I have this theory that people today don’t tell stories – they re-live conversations. Years ago, on the ski slope in Park City, I got on a chair lift with three 15 year old girls. In describing an encounter with a friend, they didn’t tell the story, they relived the conversation – word for word:
“And then I told Mary that wouldn’t work. Then she said, “well”, and then I said, so what do we do? Then she said fine, we’ll go to the mall, and then I said, that sounds good, when do you want to go? So she said – and on and on and on….”
The next day, I was in line for a movie at The Sundance Film Festival, talking to a couple of directors about their recent projects. But rather than tell the story of where a particular project was, they re-counted complete and detailed conversations going back years with studio people, money people, and crew. Not only was it incredibly boring, but it took 10 times as long to tell as a simple description of the project.
In other situations I’ve seen job promotions missed and sales lost because rather than telling a simple story, the person re-lived complete conversations, turning everyone off in the process.
Perhaps I’m more attuned to it because I’m a “get to the point” guy. My philosophy is “Don’t tell me about the labor pains, just show me the baby.” And the truth is, a well told story is far more powerful and compelling (and certainly interesting) than recreating the actual event word for word. But I wonder if our culture has dumbed down to the point where we’ve lost the ability to tell stories well. So we just re-state the conversations. We can’t be descriptive, so we become transcriptive.
So if you’re together with a friend over coffee, re-create whatever you want. But if you’re in a conversation with people you don’t know well, or business associates, or at a social gathering, then leave the excruciating detail at home.
Give us the story – without re-living every word.