The Lost Art of Great Story Telling

Joe_2004.1By Joe Basques, Vice President Footwasher Media 

In the new movie, Lincoln, there is a scene where the Great Emancipator is meeting with his cabinet debating about whether they should move forward on the amendment abolishing slavery.  In the middle of the heated argument, Lincoln starts telling a seemingly unrelated story and one of the cabinet members exclaims in frustration “Oh God, not another one of his stories.” But no one leaves the room.  They all are struck silent as he weaves the story into an important defense of moving forward with the legislation.  The story is so compelling that no one can argue against whether to move forward.

GreatstoryThe desire for a great story is engrained in our very DNA.  Since man started scratching pictures on cave walls, people have had a burning desire to tell the story of their history, inventions, ideas, and  great adventures.  Cave paintings to campfire stories to hieroglyphs to the written word, communication is designed to archive objects, actions, sounds or ideas that are important to us.  There are great story tellers and there are those who love listening to, reading, or watching a great story unfold before their eyes, but because story telling is so deeply engrained in each one of us, the love of a great story is never far from us.

What do all great stories have in common?  All great stories have a basic structure of three simple parts.  Those parts include the beginning (set up), the middle (confrontation /conflict), and lastly, a resolution. 

If a great story is loved by everyone, and consists of only three simple parts, why is it that so often in B2B communications today, whether in text or video, it’s so difficult to find great stories and great story tellers?   Because when most communicators know they have a a good story, they are FAR too anxious to skip the “set up,” gloss over the “conflict” phases and leap to the resolution  so they can get to the sales pitch.

Think great openings aren’t necessary?  Great set up phases can suck people in and immediately leave the audience wanting more. Charles Dickens opened the Tale of Two Cities,  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,...” this leads the reader to immediately ask “How can it be both the best of times and the worst of times?”  The reader wants to read on to find out how this is possible.  C. S. Lewis, opens The Voyage of the Dawn Treader “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”  This immediately leaves the reader wanting to know what the boy did to deserve that name.  In every great story, the opening leaves the reader wanting more.

The excuse of a lack of time or space to tell a complete story is no excuse.  Even the nursery rhyme “Old Mother Hubbard” is written using the three phases mentioned above.

The internet has once again turned us into “tribes” sitting around a flickering comforting campfire (or computer screen as the case may be)  If you are a professional communicator, remember that your customers want to sit around a glowing warmth of a campfire and have you tell them a complete story that they will never forget.  It’s part of our very DNA.