Late last week I had the honor of presenting to a group of distinguished professionals. The content I was presenting on was resiliency for leadership and while the time block was shorter than I usually do, I was very comfortable with the content. During these times when we are conformable, it is easy to speak without thinking. My experience last week reminded me of just how important it is that we are paying attention to the words we are using at all times.
When it comes to matters of resiliency, I have one friend who is the lesson in action. The circumstances this woman has shouldered makes my personal struggles laughable. Knowing my audience and the impact sharing her story would have, I asked her if I could have her permission to share her struggles during this presentation. Being a dear friend and a woman who is trying to bring about meaningful change through her personal tragedy, of course she said yes.
I spent about ten minutes of my presentation giving an overview of her situation. I used the magnitude of her tragedy to explain how most to of the things the rest of us complain about are microscopic compared to her significant event. Little did I know, one of the members of my audience was part of her tragic experience. After the presentation this person reached out to me with kind words and explained his role in the incident. In looking back, I only hope I did justice to the way I laid out the sequence of terrible events that day. Never once did it occur to me that someone in the audience might have actually been there back in 2007 when this tragedy occurred.
This situation got me thinking about how important our words are; more specifically that we are using our words to represent situations authentically. Can you imagine how different my audience members experience of my presentation would have been if I had gotten the details of the event wrong. Gossip, exaggeration and enhancement are tempting when you are trying to tell a story and have the message leave an impact, but if you are not careful using these tactics can undercut your credibility. If your details in one story are not correct, why should people believe anything else you are saying holds true.
It is easy to make sure you have the details correct when preparing for a presentation in front of an audience. It is not as easy to remember every conversation we have is a version of a presentation. Even if you have an audience of one, you should take care to ensure your details are accurate and the words you are sharing are true. I look back at the times I have shared stories about people or situations without checking the facts and I am ashamed. Your words have power. Not only the power to impact others, but they send a powerful message about yourself. Take care to ensure your words are a reflection of who you want to be.