Beware starfish, boiling frogs and lighthouses

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 weeks 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 after them).

So if you use stories in your speeches, as I hope you do, use your own. It's the professional thing to do.


Best wishes,

Alan

Alan Stevens, President, Global Speakers Federation, 2010-2011
Communication, PR and Reputation Management

Author of Ping! Presenter of Media Coach Radio Show Follow me on Twitter
Videos - Ecademy London and Your Business Channel

Alan Stevens

stevensa-38366

Beware starfish, boiling frogs and lighthouses

Georgina, Thanks again for your comments. I don't know all the comedy headliners, but I do know some personally - Jimmy Carr, Phill Jupitus, Paul Merton, Frankie Boyle, Peter Kay - all write their own material, They've come up through the club circuit where they have to fly solo. I don't know anyone who employs a ghost. Much less authentic, in my experience, are some writers of business books, whose name appears on the cover, but who have never written a word. Best wishes Alan Alan Stevens, President, Global Speakers Federation, 2010-2011 Communication, PR and Reputation Management Author of Ping! Presenter of Media Coach Radio Show Follow me on Twitter Videos - Ecademy London and Your Business Channel

0 comments

Alan Stevens

stevensa-38366

Beware starfish, boiling frogs and lighthouses

Georgina, Thanks for your comments. In my experience of the world of stand-up comedy (albeit limited, though I have had my moments at The Comedy Store), almost all comedians write their own material. Plagiarism is an offence punishable by not getting booked again. We all know who wrote the original jokes and stories and respect that. The same is true of the vast majority of professional speakers. Our audiences expect and deserve to hear original stories and insights if they are paying five thousand pounds or more for our time. Best wishes Alan Alan Stevens, President, Global Speakers Federation, 2010-2011 Communication, PR and Reputation Management Author of Ping! Presenter of Media Coach Radio Show Follow me on Twitter Videos - Ecademy London and Your Business Channel

1 comments

Georgina Lester

georginalester

Beware starfish, boiling frogs and lighthouses

Alan I do agree and what is worse is when people tell these stories and claim them to be their own. I don't mind hearing the same stories again, but only if they are delivered to illustrate a point which might be pertinent and/or personal to the speaker. It is always immensely disappointing when a comedian tells a story about 'his life' that you know can't be true - it feels like a lie and we are being cheated. You are suddenly aware of the team of scriptwriters behind the scenes and that feels fake and that saddens me. The best comedians and storytellers are the ones who can convey a real sense of authenticity enabling you to be transported to their world. I love telling stories and I think that they are brilliant for conveying messages effectively. We are all afterall children at heart and there is nothing like a good yarn to transport our child-like minds into a different world. I actually do enjoy hearing the lighthouse story and to a certain extent using familiar stories can have their place too. Something easily recognisable can act as an anchor to something much more complex. So if the point of telling the story is to really highlight an important point that people find difficult to remember then I do think that it has a part to play. BlackStar Boardroom - Hotel du Vin Bristol | Internet Marketing Group | Luxury Wearable Art for women | PR and Marketing | Arts Wales UK | Charles and Patricia Lester | Luxury, Fashion and Designer Style Club | Ecademy - Forest of Dean and Monmouth Club | Twitter | Morris: A Life with Bells On Twitter |

0 comments