Casting a reality check on real-world conundrums
Storytelling or Story Stealing?
Speakers are storytellers.
Good speakers tell their own
stories. Great speakers enable
you to live their stories with
them. You remember stories
from amazing speakers,
understand the lessons, tell
other people about them,
and you hear other speakers
You cannot risk your
credibility as a speaker. Use the
story, but do not claim it as your
own or even adapt it in a way to
make it seem as if it happened
to you. We don’t always have
our own stories to tell stories,
but some of the best stories are
ones we hear or read about. Feel
free to retell them to make a
point or deliver a message.
Paul Bridle, CSP, FPSA, FIBC
—Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I don’t see anything wrong
with saying,“I once heard a
story that I value a lot …” unless
the details of the story contain
something of material value (in
terms of Intellectual Property). If
it’s a harmless little story, it’s just
a neat tale to tell. Have courage
and spread the love or adapt it to
your own personal experience.
If there is material value,
depending on what IP it contains,
it may be off limits. Who knows?
Use your best judgment.
Many years ago, you heard a great
story that has continued to resonate with
you. You cannot remember where you
heard it, but you want to use that story in
something you’re writing because it fits
perfectly. What would you do?
—Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The story can be used partly because you said ‘many years ago.’
It’s quite possible that the originator of the story is no longer telling it,
and most people have not heard it before. If you heard the story last
month and can’t remember the source, doesn’t it warrant a different
response? I think it would for me.
Intellectual property is
one thing, and it’s a criminal
offense to ‘pass it off’ as your
own. But stories? Nobody owns
a story. It’s a criminal offense to
steal precise words but it’s not
criminal to retell it. It’s human
nature and the source of all
learning. Ethically speaking,
you’re covered if you say you
don’t know the origin.
If you don’t claim
ownership of the story and start
the tale by admitting you don’t
know the source, I think it is OK
to use it. Often, these stories
become folklore and turn up in
many guises and places.
Philippa Gamse, CMC
—Capitola, Calif. What Would You Do? is a regular column
that presents a real-life dilemma faced
by professional speakers. NSA members
are encouraged to submit a dilemma
for possible discussion in this column.
Please submit dilemmas to ethics@nsa-
speaker.org. NSA reserves the right to
edit submissions for length and style. All
dilemmas will be anonymously attrib-
uted. Opinions expressed are those of
the individual respondents, not NSA.
For many years, I thought my late father originated the
phrase ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know
how much you care.’ He said it so many times that I believed he
came up with it himself. Even if you remember where you heard
a story, it may not be the original source. If you make a good-faith
effort to track down the source, it is OK to simply say, ‘Many years
ago, I heard a story that made a great impact . . .’