You Don’t Forget Stories

by Joe Bunting | 20 comments

How can you get people to remember your ideas? You spend months, years of your life crafting a book that's going to change the world, you publish it to great acclaim, and then you ask a reader, “What was your favorite part of the book?  What did you learn?”

And they stare at you with their mouth half open for ten seconds before stammering out they have to go.  They don't remember anything you wrote.

My favorite story from Made to Stick is about a Stanford speech class.  The whole class gave a short speech and then everyone voted on the best one.  Predictably, the students with the most charisma, best diction, and best use of statistics were voted for most. The poor international students and computer science majors sulked at the bottom of the list.

That's how it works right? The celebrities get all the attention because they are the best looking and most outgoing. The MBAs with their irrefutable numbers get the second big helping. The rest of us get their scraps.

But then the professor asked his students to write down everything they remembered.

The students looked down at their papers. They couldn't even remember some of the main points, even for the top voted speeches.

However, they did remember stories.  For every statistic, they remembered numerous stories. Suddenly, the pimpled geeks and that Chinese kid in the back of the class were on even ground with the class presidents and beauty pageant winners.

If you're trying to change the world with your ideas, don't beat our heads in with statistics. Don't rely on your charisma.

Tell us a story about one person's world being changed.

 

PRACTICE

Illustrate the point, “the economy sucks,” by telling a story. For fifteen minutes, make up a story about how receycling saved one persons life.

Obviously, unless you want to ruin your reputation like this guy, you have to tell true stories in nonfiction. However, let's just get into the practice of telling stories to illustrate points.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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20 Comments

  1. Joe Bunting

    The economy sucks.

    Jesse thought people would always need clothes. His father, James, opened Fredsville Garments in the fifties and when he died in the 80s, Jesse decided to take over the business. They’d had hard times before, but people always need clothes. In the recessions of the 80s and the dot com bust, Jesse just lowered prices, cutting into his margin. Business was slow but he always got by.

    This time was different. People always needed clothes, but now they had too many. People could get jeans for $10 and shirts for $5 at Walmart. Why did they need a tiny shop like his? In the early 00s, the only people that stopped at the store anymore were retired, white hair cropped close to their heads so it looked like a big stick of cotton candy. But now even they had gone immigrated to the chains. A lot of them worked for them anyway as greeters.

    The painted “Going Out of Business Sale” sign on the window was chipping, chipping just like him. He stood outside his store, looking through the window, remembering when he was a kid and looked through the window at the store his father owned, remembering how proud he felt of his father. He had created something. He served the needs of the community and they admired him for it. President of Rotary. Fredsville person of the year. “That’s on sale,” his father sometimes would say to the people he knew were going through hard times. “What about this? How much” they would ask. “Yep, on sale too.” He’d throw an extra pair of socks in their bags when they weren’t looking.

    Jesse stood looking at the “Going Out of Business Sale” sign remembering. He felt as chipped as the sign. Everything he knew was being destroyed. There were similar signs lining the street. Many of the windows were empty, realty signs out front.

    “The economy sucks,” he said.

    Reply
  2. Ericka Jackson

    This is great advice Joe! Especially for those of us who are professional fundraisers!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Ericka. You’re right. Good fundraising requires good stories about individuals. I think we are biologically attuned to stories. It’s in our DNA. The fun thing about fundraising, is that when you’re trying to help people, you have some pretty amazing stories to tell. Right?

  3. Ken Fallon

    Joe Mitchell had been working as a garbage collector as long as anyone could remember. Heck, as long as anyone could remember the idea of garbage service in Foster County, Joe had been The Man in Charge. He knew more about the intricacies of trash compactors and drop carts than anyone within a hundred miles. Even more than his boss.

    So no one was more shocked than Joe when Fred Freeman of Fred’s Refuse & Disposal (“You chuck it, we pluck it!”) called Joe into his office and broke the news that Joe’s last day was that afternoon.

    “Joe, I’m sorry, but we have to modernize, and that’s costing us a lot of money. It’s a tough market out there, and in order to compete, we have to make some cuts, and your salary is the best way to do that.”

    Joe barely heard the rest — something about severance and appreciation and service and family, tough times, bad economy,…blah blah blah. All he could think was how he was going to tell his wife. And who would hire a 59-year-old, overweight grandpa who knew of nothing except picking up other people’s crap?

    He thought about going home now, three hours before quitting time, but his sense of responsibility wouldn’t let him. The guys on the shift, who were processing the day’s pickups, would need help, and he wouldn’t be able to help them tomorrow.

    He dug into the first load with his forklift, barely thinking through his work as he pondered his future. The color of the pile went from gray and brown and yellow to white and orange and every other color one might concoct from the toxic milkshake of garbage in front of him. And then abruptly to green. And green. And more green.

    The color of money.

    He looked around for his buddies, wanting someone to confirm what he thought he saw before him. Was that someone’s…no, it couldn’t be what he thought. Putting the forklift into neutral and setting the parking brake, he climbed down slowly, hesitant, as if the pile might up and run away if he approached too quickly.

