As the crowd watched in anticipation, the rumpled, self conscious businessman stood, gathered himself, took a deep breath, looked around, flung out his arms and roared, “I put people to sleep!” The crowd erupted in smiles, laughter, and loud applause. A huge smile filled the man’s face as he basked in the enthusiastic response.
I put people to sleep. This is about the simplest story you can have. One sentence that captures the imagination and emotions of those who hear it. And therein lies the power of Story…the power to pass right by the fact based decision making world of the intellect we live in most of the time and dive right down into the gut, the home of truth, with minimal detail. It frees the listener to capture the idea in a way that resonates with them…that they feel throughout their entire being.
Where did our sleep delivering fellow’s story come from? How did it happen that he rose up and shared his vision of sleep inducing success for his company? He was attending a talk I gave on connecting with people through story. At one point during the talk I asked a few people to stand up and tell us their story in one or two short sentences.
Our fellow stood up as most people do in such situations: hunched shoulders, not breathing, looking directly forward or at the floor, and then told us a very boring story about his business. “I sell mattresses.” The audience fell silent, probably thinking they were caught in a bad dream…brought on by their lousy mattress..
With a little encouragement from me and support from the group, our mattress salesman thought deeply about what he really offers people. He reached underneath the facts about firmness and size and price to find out what people really want from their mattress…a good night’s sleep.
Our mattress salesman has shown us how Story is so much more powerful than facts.
Think about what goes viral on the internet or what you remember from commercials on television. It’s always something with a strong visceral component, something aimed right at your emotions, something you feel throughout your being.
The power of a good story makes you discount any negative details behind the story. Consider a commercial for the latest drug. It begins with the story about some medical condition told in such a way that viewers feel empathy for those who suffer from its pain—or even begin to feel that they too suffer from it. This leads to images of a happy person dancing on air after finding the cure. Then an authoritative but gentle voice follows, rapidly reciting a string of factual statements about a range of odd and horrible things that can happen from using the drug, including death.
And what do we remember? Any of the facts about leakage? Heart attacks? Liver disease? No, we rush off with a vision of all our problems banished and hound our physician for a prescription. The story worked its magic.