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Posts Tagged ‘truth’

I was putting together a speech on the topic of honesty and it reminded me of a boss I had years ago. Let’s call him Ivan. Ivan was the most honest person I’ve ever known. I was in his office one day when his phone rang. Quickly he said, “Don’t go. It’ll just be City Hall calling me back. It’s not private.” So I sat there and pretended not to listen.

Apparently he had phoned the city’s finance department to say that he had put an addition on his house – his very kind retired neighbour had built a tiny (two foot by three foot) mini-roof over his front doorstep so anyone standing there in the rain would not get wet. He was telling the finance department about this because he knew that any improvement to a home raised his municipal taxes and he didn’t want them to forget to raise his.

I think it took him three times to get this across to an incredulous city employee. Now I consider myself an honest person, but I remembered a short fence and arbour I had added to my house and, no, I hadn’t phoned to mention it to city hall.

The story about Ivan is a good one to include in a speech about honesty. It is as true as I can remember; as close to actual fact as my memory allows. But if I wanted to get maximum mileage out of this story I would change it a bit.  I would not be speaking about my boss Ivan. Instead, the story would be about Evie, a single mom who worked for me. She had to scrimp and save every penny and she was working on a special project with me – she did not have the benefit of a steady job and wage.

Can you see how much more powerful the story is if Evie phones city hall? Ivan could easily afford a slight increase in taxes, Evie could not. As it happens I did have a woman working for me then who fits the description of Evie so it would not be total fabrication.

So, where do you personally stand on changing the story? We all have our own standards of honesty and only you can answer that. Myself? Yes, I’d change the story (even if I didn’t have a real Evie).  I would do it because I always want to express my message in the strongest way I can. If I feel my message is important, and I usually do,  then I will do anything I can to sharpen my stories and anecdotes so they hit home as forcefully as possible. I take time to sharpen and polish my stories even if that means they end up not being completely factual.

I take pride in sharpening and polishing my stories. I want them to be the most pointed of weapons. Occasionally they remain true to remembered fact and that’s satisfying. But when you are speaking to try to change attitudes and behaviours the myth may be a better weapon than the truth.

And as a famous satrap once asked, “What is truth?”

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True Lies

Usually when adults tell a prepared story to other adults we are doing it to drive home a point. We might in addition be using it to connect with others and to break up a rather long chunk of information but it is still all about driving home the point.

The goal and purpose of the story is to drive the point home. All aspects of your story, then should be focused on doing just that. You select your story with the goal in mind. If it fits somewhat, but not exactly, then you alter it so that the focus is exactly where and how you want it. If you can’t make it fit, find another story.

Suppose you need a story about a middle-aged man having his brief case ripped off. It sounds similar in some ways to the story your mother told you, when she had her purse stolen. It’s an easy switch. Change the people, the vocabulary, maybe the setting. Make the story fit your needs precisely.

But it’s not true! some people will say.

Stories are usually fiction. If you read John Grisham you don’t say, “But it’s not true”. Stories, examples, anecdotes in a speech need only serve the purpose of illustrating, as vividly as possible, the point the speaker is trying to make. They need the ring of truth so that people follow along with the logical and believable flow but they don’t have to be actual 100% truth.

One caveat. If, for instance, people know you’ve never been married and you tell a story about your ‘wife’ they will spend so much time wondering about your marital state that they will miss the whole story. An obvious untruth is just too distracting. If you needed a ‘wife story’ you would find or create one that fits and tell it about your neighbour’s wife or your brother’s wife.

The criterion for the story is not ‘Is it true?’ Rather it is ‘Is it effective in driving the point home?’

Never let truth stand in the way of a good, effective story.

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