Fact checking your “old reliable” story

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If you’re a speaker or a trainer, you’ve probably got a collection of stories and examples that you use all the time. They’re the old reliable ones you can count on to get the reaction you want.

If you’re writing a book, you probably want to use those stories. That’s a great idea, but remember this. Stories evolve over time. If you’re using a factual story in your program it has probably changed since the first time you told it.

Stories change with every telling

You probably didn’t set out to change the story. But there are two reasons that you probably tell the story today differently from the first time.

Stories change because human beings naturally add embellishments. Usually that make the story more effective, but maybe less accurate. The important facts stay correct. Embellishments happen around the edges, and over time those little changes add up.

Stories also change because of the way human memory works. Researchers from Northwestern and from New York University both found that we don’t remember the original version of a story. Instead we remember the most recent version we’ve told with whatever embellishments we’ve added.

It’s worse when you base your story on published accounts. Writers pick and choose the parts of a story they want to share based on the kind of piece they’re writing. Then other writers take the first account as the whole truth. A good example is the story of the Chivas Regal effect.

Using your story in a book is different

In the oral presentation, the only people who may challenge you on the story are the ones in the room. But when you use the story in a book, it has to stand scrutiny by people who may know more than you do about it. You can bet that someone who reads the book will know the details.

What you need to do

Check the facts. It’s not that hard to do and it can save you a lot of embarrassment.

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