“I pick him up in my car at the end of each school day and he always responds to ‘how was your day?’ with ‘it was fine,’ so when today, he jumped in the backseat and said ‘Mom, today we learned about surrealism. Do you know what surrealism is?’ I couldn’t believe it and I just had to play along. ‘No honey, tell me all about it.’ ‘Well, it’s an early 20th century painting style…’ I was so happy, I had chills! I cut off traffic to pull a U-turn and 45 minutes later he was in the middle of the Picasso room at the DIA. Watching him slowly walk the room was the exact moment I knew I could never go back to my unfulfilling 9–5. I made it my mission in this world to help advance the arts and culture scene in Detroit.”
This was a conversation I had with “Susan” this morning. She told me that and I said “holy shit, do you know what you just did? You just knocked what we call a ‘Why it Matters’ out of the park. Are you aware that you just told me a really well structured story?” “Nope.”
The “Why it Matters” is a way to talk about what you do what you do from a place of impact and passion. People need to believe that your work comes from a place deep inside of you, and a “Why it Matters” let’s them into that world.
I want to break down her story using the time tested storytelling strategy of The 3 Cs.
If you read any good book or see any good movie, there is a structure to how it is put together. Most stories (not all) contain the 3 c’s; Context, Conflict, and Consequence. For a business owner, these 3 acts can be executed through conversation, in a photo, in a presentation, in the way you talk about your business, or in a video.
Susan has a son.
She picks him up every day.
He sits in the backseat.
Context is the most important piece of the story to get right. Not all stories have the same intention as Conflict, and sometimes it’s hard to find Consequence buried, but you can’t have impact in Consequence without properly setting context. In that respect, it’s often times the thing that I actually finish last. Sometimes on my first blush through a story, I’ll take a stab at creating context, but you don’t know exactly what kind of table you need to set for a listener until the story is complete. I also love to tease Act 3 in this moment. It’s a great place for a call back.
He’s not super talkative with her, maybe they struggle to connect sometimes?
He’s maybe not super passionate about certain areas of school.
Art makes us connect.
Make a dangerous decision to foster connection.
He loves it.
The beauty of Susan’s context is much of this is implied as she moves through the story. She didn’t have to tell us that they don’t connect over some things because she very clearly let us know how important it was that they were connecting over art. Susan’s conflict is an internal one best communicated through her interaction with her son. The moment he opens up about surrealism is the moment she realizes the strength of art and culture. Her decision to go home is overwhelmed by the pull of more dialogue and interaction with her son, and the ability to inject more culture into his life.
Conflict is where the heart of your story belongs. It’s past the moment of “set up” and now we’re into the flow of the story. The conflict can often times be set off by another C, Choice, and can be external or internal. In Pam’s case, it was the latter. Steven Pressfield tells us to make certain our hero suffers, and I love a bit of suffering from our Hero. Susan has plenty of it as a mother struggling with an aging son who’s sharing less… it’s so relatable. If the Context is where we learn about our character, then Choice is where we get to know what makes her tick. For a script writer or an author, it’s done in a couple hundred pages. You might get 2 sentences.
Susan has seen her son’s passion.
Could never go back to 9–5.
Time to follow her passion.
Consequence is an opportunity to close out your “Why it Matters” and hammer home the point. Susan’s Consequence seems oh so simple on the surface, “I could never go back to my unfulfilling 9–5,” but it means so much more than that. It means quitting a life she knew to pursue a passion, and all the beauty that it brings. Take the chance to sap it up a bit. It didn’t happen in this moment, but as I said in Context, I love calling back a moment to allow your story to resonate and end on a positive note. One way Susan might have done this is, in her context, let me into her 9–5 just a bit more. Discuss maybe how her 9–5 drains her of the energy to give her son the attention he needs at the end of the day because she’s not passionate about it. And then at the end of Consequence, let me know how much more they’re connecting because of her work.
It takes practice, but this can be a wonderful blueprint to bring people into your world and open up to them a bit.
Holler if I can help at all.