Do Your Stories Pass the Speaker Smell Test?

Do people believe your stories?

How are your ‘Spidey senses’ when it comes to sniffing out if a story you hear and then think “Fabulous. That would be perfect for my talk” is true or not? And does the word ‘real’ matter ?

As an executive speaking coach who specialises in corporate storytelling, I always encourage speakers to favour finding, crafting and honing your own ‘real’ stories ahead of relying on stories you’ve heard elsewhere for 3 reasons:

a) It’s your – which means audiences can’t have heard it before or compare your telling of that story to anyone else

b) Having experienced something, you can more easily relive that story with passion and aplomb

c) Real stories come over as being more authentic. And you do too, as a consequence

But, that doesn’t mean I’m against telling other peoples’ stories. Far from it.

Why Speakers Need to Think About Whether Stories Are Real or Not

However, if you’re going to share stories you’ve heard from others, do yourself and your audience a favour and consider giving every third party tale a smell test before you present it as being real.

Truth is, unlike stories where you know you’re dealing with fiction immediately (like Harry Potter – and here’s me  outside the cafe in Edinburgh where J K Rowling, the most successful writer of fiction of our generation crafted her words of pure creativity)…

…Not everything you hear that purports to be fact is what it seems.

Here are two cases in point from when I was traveling from Dublin to Edinburgh this week.

Story Exhibit A:

I got into a chat with a Dublin taxi driver about stories and he told me about a recent experience he had in his cab that he first set up with a prejudiced opinion that many tourists are a bit dim! Here’s the rest of what he had to say:

“You want to know why?

 You know how some traffic lights make beeping noises before they turn from Red – like for blind people so they don’t walk into traffic?

Yeah, well I had this American in my car and he hears the beeping at a traffic light and asks me, “What’s that all about”?

So, I say: that’s to warn blind people that the lights are going to change so they don’t get into accidents

“That’s amazing”, says the American, “Where I come from we don’t blind people drive!””

His story made me laugh and I felt instantly tempted to find a chance to share it at a future speaking event…

…But, something stopped me.

His story seemed too neat and, in the back of my head, it even sounded a little familiar. And so, not wanting to appear stupid and get caught out by an audience if this was a tall tale, I Googled it.

Guess what I found?

Hmm. I came across many versions of this exact same story over many years and in different locations.

And here’s the thing. If my inner sense hadn’t told me to double check what he said, I’d have looked like an idiot at the podium for anyone who recognised that the story was a yarn masquerading as truth. And what do you think this would  do to my credibility?

Best case, the audience would place less trust in me. Worst case, they’d discount everything else I said.

Ooops. Not worth it, right?

Story Exhibit B:

A few hour later and on my same trip to Edinburgh I got into a conversation with another passenger when my Ryanair flight got grounded due to technical snags and we were asked to deplane and get on a back up plane instead.

While commiserating with each other about how irritating travel delays can be, I admitted to being pleasantly surprised that everyone managed to get off our plane (with all our stuff) and get into the next plane and get seated so quickly.

My new pal Eoin agreed and with a kind of ‘I’ll see your Dublin and raise you a Frankfurt’ recollection said:

Yeah, that was really good alright, but I heard an even better story.

A colleague of mine had a similar issue as us when flying out of Frankfurt on a Ryanair flight – where once again tech issues meant they’d need a  new aircraft or they were going nowhere.

But this time there was a snag…

...By the time a new plane was in place at 10:55PM, a Ryanair crew member made this announcement:

Please be aware, because we’re in Frankfurt, where planes are not permitted to take off after 11PM,  you have 2 choices:

Option A, You can deplane now and we’ll try to get you where you need to be tomorrow – at times and via flights we don’t know yer – and you’ll have to find hotels to stay at this evening

Or B, and I don’t know if you can manage this, if you can somehow manage to get off this plane and on to the other with all of your bags, you could get out tonight.

That was it. No further instructions were given.

Remarkably, an entire collection of people – who didn’t know each other – managed to self organise and cooperate, with zero fuss, to get from one plane to the next in five minutes flat.

And the result? They made their flight with seconds to spare.

This story is still touted years later as an example of what can happen when people choose to self organise for everyone’s benefit.

Now, the difference between the cab driver’s story and this one was immediately obvious. It didn’t seem too neat and I had no Spidey sense worries about whether this really happened.

Of course, ‘cause I’m a pro, I did still Google the incident to make sure it wasn’t a myth…And, no surprise, I found no evidence that it was.

Why Speakers Should Trust Sources But Test a Little Too

And the moral of today’s post is this – trust your gut when figuring out what’s true but do a little sleuthing too. It pays to be right.
















About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.