The Twist (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #27) is a powerful storytelling device that leads an audience down one path before diverting them to an unexpected one. When used properly, twists make stories enjoyable, memorable, and in some cases, humorous.
Many years ago, my wife and I bought a house with a big backyard. The property’s only downside was its location on a busy street. So, to keep our young children from wandering into the dangers of the front yard, we decided to build a fence.
I remember how excited I was when I first saw the completed fence. It was perfect…well almost. The gate between the backyard and the driveway could only open partially because the level gate swung into the upwardly sloping ground. And while the partial opening was wide enough for a person to fit through, things like my lawnmower and wheelbarrow would remain forever trapped in the backyard if it wasn’t fixed.
I called the fence company. Evidently, the installer had relayed the information already, because the woman who answered the phone seemed ready for my call. She chose to take a defensive position, explaining that the company didn’t know how to solve the problem. So, I offered a solution, “What if we make the gate swing the other way?” By doing so, the gate would swing away from the slope instead of into it, thus allowing its full range of motion.
The simplicity of my solution seemed to catch her off guard. She bumbled her way through some weak reasons why it wouldn’t work before finally acquiescing. That’s when she explained that due to their busy schedule, she wouldn’t be able to send someone for a few weeks.
Weeks, Really? We had just paid this company a lot of money to put up this fence and they couldn’t come out to fix it for weeks?
I fumed as I recalled a similar experience with another contractor. I remembered how exuberantly motivated he was before I paid him, yet totally unavailable afterward. It took me months to get him to return and I was beginning to believe that I’d be doing the same thing with this company. But, that’s when I thought of an idea.
I mustered my sweetest-sounding voice and said, “I totally understand. We’re all busy. Please send somebody when you can.”
“Umm…thank you for your understanding,” she said hesitantly, before proposing some arbitrary date in the far distant future that she probably had no intention of honoring.
“That sounds great,” I said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Nope. You’ve been great. Oh, wait! There is one small thing. I canceled the check that my wife gave to your installer.”
The telephone line fell silent as she realized that I’d learned how to play her game.
“Oh, look at that,” she said. “You aren’t going to believe this, Mr. Ploof. But a slot just opened for tomorrow.”
Spin is a technique that traditional marketers use to transform negative situations into positive ones. It’s one of the weaker communications devices because it’s motivated by selfishness–seeking to benefit the teller more than the listener. Twists, on the other hand, are motivated by generosity. They’re little gifts that storytellers give to their audiences to make stories more enjoyable and memorable.
Storytellers setup twists through shared experiences. For example, the first part of our fence story was designed to connect with those who’ve had similar problems with contractors. In addition, those who’ve never experienced that exact situation can still relate to a general feeling of being caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place. Once storytellers establish the shared experience, it’s easy for listeners’ preconceived notions to lead them down a path of false expectations. It is at this moment, just when the listener says, “Oh, I know where this story is going,” that the storyteller throws a twist at them.
The next time you need to convey a message, think about how you might draw the audience into your story through a shared experience. Encourage their preconceived notions to lead them down a decoy path. Then, just as they think that they know what happens next, hit ’em with a twist. As long as the motivation behind the deception is to benefit the audience as opposed to yourself, you’ll not only be able to make your point effectively, but the audience will enjoy the process.
Storytellers give the gift of twists.
Photo Credit: Lee, Russell, photographer. Great Falls, Montana. Anaconda Wire and Cable Company. Spiral twisted copper core for the manufacture of hollow conductor cable. Sept, 1942. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/owi2001011358/PP/