The Difference Between Telling the Truth and Being Accurate

One of the main characteristics of a powerful message or story is that it is appropriate. This means telling the truth. But I often hear people mixing up being accurate with telling the truth. Let me explain.

I worked with an environmental law firm on their messaging a few years ago. What an interesting project. For one, working with attorneys brings a whole new perspective to what constitutes “accuracy.” For these legal minds, telling the truth about their firm and what they do meant having to give every detail, in chronological order, with many caveats including changing statements from “we did X” to “we helped with X.” And, in the process, the truth was too often lost.

This organization is one of the most successful environmental advocacy organizations in the country. They have more than 25 years of successfully “winning” (meaning progressing environmental cases to a better outcome) most of the time. But, few people knew of this organization.

No one has 20 minutes to hear the punchline. The truth of this organization is that they win – a lot. The accurate picture is that sometimes it takes them seven years and a trip to the Supreme Court to get them to agree with a lower court’s decision that then allows them to move on to the next level, which is just one step toward getting the energy industry to finally clean up those dirty coal-fired power plants.

While certain aspects of their longer story can be compelling (and should be kept), too often people are on to the next story before they get to the message that this organization is a good investment for donation dollars because they are able to turn those contributions into time well spent.

(Note: They have since changed their messaging and now are shining examples of what constitutes “just enough” facets to see the diamond that they are in all that coal dust.)

Ensuring your messages are appropriate does not mean they should be boring. But, rather they should tell the truth, be authentic, and with just enough elements to get people to stay with you as your explain why you are important to them.

As singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash one said in a songwriting seminar I took years ago, you’re trying to tell the truth in your songs, not every detail that got you there.

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