Issue 4 of The Art of Keynoting
The one thing that truly sets apart amateurish speakers, one that shouts out that you’ve not yet honed your craft, is the use of shopworn, oft-repeated, boring examples. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve heard people repeat stories about Steve Jobs, the creation of Facebook, or just how cool the sharing economy is, referencing the same two or three companies everyone else is talking about. Similarly, I've heard the same quotes, the same jokes, the same hailing of the same technology, and the same hagiographies repeated over and over, by speakers who might have been excellent weren't they so unoriginal.
I do understand why this is. We repeat the same examples because they are tried and true, tested and found to be working. The cases most speakers use have been legitimized by more successful though leaders, and represent a kind of security blanket for the insecure speaker. Just like the company men of yore knew that you never got fired for buying IBM, many speakers think that you'll never fail by copying Jim Collins. The only problem is, you could, and you can.
Sure, classic and beloved cases, the ones you just know people will recognize and be likely to like, will never make you great. They've been used too often, by too many people, and they never make you memorable. Sure, you can get by using them, but at the same time they will drag you down – make you a run-of-the-mill speaker, one more among many.
The fact is, a single unique story, even if it is far less universal and impactful as cases such as Airbnb or the creative genius of Picasso, will elevate you as a speaker. This as it'll be your story, geared to your performance, rather than something you use because it worked for others.
Original stories, even when they're less grand than global and well-known success stories, have the power to surprise, to be yours. For a long time, I was the guy with the brewery story. It was a great story, with great characters, and although it was only a little tale about trying out a new idea, I was the only one telling it. I got bookings because of that story, for it surprised and delighted, and it was all mine. Audiences can recognize this like this, and they will reward you.
So, what is your original story? Or, turning this around, how many unoriginal, clichéd cases can you cull from your speeches?