Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Sticky Stories of Billy Coffey

I wrote speeches for corporate executives for a long time, and now, more often than not, I’m writing speeches for myself. And while substance is absolutely critical, I learned long ago that you can write the most brilliant speeches with the most brilliant thoughts imaginable – but if you want people to remember them, you need to have stories.

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


Maureen said...

This may be your best post on stickiness. You give a wonderful example that will, to use that worn word, resonate with many in this virtual world who know and wouldn't miss a Billy Coffey post. He's a born storyteller but he's more than that, because we recognize in all his stories something of ourselves.

Looking forward to reading your review of "Snow Day".

I know Billy's working on a second book. When he's done with that one, I want to urge him to consider pulling together his blog posts as a set of stories to hold in the hand.

S. Etole said...

looking forward to your review and his book ...

David Rupert said...

Billy does tell stories that stick. I remember them and they hold me. Great analysis and application.

Now how about those sticky stories of my favorite Carpenter?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Quite interesting,Glynn. I have been well impressed with what I've read of his writing from his blog. I'll have to at least link his blog and try to learn, because I'm not the best one at telling stories. I can be rather hesitant to do so, because I've witnessed so much tragedy and suffering, at least I think I have. Thanks, again.

Doug Spurling said...

Glynn, you nailed it about Billy. But since this is your post let's turn the focus on Glynn. What I like about you is the way you are always pointing to someone else. You're a real giver, encourager and humble man. From giving of your time to give us good Saturday reads to each morning advertising new posts.

Our favorite Carpenter has got to be pleased to the max with you. Thanks for all you do.

Laura said...

Yes, this is so true, Glynn. Billy tells sticky stories. He's the perfect example of what the Heath brothers talk about in this chapter.

I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of Snow Day!

Lyla Willingham Lindquist said...

Glynn, I struggled with my sticky post for this week, and wrestled with not writing it. Then I read your post on Billy's stories, and the wrestling was done. Meaning, I no longer felt any compulsion to write it.

You (and Billy) have illustrated the chapter's principles so well here.

Thank you.

Louise Gallagher said...

Glynn -- your stickiness is embedded in the essence of you -- everything you write touches my heart in some soft yet profound way.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I see that I really need to read Made to Stick. It sounds like it may turn out to be the best writing advice book I read.