Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins
How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact
Author: Annette Simmons
Pub Date: May 2015
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814449134
Page Count: 240
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814449141
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Our first stories come from our families, and they are intensely personal. My mother's father died six months after I was born; yet through Mother's stories, I feel as if knew my grandfather. He sold Kellogg's cereals in the 1940s and 1950s. He was out-going and loved practical jokes. I have a photo of him sitting like a general atop a pony so short his weight is not even on the animal. One of the stories Mother told me includes a joke he loved to tell. The punch line is at the heart of my book's premise:
A man walks into a pet store and says, "I want a talking parrot."
The clerk says, "Yes sir, I have two birds that talk. This large green parrot here is quite a talker." He taps on the cage, and the bird says, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." It knows the entire Bible by heart. "This red one here is young but he's learning." He prompts, "Polly want a cracker." The bird repeats, "Polly want a cracker."
The man says, "I'll take the younger one if you can teach me how to make it talk." "Sure I can teach you," says the pet store owner. He sits down with the man and spends hours teaching him how to train the parrot. Then he puts the bird in the cage, takes the man's money, and sends him home to start the training regimen.
After a week the man comes back into the store very irritated.
"That bird you sold me doesn't talk."
"It doesn't? Did you follow my instructions?" asks the clerk.
"Yep, to the letter," replies the man.
"Well, maybe that bird is lonely. Tell you what. I'll sell you this little mirror here and you put it in the cage. That bird will see its reflection and start talking right away."
The man does as he was told. Three days later he was back, "I'm thinking of asking for my money back. That bird won't talk."
The shop owner ponders a bit and says, "I'll bet that bird is bored. He needs some toys. Here, take this bell. No charge. Put it in the bird's cage. It'll start talking once it has something to do."
In a week the man comes back angrier than ever. He storms in carrying a shoebox. "That bird you sold me died." He opens the shoebox and there is his poor little dead parrot. "I demand my money back." The shop owner is horrified! "I'm so sorry, I don't know what happened. But tell me . . . did the bird ever even try to talk? "
"Well," says the man," it did say one word, right before it died."
"What did it say?" the clerk inquires. The man replies, "It said: Fo-o-o-o-od."
Poor parrot, he was starving to death.
That parrot needed food the way we need meaningful stories. People are starving for meaningful stories, while we are surrounded by impersonal messages dressed in bells and whistles that are story-ish but no more effective than giving a mirror and bell to a starving parrot. People want to feel a human presence in your messages, to taste a trace of humanity that proves there is a "you"(individually or collectively) as sender. Learning how to tell personal stories teaches you how to deliver the sense of humanity in the messages you send.
Whether your goal is to tell brand stories, generate customer stories on social media, craft visual stories, tell stories that educate, interpret user stories for design, or build stories that explain complex concepts, the exercise of finding and telling your own stories trains your brain to think in story.
Story thinking maps the emotional, cognitive, and spiritual world of feelings. For humans, feelings come first. We destroy facts we don't like and elevate lies that feel good. We've tried to control this tendency by teaching ourselves to make more rational, un-emotional, objective decisions. It's worked pretty well, but if all you have ever been taught is to make un-emotional objective decisions, your capacity to stir emotions, see stories, and understand the logic of emotions may be underdeveloped or nonexistent. This book gives you new skills in story-thinking that will balance out your skills in fact-thinking. Facts matter, but feelings interpret what your facts mean to your audience.
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