    “What do you see, Joe?” he heard from another forklift, but he was too engrossed in his examination to answer.

    He pulled a piece of paper out of the pile. A crisp one hundred dollar bill. Hundreds of ’em. I’m rich, he thought, his hands trembling. There had to be close to a million dollars in this pile. I can take my wife on that cruise she’s been begging me for. I’ll get rid of the old clunker Buick. Maybe visit the grandkids more…

    But he knew he couldn’t. It wasn’t his money. It belonged to someone, and that someone would want it back. Dammit for the honest genes his dad had hammered into him.

    “Hey Johnny, c’mere and help me!” he called to his nearest co-worker.

    ——————————————————————————

    As it turns out, Joe wouldn’t have gotten far with that money. It was fake. Every last one, counterfeit.

    But the police were overjoyed with Joe’s find — the bills, totaling $472,800 in funny money, all pointed to a counterfeiting ring that they, along with the FBI, had been trying to bust for three years. This money, displaying the tell-tale signs of the unique printing plates used in the counterfeit operation, was enough evidence to shut the party down and arrest the ringleaders. Joe didn’t get to keep his windfall, but the reward money was enough to take his wife on that nice cruise.

    And to change the name of Fred’s Refuse to Joe’s Garbage Service.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ken, this is awesome. I love how you made the prompt your own. The economy sucks, but the good guys still win.

      This was my favorite part:

      Fred Freeman of Fred’s Refuse & Disposal (“You chuck it, we pluck it!”)

      All in all, an excellent little story. I’m very impressed.

    • Ken Fallon

      Thank you, Joe! I just found your site a few weeks ago, and this is the first time I’ve worked up the guts to actually submit what I wrote.

    • Joe Bunting

      Glad you did! You wrote a great story. Did it really only take 15 min to write?

    • Ken Fallon

      Honestly, I’m not sure. I was writing in a place where I didn’t have internet access (waiting for my kids at the dentist), so I didn’t have access to the online eggtimer. If I were to guess, however, I suspect I went a little bit longer than that.

    • Joe Bunting

      Yeah, if you were able to conquer that story in 15 minutes I’d be blown away. Regardless, it’s really good.

    • frenchrunner

      WOW ! Great story ! This should be published. It read like a professional story.

    • Thomas Furmato

      Good job Ken. I love stories with a good twist.

  4. Ken Fallon

    Joe Mitchell had been working as a garbage collector as long as anyone could remember. Heck, as long as anyone could remember the idea of garbage service in Foster County, Joe had been The Man in Charge. He knew more about the intricacies of trash compactors and drop carts than anyone within a hundred miles. Even more than his boss.

    So no one was more shocked than Joe when Fred Freeman of Fred’s Refuse & Disposal (“You chuck it, we pluck it!”) called Joe into his office and broke the news that Joe’s last day was that afternoon.

    “Joe, I’m sorry, but we have to modernize, and that’s costing us a lot of money. It’s a tough market out there, and in order to compete, we have to make some cuts, and your salary is the best way to do that.”

    Joe barely heard the rest — something about severance and appreciation and service and family, tough times, bad economy,…blah blah blah. All he could think was how he was going to tell his wife. And who would hire a 59-year-old, overweight grandpa who knew of nothing except picking up other people’s crap?

    He thought about going home now, three hours before quitting time, but his sense of responsibility wouldn’t let him. The guys on the shift, who were processing the day’s pickups, would need help, and he wouldn’t be able to help them tomorrow.

    He dug into the first load with his forklift, barely thinking through his work as he pondered his future. The color of the pile went from gray and brown and yellow to white and orange and every other color one might concoct from the toxic milkshake of garbage in front of him. And then abruptly to green. And green. And more green.

    The color of money.

    He looked around for his buddies, wanting someone to confirm what he thought he saw before him. Was that someone’s…no, it couldn’t be what he thought. Putting the forklift into neutral and setting the parking brake, he climbed down slowly, hesitant, as if the pile might up and run away if he approached too quickly.

    “What do you see, Joe?” he heard from another forklift, but he was too engrossed in his examination to answer.

    He pulled a piece of paper out of the pile. A crisp one hundred dollar bill. Hundreds of ’em. I’m rich, he thought, his hands trembling. There had to be close to a million dollars in this pile. I can take my wife on that cruise she’s been begging me for. I’ll get rid of the old clunker Buick. Maybe visit the grandkids more…

    But he knew he couldn’t. It wasn’t his money. It belonged to someone, and that someone would want it back. Dammit for the honest genes his dad had hammered into him.

    “Hey Johnny, c’mere and help me!” he called to his nearest co-worker.

    ——————————————————————————

    As it turns out, Joe wouldn’t have gotten far with that money. It was fake. Every last one, counterfeit.

