The truth sets you free

In our last post, we talked about improving your story by really understanding how it will be perceived from your audience’s perspective.  That’s a good start, but perhaps an even more critical component of artful story-telling is THE TRUTH.

In reality, telling a story is not so difficult – the tricky part is telling a story that people will believe.

And why is this so important ?  Because belief is the fundamental basis for inspiration.  All good story-tellers and leaders will constantly strive to inspire their audiences by telling stories that people really believe in.  By telling stories that connect to the heart as much as to the head.

And, in my experience, the best way to do that is to tell the truth!

It sounds obvious. Why would anyone tell a story that isn’t true?

Of course, human beings have countless motivations not to tell the truth – to avoid being caught doing something they shouldn’t have, or to minimise the chance of a conflict arising.  But in a professional story-telling environment – building a brand or marketing campaign for example – surely all stories are based on the truth?

Sadly, this isn't always the case.  One of the most common reasons for professional stories to depart from the truth is that the story-teller falls into a simple trap – telling the audience what you think they want to hear.

We’ve all done it.  Whether it’s an exaggeration of your product’s capabilities during a sales pitch, or telling a badly performing employee that you’ll consider the promotion he asked for, we can all recount examples where giving the audience what they want seems like a good idea at the time.

This trait befalls not just individuals, but entire companies as well.  Brands can, and frequently do, get drawn into battles where they end up trying to beat the competition at its game rather than playing to their own unique strengths.  Marketing reaches the lowest common denominator as brands slug it out with tactical claims and counter-claims, each vying to convince the consumer that they are “the best” - and entirely forgetting the original stories they were trying to tell.

The result is that stories, and the people or brands that they represent, start to become superficial – a simple fabrication of a convenient reality – where everybody gets what (you think) they want and lives happily ever after. But, as we all know, life simply isn’t like that.

Superficial stories have a habit of unravelling faster than you can possibly imagine.  “Living the lie” becomes increasingly difficult as time progresses and the complexity of holding your story together reaches mind-blowing proportions.  You’ll soon notice that your story starts to sound quite different every time you tell it.

Even worse, remember that your audience will see your story from their own perspective, not yours.  They are ultra-connected and highly informed and will quickly discover the holes and inconsistencies in what you are saying.  As soon as they do, everybody else will know.

Once your audience starts to doubt that your story is true (or at least based on the truth) their trust will be lost, belief will quickly diminish and, with it, any chance you had of inspiring them.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given is this : The truth sets you free !

It’s as meaningful today as it was when I first heard it more than twenty years ago, perhaps even more so.

A story which is grounded in a fundamental truth can be told time and time again with absolute integrity and consistency – without even having to think about it!  Only by doing this can you fully liberate your story-telling and allow your passion to come through.  And only by doing this will your audience find it in their hearts to believe in you and be inspired by you.

The same thing applies in all cases – from the individual leader trying to motivate a small group of colleagues to a large corporation trying to drive up sales across the world – a true story is the most compelling of all and the one most likely to move your audience.

But one final thought – just because you have decided to tell the truth, it doesn’t mean that you have to tell the WHOLE truth.  Good story tellers always know which parts of their story to tell now and which parts to hold back for later!