(post by Andrew Thorp)
I was running a story-sharing session yesterday for a nationwide agency and one of the delegates told a great story. She explained that 2 days after she’d passed her driving test she decided to take a short cut home rather than the normal route. As she rounded a bend the front wheel hit a large stone and the car rolled over, coming to a halt upside down in a ditch. She was pretty shaken up but lessons were learned and it was interesting that within a couple of days she’d taken to the road again without any fear, despite such a traumatic incident.
It was a nice story, but as a class exercise we set about adding some texture to it so it came across even better. This was Version 2:
“I’ve been driving now for 5 years but just 2 days after passing my test, something unusual happened. Like you’d expect, I suddenly felt this sense of freedom, trying new routes, offering to give people lifts and generally feeling like the Queen of the Road!
I told my partner I’d get something for dinner at Tesco (stir-fry as it happens) and because I was a bit late I took a short cut down an unfamiliar lane. As I went around a bend I felt a loud ‘THUD’ and the next minute I’m upside down in a ditch. I’d actually hit a rock on the edge of the road and it flipped the car over. People always ask me what it was like, being in a crash like that. You know…did time stand still? Did your life flash before you? That sort of thing. But the only thing I can remember is seeing beansprouts flying through the air!
I got whisked away in an ambulance and all the while I’m thinking about the bloody stir-fry. But thankfully I wasn’t seriously hurt and when the police returned the car to me, they’d carefully re-packed all the shopping…and bought me some replacement beansprouts!”
Much better, don’t you think? It was amazing to see people in the training session react emotionally to the new version. The point is she put some essential details into the story, vital texture that hooked us in and recreated what it was like to be in that situation. That’s when stories really come to life. The trick is knowing which detail to include, and what to leave out.
It’s normally the silly little things that audiences respond well to. You wouldn’t expect her to cite beansprouts as her abiding memory of that moment – it’s surprising, quirky and paints a strong image. And the cops doing her packing and getting her a new bag of beansprouts is a lovely denouement.
The lesson here is never to underestimate the power of the small things. We use so much big abstract language in business, sweeping generalisations that sound reasonable but don’t lodge in the brain. It’s those tiny details (forming an essential part of the story) that connect with us emotionally and help us recall and recount the story.