Storytelling Lessons from the Game: Two Truths and a Lie

 

One of my favorite icebreakers is a game called Two Truths and a Lie, where you share three different “facts” about yourself with only two being true. Then you sit back and watch the group try to uncover the lie.

Wanna play? Here are my three:

  1. I have a United States patent
  2. I’ve had a bullet hit inches from my head
  3. I’ve used the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking victim

I love this game is because it’s packed with storytelling nuggets. For example, those trying to uncover my lie will say things like:

  • “Ron’s an electrical engineer, so he could have a patent.”
  • “He lives and works in an affluent part of Southern California, so where would a bullet come from? I don’t think he’s ever been on tour in the military.”
  • “Does Ron look like the type of person who’d take a CPR class?”

Two Truths and a Lie offers wonderful lessons for budding storytellers. The story statements reveal just enough information to make the listeners want to know more. It creates mysteries which require skills in both inductive and deductive reasoning. Two Truths and a Lie works as an icebreaker because it’s built upon many of the story techniques used by the masters.

So, which of my three statements is a lie? Hmm…it’s time to teach you another storytelling technique called the cliffhanger. You’ll just have to wait for my next post.

Sorry. Not sorry.

In the meantime, what are your two truths and a lie?

 

Image Credit: Alophe, Lithographer. Le femme révées Ideal beauties ; Contemplation = contemplation / / compose & lithog. par M. Alophe ; Imp. lith. de Jacomme & Cie. , ca. 1851. Paris ; Berlin ; New York: Publie par Goupil & Cie. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/99471879/.

2018 StoryHow in Review

Our goal is to be your one-stop business storytelling resource and we do so by publishing strategies and tactics that help you become a better storyteller. We fulfilled our promise in 2018 through not only publishing the following 32 articles, but Ron also published a new book called The Proverb Effect: Secrets to create tiny phrases that change the world. We look forward to serving your storytelling needs in 2019.

StoryHow Blog Posts (2018)

1. The Evangeline Connection

Variety helps build storytelling stamina. Sometimes its helpful to reach beyond the business storytelling genre to broaden your skills. In this post, Ron practices what he preaches by telling a historical story with personal significance.

2. The Simple Reason Why Most Companies Tell The Wrong Story

Most companies tell the wrong story because they fail to understand the complicated role that their products and services play within an ecosystem of people with different motivations.

3. Use These Three Simple Words to Bond with Any Audience

Looking for an easy way to bond with an audience? Just preface your message with these three little words.

4. Why Marketers Must Always Consider the “Three Whats”

Marketers who want to incorporate storytelling into their messaging must first employ “the three whats.”

5. Three Steps to Telling a Single-sentence Story

Single-sentence stories use carefully chosen words to present facts that defy listener expectations. In this post, Ron describes one of the most emotionally powerful single-sentence stories he’s ever heard.

6. How to Choose Your Story’s Most Significant Details

Sometimes storytelling lessons come from the most unlikely places. This one comes from mathematics.

7. Assumptions Play Two Vital Roles in Storytelling

We all make assumptions. We can’t help it. Which is why they play such important roles in any story.

8. Simple Storytelling Lesson from a Rolling Stones Song

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards offer great advice for any storyteller…through a pop song.

9. How One Awesome Story Took 42 Years for Me to Tell

Sometimes the best stories take a while to tell. This one took me forty-two years.

10. The Four-letter Word that Drives all Stories

The backbone of any story is a simple four-letter word. And it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

11. It’s Hard to See the Story When You’re in it

It’s hard to see the story when you’re in the middle of it. Before we get too confident in our present-day beliefs, remember that we too are in the middle of our own incomplete stories and the only thing standing between us and their endings is time.

12. The Best Salespeople are Story Researchers

The best sales folks aren’t necessarily great storytellers. But they are great story researchers.

13. Quality is measured by the number of words you strike out NOT bang out

It’s not the amount of words you write. It’s about the amount of words you keep.

14. Thinking Is the Hardest Work

Storytellers need time to think, which doesn’t play well in a business culture that demands communications through bulleted presentation slides.

15. Journalists CAN’T be Storytellers

Journalists are beholden to facts. Storytellers are beholden to their audiences. And never the twain shall meet.

16. When Your Story is Stuck, Try a Test

Ron explains one of the techniques that he uses to get unstuck.

17. Great Questions Lead to Great Stories

Have you ever prefaced an answer with “That’s a great question?” In all likelihood, you were about to answer with a story.

18. Beware the Shaggy Dog Story

Have you ever heard a story that seemed so filled with promise yet it never delivered? If so, you’ve been the victim of a Shaggy Dog story.

