The Importance Of A Good Story

Through no one’s fault but my own, I fell and injured my foot.  Those who know me well are not surprised. They say I move too fast. And they’re probably right. Yesterday, I hobbled into a meeting with my foot encased in an enormous, ugly grey cast. In addition to heartfelt sympathy, everyone had the same question: “How did you do it?” I was quickly reminded of what I teach clients: people crave a good story.  We are neurologically wired to respond to stories. The reality of mine is pretty boring. I tripped and fell. There was no inciting incident, no heightening tension. It happened and was over with before I even knew it. The only tension is in me now lumbering around for the next 6 weeks with this cumbersome cast. A good story has to be much more compelling. There has to be drama – a conflict, some rising tension – and then, ultimately and thankfully, some sort of resolution. Everyone at the meeting agreed that I needed a better story. They offered some suggestions. The best of which, and the one I’m gratefully adopting, comes from Adrian who spent his recent holiday kite boarding. I didn’t even know what kite boarding was until I saw the Google Images. It looks pretty exciting — balancing on a surf board while holding onto a kite, amidst crashing waves and strong winds. And it’s certainly dangerous enough to make almost any type of injury plausible, even probable. So here’s my story: I was kite boarding on the Pacific Ocean at a beautiful beach in Mexico. It was a magnificent sunny day, with a perfect cool breeze. I was on my board, kite in hand, about a couple hundred feet from shore. The waves were rolling with just enough force that I was able to steer the kite and sail confidently into the breeze. My kite pulled me through the water, steadily and gently towards the beach. I was like a dolphin gliding through the waves, at one with the ocean. It was glorious! Suddenly, I felt a strong gust of wind. I pulled hard on the kite but the bright sun blinded me and I over-steered, inadvertently landing in the power zone of kite boarding. I was suddenly lifted higher and higher up into the air. In mere seconds, I was 20 feet above the water, clinging to the board and kite for dear life. I continued to pick up speed and literally flew through the sky, the distant shore looming closer and closer. I was a bird, soaring through the skies.  It was incredible! Then just as suddenly as it began, the wind died.  The air was sucked out from underneath me. I eased up on the kite too quickly, and it collapsed, losing its lift. Board, kite and I came crashing down. I landed hard on my foot, and heard a loud crack. And now I’m grounded, with this darned cast. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Since my next few weeks are filled with speaking engagements, I’m going to use this story very strategically. The first three minutes of a communication are the most critical; that’s when people are deciding, subconsciously, whether listening to you is worth the effort. If their brains are distracted because they’re pondering that perennial question (“How did it happen?”), they won’t be listening to anything I say.  I’ll lose them, right out of the gate. And once people disengage, it can be very difficult to get them to tune back in. So I’m going to tell my story. With a smile. And then get on with it.