Friday, July 03, 2009

Whose story is it anyway?

The best presenters are often good storytellers. There's nothing that people like better than a good yarn well told, provided it has some relevance to them. Think carefully about how you can use stories to illustrate a point, or demonstrate a technique. If possible, find an image that goes with the story to provide some visual interest.

But there's one thing to beware of. Whose story are you telling? I've heard speakers tell other people's stories as though they were their own. Even worse, I've heard some people tell what are effectively folk tales as though they were involved. For example, on an overseas trip several years ago, I was standing in the wings, listening to the previous speaker. He began a story "On my way here this morning, I passed a building site, and met three bricklayers..." Oh dear. I knew that he was about to tell the story where one says "I'm laying bricks", one says "I'm building a wall" and the third says "I'm building a cathedral". That story is as old as the hills. OK., maybe the audience hadn't heard it before, but for the speaker to present it as "his" is a lie.

It seems to me that it's fine to tell the occasional fable to make a point. Make it clear that it's a story, not your story. And never, ever, tell someone else's personal story and pretend that it happened to you.

You even have to be careful with your own stories sometimes too. I once attended a presentation by a well-known adventurer. He illustrated his talk with pictures of his latest trek though the snowy wastes around the South Pole. As about the thirtieth slide hit the screen, there was a groan from the back of the room, and a voice called out "Not another bloody penguin".

No comments: