Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oops! Speakers, Get Your Facts Straight

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." — Martin Luther King Jr.

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the U.S. SEAL team's successful mission to capture/execute Osama Bin Laden, this was one of the most retweeted and facebooked quotes on the web.

Turns out, he only said part of it - the first sentence is not his. (For a great story going into how this happened - click here.)


There is an old motivational story about a man locked in a refrigerated boxcar, who left a journal describing his slow torturous death. The next day he is found dead, despite the car not actually being powered up. He froze to death because he believed he froze to death.

Powerful stuff. Also not true.


And, of course, there's the old story about the Yale (sometimes Princeton) Goals Study - how the 3 percent of the 1953 graduating class with written goals out earned the other 97 percent combined later in their careers. Another great example that is too good to be true - but has been passed around so long between Ziglar, Tracy, Rohn, Robbins, et al - that it is considered fact. It's not true, either.


It's easy to use stories and quotes from others. It saves us time, makes us look researched, and often makes our point stick with the audience.

In today's copy and paste world, our borrowed thoughts may suffer from a worldwide game of telephone, leaving what comes out the other side warped, incomplete, or downright wrong.

It is our responsibility as speakers to validate and attribute our borrowed material - our responsibility to our audiences and ourselves. While its not always possible to trace a quote to its original source (many quotes have been attributed to multiple people over the years), we still need to find a way to verify that the person we say said it actually did.

When we simply take quotes and stories at face value, we risk a loss in credibility and risk providing our audience with misguided principles. Just because a lot of people believe something to be true, doesn't make it so. Even if, as Brian Tracy said about the Yale Goals study, "it should be."


  1. The truth is often elusive. It is well worth the effort to check the facts on a great word-of-mouth story. Nice work!

  2. Never, never let the truth interfere with a good story!

  3. Great thought! Would you share with us how you determined the validity of these stories?

  4. Steve - wondered how long it would take before someone asked that. We all have to choose which outlets we trust!

  5. First reaction... "Crud, he still didn't tell me!"

    Second reaction... "Ohhhh yeah, because I'm too lazy to click on the LINKS."

    So... Washington Post, Snopes, and Fast Company. I'm guessing that the Post article inspired your post and was not actually a sought-out source. And Snopes is the logical place to check an urban myth. And the Yale study? Did you just google it and find a trusted URL?

    Thanks (no sarcasm here) for not answering directly & making it too easy!

  6. See, that's interesting. I figured you were questioning the sources themselves - after all, how reliable is Snopes, the Post, and Fast Company? All written by imperfect humans, right?

    The post was actually inspired by a client who told me a story they had heard for years that they wanted to put into a speech. Turns out, the story was actually way off base, and couldn't be used credibly. Not wanting to use the clients story, I picked up on the MLK confusion, and found the Post aricle through Google. I had looked up the freezer story on Snopes a year ago or so, and read the Fast Company article when it first came out, via a Twitter link, I believe.

    Thanks for taking the time to follow the links!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...