    But the police were overjoyed with Joe’s find — the bills, totaling $472,800 in funny money, all pointed to a counterfeiting ring that they, along with the FBI, had been trying to bust for three years. This money, displaying the tell-tale signs of the unique printing plates used in the counterfeit operation, was enough evidence to shut the party down and arrest the ringleaders. Joe didn’t get to keep his windfall, but the reward money was enough to take his wife on that nice cruise.

    And to change the name of Fred’s Refuse to Joe’s Garbage Service.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ken, this is awesome. I love how you made the prompt your own. The economy sucks, but the good guys still win.

      This was my favorite part:

      Fred Freeman of Fred’s Refuse & Disposal (“You chuck it, we pluck it!”)

      All in all, an excellent little story. I’m very impressed.

    • Ken Fallon

      Thank you, Joe! I just found your site a few weeks ago, and this is the first time I’ve worked up the guts to actually submit what I wrote.

    • Joe Bunting

      Glad you did! You wrote a great story. Did it really only take 15 min to write?

    • Ken Fallon

      Honestly, I’m not sure. I was writing in a place where I didn’t have internet access (waiting for my kids at the dentist), so I didn’t have access to the online eggtimer. If I were to guess, however, I suspect I went a little bit longer than that.

    • Joe Bunting

      Yeah, if you were able to conquer that story in 15 minutes I’d be blown away. Regardless, it’s really good.

  5. frenchrunner

    So there she is again, trying to make a decision. She knows that If the sun would shine, her decision would be easier. The sun always helps, unless someone is lost in the Sahara Desert. Imagine that! Imagine a sun so hot and constantly shining that you would’t even be able to think!

    She told me once that murky days make murky thoughts, and I can’t disagree. But here she is, once again in this beautiful France, her favorite place in the entire universe, at least the part of the universe that she has checked out in person. But there are secrets in this place – dark secrets that history has
    covered up with eons of dirt on top of them. She told me the story, supposedly true, about a lady in Britain who found a human skull in a peat bog! It turned out that the skull was centuries old. No one knows what happened to the
    lady whose lost body was once attached to that skull.

    But this girl, this girl who loves the intrigue of living in an old, wise country,
    even when the sun is not cooperating, this girl who seeks mystery because mystery adds joy to her otherwise mundane life, must decide by midnight what to do with the rest of her life. And who knows how long that life could be? She could decide to stay in France for as long as she can without being made to give up her own nationality. But she has grown tired of staying until the
    last moment and then returning to her country, forced by her government to remain there for a certain number of days until she is allowed to return to her pleasure!

    So we must go, she and I, to see the Devil tonight.

    Reply
  6. Lele Lele

    “One can, two cans, three cans. Ugh.”

    She wiped her forehead of the sweat that’s been building up. Blinking, she sniffed her hand. “Shit.”

    Grease stained the gloves that covered her hand and she sighed. The cans stood on the sink, no rust, no dirt, no stains. A foaming sponge and detergent lay right near them. She pointed at them one by one. “38, 39…”

    The gloves came off and her hands were sweaty. She wiped her hands on a clean towel from palm to back. Then she pulled out a notepad from her back-pocket and wrote.

    “I’m guessing, 2 tons of tin can.” She bit her lip. “That’s about 2,000 bucks?” A hint of a smile appeared on her lips. “I’m gonna be rich.”

    She inhaled deep. The fumes from the cleaned up trash entered her nose and she coughed. “No that’s only 500 bucks, minus 1,000 for the hospital bills.”

    She closed her eyes and pointed her face up. “I’m doomed,” she said.

    The door opened and in came her brother wearing a lazy smile and a bag of used plastic bottles. “Who’s doomed?”

    She opened her eyes and turned to him. “We are.” She pointed the space around her with the cans, the old TVs, and recycled parts. “Screwed, we are.”

    He dropped the bucket of bottles on the ground. “Don’t be so gloomy sis. I got us a deal.”

    She narrowed her eyes at him. “What deal? This isn’t another one of your lame ‘hustling’ is it?”

    He turned his back on him and started shuffling around the bottles. “I’ll pretend to ignore that. I got us a deal with the local tree-humpers.”

    “You’re gonna sell weed for them?” she said as she watched his back. He’d grown.

    “No,” he said “They’re gonna buy us from triple the price. Protest from the ‘corporate evils of capitalistic greed’ and all that.”

    She looked down and smiled a little. “I guess that’s alright. Not like I expected a genie coming out of this dead aluminum cans anyways.”

    He held out a thumb up. “That’s the spirit sis, just hard work and dedication and you’d deliver that baby and we’d get back to college in no time.”

    She patted her growing tummy as she laughed.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. When To Use Your Storytelling to Persuade | The Write Practice - [...] is the most effective communication and persuasive tool ever invented. People remember stories; they forget [...]
  2. A little short story I wrote… « kenfallon.net - [...] you’re really bored and looking for something to take up 90 seconds of your time, might enjoy a short…

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