instant analytics and feedback to help you improve.
For example, Yoodli might suggest you slow down while telling the anecdote because you’re speaking too fast. You might also get tips on areas where you can make the language tighter or more concise to make sure your anecdote isn’t too long.
It’s a safe space to practice this rhetorical device without fear of judgment.
A commonly overlooked aspect of crafting anecdotes is incorporating feedback. When you write down your anecdote, try saying it to a friend or letting them read it if that’s more comfortable for you.
By doing this, you can use another set of eyes to identify any trouble areas, like confusing tidbits or even just incorrect grammar. You can take advantage of Yoodli’s free services to get actionable feedback, too.
Anecdotes are one of the most useful tools you can leverage in both speeches and writings. They’re extremely versatile, so they’re perfect for almost any occasion.
Just remember to practice your anecdote with an AI speech coach like Yoodli to ensure it’s the best it can be (and fits your overall narrative). You’ll be glad you did when you have an anecdote that works for your speech or writing.
Getting better at speaking is getting easier. Record or upload a speech and let our AI Speech Coach analyze your speaking and give you feedback.