Want to Tell Better Stories? Think Like a Stripper.
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly … very slowly.”
– Gypsy Rose Lee
Think about some of the great storytellers you’ve come across in your journey on this fair planet. The uncle who could spin tall tales all night long, or the college buddy who could captivate with stories of his fraternity pranks. Or think of the more famous storytellers you’ve enjoyed over the years, like Mark Twain, Quentin Tarantino, or my personal favorite, P.G. Wodehouse.
What did all those folks have in common? They didn’t just tell a story. They let the story unfold, revealing one delicious detail at a time.
Even if you’ve never been to a strip club (those who have know who you are), you’ll probably understand that a striptease is not about seeing attractive women (or men) without their clothes on. If it were, they’d just walk out on stage butt-naked.
No, a good striptease starts with a (more or less) clothed body and proceeds as a game that weaves a tantalizing triangle of enticement, fulfillment, and surprise. Just like a good story.
As storytellers, we know what the end result of our story is going to be … and we miss out on tremendous opportunities to engage, entice, and fascinate if we let it out too early.
We need to slow down. We need to think carefully about the different pieces that create the end result, and then we need to let them drip, drip, drip into the audience’s imagination.
Take a look at these two examples and tell me which one has more impact:
We found out we didn’t get the project.
We’d waited all week to hear back from our contact at Goliath Corp., but no word had come. We figured no news was good news.
Finally Friday afternoon rolled around. I guess it was about 5:30 — everyone had headed home to enjoy the weekend, and I was just about to pack up when the phone rang.
As I stared at the blinking console, I remembered something a mentor once told me: “Only two kinds of calls come in on a Friday afternoon: really good news and really bad news.” Should I let it roll to voicemail? … The thought occurred to me … but did I really want to risk another round of phone tag?
Finally I lifted the receiver, which felt like a 50-pound dumbbell in my hand.
“Grant Carson here.” Friendly, but not too eager.
And then I heard it. The Pause.
You know what The Pause is, right? That all too familiar hesitation of someone who was really, really hoping to get your voicemail.
“Heyyy, Grant, it’s Alex from Goliath here. Got a minute?”
See the difference? Example #1 isn’t a story; it’s a fact. “We found out we didn’t get the project.” Aaaaand you’re naked.
Example #2 takes the aerial-view shot and zooms it all the way down to one guy sitting at his desk with a ringing phone next to him. Is it easier to make an emotional connection with this approach? You bet yer boots it is.
So the next time you sit down to write a story, resist the urge to just get to the ending. Slow down. Break bigger moments down into smaller moments. Add more details to paint the picture. Give it rhythm, tempo, and mood … and watch your audience (virtually) start pulling out those dollar bills.
OK, your turn: What’s your favorite approach for creating a compelling story? Share it with us in the Comments — we’d love to hear from you!
About the Author
A self-described geek who can recite entire episodes of South Park by heart, Rachel Parker has had a passion for content ever since she was old enough to hold a crayon (purple, please).
As Founder and CEO of Resonance, Rachel helps businesses publish content that connects with their audience … and converts those followers into customers. She’s also the host of the Content Marketing Podcast and a sought-after speaker, having presented to many major business and marketing organizations. Contact Rachel about speaking to your group or business.