In a recent speech by a senior executive at Lockheed Martin Corp., the speaker discussed faulty predictions that experts have made over the years. She was trying to make a point that even the most knowledgeable experts cannot see into the future.
She claimed that Tom Watson, the former president of IBM, predicted in 1943 that there was a world market for maybe five computers. Then she said that Ken Olson, the founder of Digital Equipment Co., believed there was no reason anyone would want a computer at home.
A quick Internet search reveals the truth. There is no evidence Tom Watson ever discounted the global market for computers, yet that quote is commonly and falsely attributed to him. And Olson was referring to computers that controlled the entire home (turning lights on and off, for example), not the PC.
Citing faulty information in a speech may seem relatively harmless, especially if you’re trying to make a larger, more valid point in a captivating manner. But if just a handful of listeners realize you’re off base, you’ve lost your credibility.
Today, some audience members will surf the Web with their laptops while you speak. They may want to check your facts or learn more about topics you raise. Why make it easy for them to conclude that you’re playing fast and loose with the truth?
As a rule, give your source when you quote someone or cite a statistic. This satisfies listeners who may crave backup to substantiate your claims—or who simply want to research the subject in more detail.
Better yet, make every effort to correct the record. If you catch yourself making an assertion without proof, call yourself out. Say, “That is my opinion based on my experience.”