19. Clickbait: The Evil Shaggy Dog Story

Ron demonstrates how clickbait headline writers use storytelling techniques against us

20. StoryTip: Characters Fall Into Patterns

People enter new situations with previous experiences. Some of those experiences dictate how we act. Great stories come from mismatches in those actions.

21. Don’t Dumb Down. Build Up

The human brain has a tremendous capacity to understand very complex concepts. You just gotta give it a little head start.

22. Story is the shell…not the nut

Some things in life give their lives for others. Stories are no exception.

23. Storytellers Allow Audiences to Infer

Bad storytellers describe meaning explicitly. Great storytellers allow their audiences to infer it themselves.

24. Wanna be a storyteller? Be careful what you ask for

Storytelling is a superpower. But it also comes with its own Kryptonite.

25. Storytellers Break the Rules

Advertising legend Stan Freberg shows us how the best storytellers break the rules.

26. Introducing The Proverb Effect

Ron introduces The Proverb Effect, the first book to define a repeatable process for conveying deep meaning through self-created proverbs.

27. Why this Storyteller Wrote a Book about Proverbs

Storyteller Ron Ploof wanted to know how proverbs have been used successfully to pass wisdom from one generation to another. Two years of research later and he’s figured out the rules for creating the ultimate long-story short.

28. Less Convincing, More Conveying

Deception experts say that liars convince, while truth-tellers convey. Which of the two terms best describes your marketing materials?

29. Storytellers Avoid Distractions

The worst thing that a storyteller can do is introduce a distraction to the audience.

30. Bookend Your Next Talk with Proverbs

Ron Ploof introduces the StoryHow™ PSP method of structuring your next talk.

31. Creating Proverbs: The Function

Proverb construction is a three step process. This post is about Step 1: determining a function.

32. Proverb Construction Step #2: The Frame

Proverb construction is a three step process. This post is about Step 2: determining a proverb’s frame.

Bookend Your Next Talk with Proverbs

 

So, you have a big idea, need to share it with an audience, and are looking to structure your talk. How do you choose a beginning, middle, and end? Have you considered using the StoryHow™ PSP method?

In my recent book, The Proverb Effect, I teach how old proverbs have helped teachers teach and students learn for thousands of years. Something in their linguistic structure gives proverbs the unique capability to act as both premise and conclusion. PSP uses this dual capability to open your talk using proverb as a premise, follow it with story-based examples, then wrap it all up by repeating the proverb as a conclusion. PSP helps you open and close strong.

For example, let’s use PSP to structure a talk about the power of persistence.

The method is effective because the human brain is comfortable listening to stories and proverbs are the ultimate long-stories short.

The first example used an old proverb, but perhaps you want to use one of your own. Here’s an example of one of my PSP talks.

Let’s say that I want to share the big idea that people will only join your cause if they can relate personally with it.

Give it a try. Use PSP to structure your next talk using the following steps:

  1. Convert that big idea into a proverb
  2. Open your presentation with it
  3. Offer evidence through stories
  4. Cap off your talk by putting the word remember before your proverb

Give PSP a try and let me know how it worked out.

Storytellers Avoid Distractions

 

One of my movie-watching pet peeves is non-musician actors playing instruments. My issue usually manifests itself as a mismatch between the video and soundtrack. For example, as a percussionist, I’m highly sensitive to non-musician drummers waving their arms without hitting anything, or even worse, striking cymbals, snare drums or tom-toms out of sync with the soundtrack. And don’t even get me started about non-musician guitar players. There is nothing more frustrating than watching an actor strumming clumsily while sliding his lifeless hand along the guitar’s neck without any attempt at playing a chord. Such distractions negatively impact my willingness to suspend belief.

All storytellers must fix story problems. In the case of the non-musician actor, visual storytellers must find a movie-magic way to cover up the fact that the actor can’t play. One technique is to hide the musician’s hands, either by using an obstructed camera angle (behind the piano), or a tight shot on the hands of a “stunt musician.” Both techniques, however, tend to draw my attention to the problem as I want to see a full-frame shot of the character playing.

I’ve always wondered, why can’t they just teach the actor how to play something—ANYTHING—to augment the various cuts with at least one full-frame shot? Anyone can learn to play a few guitar chords or play a simple drum beat for a few seconds.

Non-musician actors aren’t the only distractions that pull me out of a story. Consider these other distracting storyteller fixes:

1. The antagonist needs a mysterious device that can be used to destroy the world. What’s the easiest way to go? Use a “microchip.”

2. A crime fighter reviews video footage of a getaway car. The storyteller chooses between two uninspired ways to extract information from the video: a) zoom in to read a perfectly clear version of the license plate (which is impossible from a picture-resolution perspective) or b) have the character acknowledge the zooming-in problem, but can “clean it up” through magical image processing software…or a microchip!

