The story is less important than the telling
Today I listened to a lecture that Stephen Fry gave to Nokia Bell Labs a few years ago. He told stories about Pandora’s Box, about the invention of chess, about how doubling grains of rice on each square of a chessboard will eventually lead to counts of rice grains larger than the number of atoms in the known universe, about the founding of Intel, and so on. Stephen Fry’s stories were old, familiar, and, many of them, not literally true—but he connected them together to his ideas about technology and its effect on humanity in ways that were central to his thesis. The overall effect was very compelling to me.
One of the greatest things in life is to hear or read a good story, well told. When a storyteller tells multiple stories, makes connections between them, and links them to new stories and new ideas in an entirely new context, then something new and extraordinary can result from it: One can share new ideas, new ways of thinking, and easier ways for people to remember these ideas and ways of thinking. The stories can be fun and memorable. The connections between them can be intellectually or emotionally exciting.
There are far fewer good stories in the world than ways to tell them. Rather than worry about retelling a familiar tale, find an effective way to tell it, and mine it for ideas and themes that can connect to the story that you want to tell, or to the topic you want to speak about. Narratives are important because they are entertaining and memorable. Facts, when contextualized by being included in or linked to a narrative, are far more memorable than dry recitations of data. Connections between different stories and ideas are the most valuable thing you can communicate, because they are the hardest to come up with, and not everybody makes them on their own. The power of connection is to recontextualize something—or everything—in the audience’s mind.