Body on the tracks: the greatest story never told

Seriously. It’s an awesome story. Here’s why I never tell it.

Beg to Differ wonders: is the story of your company or product worth telling? Maybe it is, ambulance but will anyone ever listen? Or more to the point, troche tell? Take some lessons from my best-ever story of travel disaster.

Train story
Image from Falcon Puzzles - The Wasgij Express

My best-ever story

Okay, so I’ve got this killer true story from when I was backpacking in Eastern Germany back in the early 90’s. Truly epic. Rich with wacky characters,  exotic locations, humour, truly stupid blunders by me, and once-in-a-lifetime coincidences.

10 highlights from my best-ever story:

  • A dead body that stops a train.
  • A dozen angry skinheads with big dogs.
  • An unlikely partnership between a Kurdish refugee, a giant Russian, and a hapless Canadian (that’s me)
  • An interrogation by burly East German police officers (see dead body above).
  • A midnight train to Moscow.
  • A great line: “Who do you think you are? The president of the United States?”
  • A helpless German girl in distress.
  • A leap from a moving train.
  • A night on the streets of Berlin.
  • A touching lesson in brand authenticity.

Sounds unbelievable but it’s all true. Trust me. The few people I’ve told it to over the years have said that I need to write a novel or a movie script or at least a really really long blog post…

Maybe some day. Just like some day I’ll finish those five Great Novels I started in university.

But for the moment, if you want to hear it, you’ll have to buy me a beer when you have an hour or more to kill. Because, as great as it is, I never tell my story any more.

Here’s why I don’t tell my story

  1. The whole story takes time. And the dedicated time to sit and listen to one person tell long stories  is a luxury most of us don’t have.
  2. The story has mixed messages. Like real life or art or the story of a dream, it’s a sprawling narrative without a single theme and lots of ambiguities. The point is unclear. It asks you to think hard but without the clear “payoff” of a joke or a shorter story.
  3. Most people don’t care: I don’t mean that in a bad way. My friends, family, and colleagues a caring  people, and they care about me. They just don’t necessarily care about my big long story at the point where I might want to tell it.
  4. There are great little stories within the big story. I’ve found that the best way to use this experience is to pull out smaller, more focused anecdotes. I break my big story down to simple messages that fit the conversation.
  5. In a social setting, people want to be participants not an audience. This is the biggie: if I’m in a group of people having dinner or a glass of wine, or heaven forbid, at a business meeting, it would be pretentious to start telling my story because it is so long and involved. Why?
    Because it’s a conversation, not my personal soap box.

Hard truth: a great story isn’t enough

As a guy who helps companies and charities tell their stories, I run into clients all the time who have a fascinating story of their founding, evolution, or the inspiration that drove their early success.

That is, the story is fascinating to me, because I take the time to ask, listen, and prod for details.  But that’s cheating, because I’m getting paid to care.

The trick is translating that into a simple brand story  for customers. And that always involves keeping it simple. Then, if the listeners are interested, they’ll ask for more.

So how about your story?

In your marketing, are you trying to monopolize the conversation with a story that’s too complicated? Are you listening to other people’s stories? Are you finding the right bits of your story for the right moments?

Tell me your story. I’m listening.

One thought on “Body on the tracks: the greatest story never told”

  1. You are so right. I thought I had a nice little story as a recent immigrant to Canada. Boy was I wrong; the story does not really stick. I believe you hit the nail on the head, people need to be able to participate or they will feel they are being buried under an avalanche of words. My story bored people I guess as they cannot feel what I felt in the process. This makes it hard to come up with a great story, include your value proposition and create the situation where one says “Really? Tell me more”.

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