A question I often hear about storytelling is, “Does my story have to be true?”
What is your knee-jerk reaction to this question?
The first time I heard this question, my emotional response was,
“Yes! Anything else would be a lie.” I had plenty of ‘proof’ to back this feeling:
– Salespeople who omit information that impact my buying decision
– Politicians who twist facts that impact my vote
– Scientists who hold back data that impact my belief about an important topic.
– Children who suffer from memory loss because they can’t tell me which one of them broke the expensive lamp.
There are countless examples of people playing ‘fast-and-loose’ with facts.
That’s why I had a strong initial reaction to the question, “Does my story have to be true?”
But, my opinion changed with further exploration. I discovered that not being 100% factual can often be beneficial to both the speaker and audience.
It’s OK To NOT Be Factual?
How can this be?
Because of people’s short attention spans and interest levels.
To leave a lasting impact on others, it’s important to get to the point in your stories. Don’t bog people down in boring details.
A well-known phrase in the movie industry says:
“Movies are real life, with the boring parts taken out.”
Keeping a story moving forward is an art. It’s what the best movie directors do to keep you watching.
That’s your task as a storyteller. Share a compelling narrative that keeps audience interest from start-to-finish.
Here’s an example:
When I was six years old, my teacher embarrassed me in front of my class. Because of this experience, I was afraid to stand in front of groups of any size for the next 25 years.
It caught up to me one day when I was a financial planner. Part of my job was to present retirement planning workshops. Their purpose was to attract new clients to our firm.
One morning I’m sitting in my bosses office. He holds up a stack of papers and says, “These are evaluations from your last workshop.”
He then read evaluations that crucified me, my presentation, and my speaking abilities. My old fear of speaking in front of others had reared it’s ugly head. It was the reason why I got poor reviews. And now it could cost me my job.
Because of that experience, I sought out people who could help me. I found a mentor. He helped me manage my fear. He taught me processes to become a confident and influential speaker.
My experiences taught me a key to overcoming obstacles — get help from qualified mentors.
I understand that this isn’t an emotional-connecting version narrative. But, do you have a feel for the flow and overview of my story?
Is that exactly how it happened?
Let’s peak behind the curtain and see what happened:
These parts of the story are 100% true.
– My teacher did humiliate me when I was 6 years old
– My fear did affect me for 25 years
– I did receive some highly critical evaluations
– I did seek and receive help
There are some facts that aren’t 100% factual about this story:
– My humiliating experience wasn’t the only one that made me fear speaking
– My fear of speaking wasn’t the only reason I received poor reviews. I also didn’t know my topic as well as I should. I didn’t research my audience.
– The poor workshop wasn’t the only reason my job was at risk. Reasons stated above and poor sales results were also part of the problem.
– I didn’t find one mentor; I was fortunate to meet several qualified individuals who helped improve my skills.
Why did I leave out these facts?
Because listeners don’t want to hear about every experience that created my fear of speaking. One makes the point.
Do you want to hear every detail of my embarrassing experiences?
Do you want to hear all the details of my poor reviews?
Or all the reasons my job was at risk?
You get the point with one example that I’m performing poorly and my job is at risk.
Do you need the names and backgrounds of all the people who helped me?
No. Knowing that I’ve gotten help and became more confident and impactful is what you need to know.
The Complete Answer
The answer to the question, “Does my story need to be true?” is “yes” with a caveat:
It has to be true, but not 100% factual.
A memorable story captures the essence and supports your takeaway point.
Don’t focus on the factual truth of your story. Give your audience the emotional truth.
How did your experiences affect you?
How did you react to them?
How are these emotions relatable to your listener?
This will connect you to your listeners.
Did I Lie In My Condensed Narrative?
I used the key points in my story to sell my key idea.
There are no lies or made-up information. You heard enough to give you a feel for the story.
Does a story have to be true?
Does a story have to be factual?
Not if you want to keep the attention and interest of your audience.
Hopefully, you see this in a new light.
Use this idea to tighten your stories to its essential elements. Tell a true story and condense it to key elements.
Do this and you’ll grab and keep the attention and interest of your listener.
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