“I went to the hospital to remove the knife that I had swallowed. When the surgeon found the five others in my stomach it turned into a much bigger ordeal than anticipated.”

Want to hear more? Yes you do. A person swallowing one knife, let alone five is shocking.

I paraphrased this from a webinar I took with Alex Bloomberg of Planet Money and Gimlet Media fame. Alex focused on the power of surprise to create an engaging story. The quote was from an interview he conducted with a person who had a compulsion to eat metal objects. Alex knew the person went into surgery to remove a knife, but the subsequent five was a complete surprise.

During the webinar Alex played the audio of the original broadcast. He was so surprised he exclaimed, ‘What the f*ck!” The radio version was beeped, so why did he choose to keep this strong reaction in? He explained moments of surprise give stories power. If the interviewer was surprised, they know their audience will be as well. The shock expressed by the interviewer helps to build the dramatic tension as they and the audience get to the bottom of this shocking statement together.

To tell a story with a hook or surprise might sound hard, but it is achievable. First you have to understand why the story you are telling is interesting before you can find the element of surprise.

Alex Bloomberg has a formula to achieve this. My story is about (X) and it is interesting because (Y). If I was to apply this formula to the story about the knives above it might go something like this –

“My story is about a person who can’t who can’t stop swallowing metal objects. They are so fearful of judgment they hide their condition from everyone. Even from doctors, including one who was operating to remove a knife they had swallowed and during the operation found five more knives inside their stomach.”

The theme of this story is people who suffer from mental health issues often find it difficult reaching out for help. This is a troubling situation, but without a unique angle it won’t necessarily create an engaging narrative.Delving into a uniquely personal story about mental health to find a unique twist makes it a sticky story.

I heard that story just once and I can recall it very easily. When creating a story for a blog post, an article or even a presentation, if it doesn’t contain a surprising insight, you haven’t dug deep enough.

What are you waiting for? Get digging!


If you are interested in learning to deliver you message like a pro, learn the fundamentals of narrative with my Storytelling Interactive Board Game at TheKnowledge Market! Hope to see you there!

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