I learned something profound from the Bob Costas this week.
I like a good story. And everyone has one.
We had been watching Olympics coverage on our nifty ipad app that let us see full events with a mere tap of the screen. Figure skating, men’s downhill, bobsled, and a crazy amount of curling at our fingertips. More events than any viewer has ever seen. Sweet! We were so excited. Until we used the app.
That’s when we realized the problems. Besides the technical stuff (freezing screens, sound issues, seeing the same AT&T commercial twenty times in an hour), we found ourselves missing the evening coverage we were used to. The good old days (of four years ago) when you could only see highlights (who knew you really don’t want to watch every skier ski – summary: they all seem really fast) and they told you about the people involved. The stories behind the athletes. The part that I’ve always considered cheesy and silly and a blatant act of emotional manipulation. I don’t deny that’s what it is. But I’ve realized this week that I like it.
I remember watching Scott Hamilton skate when I was a kid. He was brilliant on the ice, but learning that he had a disease that stunted his growth made me support him even more. Because I felt like I knew him. I got sucked in to the story arc of his experience. I cared. Skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace is a mom, had a miscarriage between the last Olympics and this, and her husband built her sled as a way to help her recover. Before I knew that I was just annoyed that her commercial kept interrupting my coverage. Emily Cook rehabilitated two broken feet to win medals at multiple world cups and make it to three Olympics. Bode Miller’s brother died last year, and as you might have seen, he broke down over it to a reporter. Yes, their stories are being sensationalized because they are dramatic. Tragic. Displays of the Olympic theme of overcoming obstacles to become the best. But we can relate. These giants of human athleticism are real people. That’s what we learn from Bob Costas and Mat Lauer, and that’s what makes us care.
As I tell my son all the time, a good story always has a conflict. Otherwise it lacks direction, a point, something pulling us toward the end. The execs at NBC know this, so they highlight the problems people have faced. They skip over the intricacies of the athletes’ lives, because they don’t have time for a full biography. But even the snippets we get are enough to grab our attention and turn a dude who looks too old to be skiing into a guy who’s beating the odds of his aging body to ski in one last race. That’s a good story. And that makes me want him to win.
Story is a good strategy for everything really. Being a politician, a teacher, a parent, a salesman, a scientist, a preacher, an ethics and compliance officer at a company (wink wink, anyone who knows the awesome videos my husband makes) – they all benefit from a tale told well. From learning the whys behind the whats, the people affected, the reason we should care. I am naturally a bright-sider, but when it comes to media I’m a cynic. So to learn that I like the cheesy behind-the-Olympian accounts has been a surprise, if not kind of a bummer. But I’m embracing the schmaltz of primetime coverage in these 22nd Winter Olympics, because it works. It translates the human experience. Gets me past the superhuman abilities to the utterly human realities and reminds me what makes the world go round. Something as old as forever and as modern as now.
A good story.
Some good quotes on the subject:
“We need storytelling. Otherwise, life just goes on and on like the number Pi.” -Ang Lee
“If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And here I make a rule–a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.” -John Steinbeck
Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact. — Robert McKee
The universe is made of stories, not atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser
It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. —Native American saying
Storytelling is a vaccine against war…. —Annette Simmons
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” -Rudyard Kipling
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.” – The Jesus Storybook Bible