Tell a story or personal anecdote

In some speaking exams you may have to tell a story that you make up or a true story about something that happened to you. This is sometimes called a personal anecdote.

Instructions

Watch the video of two students telling a personal anecdote. Then read the tips below.

Transcript

Examiner: OK, Kelvin, so I’d like you to tell us a short personal story. Here are the topics. Please take one.

Kelvin: Tell me about a great surprise you had. OK.

Examiner: OK? So, you’ve got about 30 seconds to prepare what you’re going to say.

……

Examiner: OK, Kelvin, you can start when you’re ready.

Kelvin: OK. So, this is a story about my birthday. Yeah, half a year ago. That day was the inter-class football competition as well as my birthday and I was selected to play in the match. So, our class needed to encounter another very strong opponent. Everyone felt very excited about this and almost seemed to forget about my birthday, so I was not very happy about this. I tried my best in the match but we still lost, so I was very disappointed because of two reasons. One is because we lost the match, and another because everyone seemed to forget about my birthday. So, but suddenly, my friends took out many creams after the match and they sprayed all the cream on me so my face and my hair were full of cream. And they said ‘Happy birthday!’ and I was very surprised and glad at that time, so, yes.

Examiner: Yeah, what a great surprise! OK, did you have any idea that your friends were planning a surprise like that for you?

Kelvin: Actually, no, because they hadn’t mentioned anything about my birthday before the match, so I hadn’t expected they would do this.

Examiner: OK. Great story, Kelvin. Thanks.

……

Examiner: OK, Melissa, so now I’d like you to tell us a short personal story or anecdote and here are the topics. Can you take one?

Melissa: OK.

Examiner: What have you got?

Melissa: Tell me about a time when you surprised someone.

Examiner: OK, great. So, you’ve got 30 seconds now to prepare what you’re going to say.

……

Examiner: OK?

Melissa: OK.

Examiner: OK, so you can start when you’re ready.

Melissa: It was my best friend’s birthday and I decided to give her a surprise since we have been good friends since Form 3. And I made a really huge birthday card, about this size, and I put it outside a shop in Central and I hid somewhere she couldn’t find me. She felt very nervous about that and she called me and we chatted on the phone. Afterwards she found the card, and I appeared in front of her and I brought her to a restaurant and I didn’t tell her because actually I was holding a party for her with about thirteen of my friends, and I covered her eyes and walked into the open area of the restaurant, and I put down my hands. She saw my friends. My friends and I said ‘Happy birthday!’ and she was very surprised and shocked and she was touched. So, after this experience I think it’s very happy myself, for myself, it’s very happy too because making someone happy can make everything go well and I think if everyone can put down their selfishness and be kind to everyone, the world will be peaceful and wonderful.

Examiner: All right, what a great story! And it was a good experience for you too, right?

Melissa: Yeah.

Examiner: OK. Why did you want to give such a special surprise to this friend? 

Melissa: Because when we were still in the same class she helped me a lot and it’s a kind of thank you for her.

Examiner: OK. Great story, Melissa. Thanks.

Here are our top tips for telling a good story or anecdote.

Do:

  • Take time to think about the question and the story before you start talking. 
  • Use narrative tenses – past simple, past continuous and past perfect.
  • Use adjectives and adverbs to make the story interesting.
  • Use sequencing words: first of all, then, after that, later on, finally, in the end ...
  • Give your story an introduction. Say briefly what your story is about.
  • Give the background to your story. Say when and where it took place and what you were doing at that time.
  • Say what happened step by step. Use words like so, because and although to connect the actions until you reach the end of the story.
  • Keep the action moving!
  • Finish your story or anecdote by saying why it is important to you or why you remember it.
  • Look at your listeners.

Don’t:

  • Take too long telling the story or your listeners will get bored.
  • Use a flat or bored voice.
  • Look down or look around the room.

Examples of storytelling tasks

  • Tell me about a holiday you had.
  • Tell me about a difficult journey you had.
  • Tell me about a perfect day you’ve had.
  • Tell me about a special event in your life.
  • Tell me about a birthday you remember.
  • Tell me about a time when you lost something important.
  • Tell me about a time when you gave someone a surprise.
Discussion

We do this everyday when we talk to friends and family. What type of stories or anecdotes do you like to hear? Stories about people, holidays or something else?

Average: 4 (7 votes)
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