Is Lying to the Audience Bad for a Professional Speaker?

Is Lying to the Audience Bad for a Professional Speaker? Cartoon by Kelly Swanson

To Lie or Not to Lie, That is the Question

When I work with professional speakers on their speeches and stage skills, the same question always comes up:

You changed my story. That’s not the way it really happened. Shouldn’t I tell it the way it really happened?

And I always say:  Only if you want to be boring.

The first and primary goal of a keynote speaker is to ENTERTAIN. You are hired for the experience you deliver from that stage.

If they just wanted the information, they could have looked it up online, or just bought your book.

Is Lying to the Audience Bad for a Professional Speaker? Quote by Kelly Swanson

The Way It Happened Is Never Interesting Enough

In all my years of helping speakers tell their stories, I have never found a story interesting enough to stand on the simple facts alone. I’m sure Lifetime would agree with me, or any movie that begins with the words “Based on actual events.”

Most stories on their own are not entertaining.

That’s why we play with the plot and the characters and the words until they are.  There is not one comedian out there who is telling stories that are one hundred percent true.  Singers aren’t singing songs that really happened to them in real life.

Even when we tell stories in our personal lives, we pad them with extra details and exaggerations that our listener knows to be distorted. Especially when wine is involved.

And aren’t those the best stories!  Most of us as speakers are describing life as we see it – and life as we see it is always an opinion.

So if you insist as a professional speaker on sticking to the story exactly the way it happened, you’re going to run into some problems. You must take that story the way it really happened and massage it until it is more dramatic and more interesting.

Sometimes we change the details just to make the story shorter and easier to understand.  Your audience will not care that it wasn’t really a Tuesday when this all happened, or that your mother really didn’t get so mad her head spun around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

There is no hard and fast right or wrong

There are no police in the speaking business waiting to give you a ticket for saying you weigh less than you really do or lying to an audience. There is no rule book. You must decide what is okay for you to lie about and what isn’t.

I think it depends on who you are, what you’re talking about, who your audience is, and what kind of lie you’re telling. It also depends on your style, and what kind of speaker you are.

A church speaker will have tighter rules than a comedian.

When a Lie is Not Okay

All this being said, I do think there are some things you just shouldn’t lie about.  Note that this is just my opinion. At the end of the day it’s your call.

  • Don’t lie and say you had cancer if you didn’t.
  • Don’t lie about things you have achieved or accomplished or earned.
  • Don’t lie about where you’ve worked or who your clients are.
  • Don’t lie if you’re a politician or a preacher unless you’re sharing a funny anecdote or story.
  • Don’t lie about serious things happening to you – like being abused, being kidnapped, serving in a war.
  • Don’t lie about your content – the facts that back up your message.
  • Don’t lie about your product and say it does stuff that it doesn’t.
  • Don’t lie about who you know.
  • Don’t call your book a best seller if it wasn’t.
  • Don’t use other speakers as a referral if they didn’t agree.
  • Don’t lie about how much you make. That’s just sad.

What if I refuse to lie, does that mean I can’t be a speaker?

No, it means that you have to work really hard to make that speech fascinating while sticking to the details. Here is one way around it – tell a story as fiction. Sometimes I will take a true story, change it until I like it, and then turn it into a children’s story.

I present it to my audience as a children’s story. Voila. Problem solved.  Sometimes when I tell an exaggerated story, I will end with the words, “Well, at least that’s the way I remember it. I have been known to exaggerate.”

Kelly Swanson
You. Your story. Make an Impact.

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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