Be Careful with Stories

The power of a good story is undeniable. Parables have been the chosen method of teaching by sages for millennia. A story about oneself can humanize a speaker, make he or her seem relatable, and create almost instant rapport with an audience. But are there down sides to using stories in speeches? Absolutely!

Like all good things, they hold within them the seed of their own destruction. Beware the stories you tell.

Beware stories that paint yourself as the hero. There may be rare times when you need to tout your own successes, such as when you know you have to gain the credibility of accomplishment with your audience. A little bit of that, however, goes a l-o-n-g way and needs to be done with a hefty dose of humor. Stories about one person get old — fast — especially when told by the protagonist themselves. Remember that the audience’s favorite subject is NOT you — but themselves.

Stories about yourself can be entertaining and humorous, endearing you to your audience. The best stories in which the speaker is a character are usually those which use self-deprecating humor, cite a common human foible to which others can easily relate, or explain how one’s own mistake led to a break-through discovery. However, even well-meaning war stories can be off-putting. Even if the underlying message is still relevant and the nugget of wisdom should easily be able to be extrapolated into the current context, changes from the time of the story to the retelling can muddy the water;. This is especially true where the story refers to technology, political situations, and social mores that have greatly changed. An audience can become easily distracted either by nostalgia or by disconnection. Stories about celebrities or what YOU think of as major world events may feel not that far distant to you but may paint you as out-of-touch to a younger audience.

Review and refresh those stories!

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