Sunday, October 10, 2010
The Sticky Stories of Billy Coffey
And not just any kind of kinds, but personal ones, stories that surprise and entertain and help make the point of what the speaker was talking about. Many speakers often asked for “a good joke” but they were usually the people who hadn’t heard any good ones themselves and would tell jokes poorly, or at least not well. Humor is always a dangerous thing in a speech; the safest humor is always self-deprecating, allowing listeners to laugh with you and at you. Not many executives are comfortable with that, however.
In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath talk about the three kinds of stories that help ideas stick: challenge plot stories, where a formidable challenge has to be overcome (they give the example of David and Goliath); connection plot stories, in which people develop a relationship that bridges a gap (consider Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan); and creativity plot stories, in which someone makes a mental breakthrough, solves a problem or does something really innovative (the story of the apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, for example).
For stickiness, those three types cover the waterfront. I speak from personal (and unexpected) experience. I gave a talk in June at a conference of university public relations people, and the person who introduced me had done their homework. I was speaking on corporate use of social media, but the introducer included one thing about me – that I edited an online poetry journal called TweetSpeak Poetry. Guess what all the questions were about at the end?
If you need to see examples of sticky stories – where you can find all three kinds the Heath brothers talk about in one place, you need to look at the blog site of Billy Coffey.
You want to find stories that include a challenge? They’re there. Or stories that make connections? Look no further. Or stories where people do unexpected and creative things? You’ve got them with this blog.
Billy Coffey, a writer in Virginia, tells what I call true stories. He watches and listens, and he carries a notebook around to record notes. He overhears conversations; he remembers stories from high school. He recalls people when he first knew them and what they became, and how they handled success and defeat and victory and tragedy.
Some of the stories he tells include all three types of stickiness. There about challenges, connections and creativity. Not once have I known a story of his to disappoint or fall flat.
Tomorrow is the official publication date of his first novel, Snow Day. There’s a Facebook party scheduled; see his blog for details. I will be posting my review of the novel tomorrow as well. (Earlier today, Jennifer Dukes-Lee interviewed Billy Coffey about the novel.)
But you can be assured of this: Snow Day is sticky, exactly the kind of sticky described in Made to Stick.
Laura Boggess is leading a discussion of Made To Stick over at The High Calling. Last week's discussion can be found here.
Previous blog posts in this series:
On Simple: The One Time Something I Did Went Viral
On Unexpected: Singing Opera in Journalism Class
On Credible: As Concrete – as Air
On Concrete: It Was All in the Numbers
On Emotional: An Engineer Got Emotional