3. And my all-time favorite…the cops are stumped for clues, so, they approach some clairvoyant petty thief. “Word on the street,” the informant says, “is that Mr. Big is gonna hit the bank tonight at midnight.” Really? Mr. Big shares such information with the guy selling stolen watches on the corner?

Storytellers have an obligation to hold their readers attention, thus must solve their problems in a believable way. Ask yourself, does my story have too much detail, too few characters, or too many plot twists? Are the solutions to my story problems realistic or do they cause distractions? Tackling these issues now will save much grief in the future.

 

Photo Credit: Mayer, Frank Blackwell. The Continentals / FBM. , 1875. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2006680120/.

Less Convincing, More Conveying

Susan Carnicero is a former CIA agent who specializes in spotting deception. I first learned of her through a YouTube video of her teaching how to tell if someone is lying. One of the deception techniques jumped out at me. People who lie convince while those telling the truth convey.

The distinction resonated with me. I once had an old boss who always said, “We need to manage the customer’s expectations.” I’ve always hated that statement and now understood why. He wanted us to convince while I like to convey.

Susan explains that “…a convincing statement is the strongest arrow…” in a liar’s quiver, because “we all want to be convinced. We want to believe that all people are good and that they’re always telling us the truth.”

For example, there are only two appropriate answers to the question, “Did you steal the merchandise?” Yes or no. However, a liar might say something like, “I’ve been loyal to this company for so long; I’ve never given you any reason to think that I’m a thief; or how could you ask me something like that?” Notice that none of these responses contain a denial. The person is trying to convince not convey.

My former boss sees marketing’s role as one to convince as opposed to convey. Convincing copy is easily identifiable through an abundance of hyphenated terms like: world-class, state-of-the-art, easy-to-use, thought-leader, industry-leading, leading-edge, etc… All are designed to convince not convey.

Susan leaves us with one last thing to consider when folks lay it on too thickly by invoking God’s name, swearing on a relative’s grave, or using hyphenated marketing terms.  “Convincing statements sound so true, or in this case, irrefutable.” But they still don’t answer the question.

The next time your write some marketing copy, ask yourself the following question. Am I trying to convince or convey? If it’s the former, try rewriting for the latter.

Photo Credit: Jim Thompson under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Storytellers Break the Rules

 

In 1959, a group of advertising execs from Young and Rubicam visited a thirty-three-year-old radio and recording artist for help. Their client, Kaiser Aluminum Foil, remained stuck at five percent market share because by the time local grocers had stocked their shelves with foil from market leaders Reynolds and Alcoa, no room existed for Kaiser.

Y&R didn’t approach Stan Freberg for his expertise in selling thinly rolled metals. They sought the satirist who single-handedly turned Madison Avenue upside down with his outlandish idea that commercials could actually entertain audiences instead of simply assaulting them with hyperbole.

Freberg recommended a series of commercials that encouraged customers to ask their local grocers to carry Kaiser foil. The series would follow the trials of Clark, a down-in-his-luck Kaiser Aluminum Foil salesman, who battled grocers daily for shelf space. Here’s a script snippet from one of these commercials.1

The scene opens with Clark coming home after a hard day’s work. Soap opera music plays in the background as he describes his bad day to his wife.

WIFE: (SOB) Then this means I won’t be able to have my operation!

One of Clark’s children overhears the conversation and interjects:

CHILD: (IN A SMALL WISTFUL VOICE) Did you bring me some new shoesies, Daddy?”

CLARK: Ummm…Daddy doesn’t have any money for shoesies these days…because the mean old grocers won’t stock Daddy’s foil.

When Freberg finished pitching the script, a few chuckles were drowned out by protests. Some Y&R execs worried about offending local grocers while others questioned a commercial that openly branded Kaiser as an underdog.

“You didn’t go to the Harvard Business School, did you?”2 one of the execs asked.

Freberg hadn’t.

“Well I was sure of that,” the executive snorted. “If you had, they would have taught you one of the primary rules of marketing: Advertising cannot force distribution.”3

History always repeats itself. There was a time when we knew with certainty that the world was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, and advertising couldn’t force distribution. But we also know that testing old rules frequently leads to new ones. Kaiser Aluminum Foil authorized the series, the company added 43,000 new distribution outlets, and Harvard Business School was forced to revise its curriculum.

The best storytellers break the rules. What rules can you break today?

 

Photo Credit: Publicity photo of American satirist Stan Freberg. Public Domain

Notes:

  1. Stan Freberg, The It Only Hurts When I Laugh (New York: Times Books, 1988), p.159.
  2. It only hurts when I laugh, p. 162
  3. It only hurts when I laugh, p. 162