Storytelling is a great way to engage an audience, but you need to be careful about the stories you tell. I was reminded of this today when an email arrived from a client I've been coaching on speech construction and delivery. She recounted a visit to a political event last week when two speakers told the lighthouse story. A few years ago, I was working in the US with Stephen Covey, and he opened his speech with the lighthouse story too. In fact, I must have heard the story directly, or second hand hundreds of times.
There are a number of stories which fall into this category. They include:
1) The lighthouse story, where a night-time conversation between a US
warship and another "vessel" builds up, with each asking the other to
change course. It ends with the line "We're a lighthouse - your call"
2) The starfish story, where a man meets a boy throwing beached starfish
back into the sea. He say "With so many starfish, how can you hope to
make a difference?" The boy replies "It made a difference to that one".
Even Barack Obama has been caught telling that yarn, attributing it
(wrongly) to an original experience of Ed Kennedy.
3) The boiling frog story, where we're told that a frog placed in
boiling water will jump out, but one placed in cold water that is then
boiled will die, because it doesn't notice the change. Charles Handy
used to tell that one many years ago.
There are many more - the three bricklayers, the shoe salesman in
Africa, the lipstick on the mirror, etc, etc. They may have happened
once, but they won't have happened to the storyteller. What's worse,
they are used so often, they have lost their impact.
Professional speakers don't use these types of stories. They use their
own, because they won't have been heard before, they are easy to tell,
and they can still make a strong point, For example, I talk about
founding a pirate radio station in 1967, playing a Glaswegian shopkeeper
on Italian TV, and being the holder of an unbreakable TV Guinness world
record. No-one else can tell those stories (and if they do, I will be
So if you use stories in your speeches, as I hope you do, use your own. It's the professional thing to do.