My dad, Connie Culberson, was a semi-professional softball player who got his nickname from the professional baseball player Connie Mack. Coincidentally, they also shared their given first name of Cornelius. If you ever met my dad, you would have encountered a man who was respectful and dignified but who also had a great sense of humor. In public, he always handled himself with restraint and I never saw him lose his cool.
I once asked my dad if he had any funny stories from his past that might make for a good addition to one of my books. He gave it some thought and sent me an experience which he wrote down word for word. But first, let me give you a little background information.
After graduating from college in 1949, my dad became the Executive Assistant to the President at his alma mater, Emory & Henry College. He was responsible for many aspects of the college’s operations including recruitment, alumni relations, buildings and grounds, and other duties as assigned. One year, he actually helped raise funds for the marching band. As he went door-to-door asking for donations, he had quite an encounter with one elderly member of our community. Here is my dad’s description of that experience:
I greeted the man at the door by saying, “Good morning sir, I’m Connie Culberson and I am soliciting funds for the Emory and Henry College Marching Band Uniform Procurement Fund.”
The man replied, “Eh? I didn’t hear you.”
A bit louder, I said, “My name is Connie Culberson and I am soliciting funds for the Emory and Henry College Marching Band Uniform Procurement Fund.”
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak up.”
Even louder, I said, “I’m Connie Culberson and I am soliciting funds for the Emory and Henry College Marching Band Uniform Procurement Fund.”
“I’m sorry son, I just can’t hear you.”
Irritated, I simply put my hands up, walked off the porch, and headed down the sidewalk. When I got to the end of the walk, I kicked the man’s gate open.
The man yelled, “Don’t you kick my gate.”
In a low voice, I mumbled, “To hell with your gate.”
The man responded, “And to hell with the Emory and Henry College Marching Band Uniform Procurement Fund.”
Just thinking about this story makes me laugh. I mean, I only heard my dad curse once in my entire life. It happened when I dropped a log on his foot and his reaction seemed perfectly appropriate for the situation. Beyond that, however, he never showed this type of frustration in front of others. So it’s hilarious to me that he not only cursed but that he chose to share the story with me. It’s as if he knew I would appreciate that the humor trumped his concern for a dignified public image.
I’ve been a full-time speaker for twenty-four years. In my world, a story can engage an audience while making a point without overwhelming them with too much data and information. But not everyone understands this concept. I often see industry experts who think their many charts, graphs, and bullet points will impress those listening to their presentation. While I appreciate that data is important, I believe a story is more memorable.
A few years ago, I was helping a hospice CEO with his presentation skills. I chose to observe one of his presentations at the monthly new employee orientation. The challenge for this CEO was that he loved to use numbers to highlight the organization’s financial situation, service area, and patient demographics. What he failed to realize was that the people in his audience were mostly caregivers. They were less interested in the data and more interested in the stories behind the data. Whenever he launched into a discussion about the facts and figures, you could see these caregivers just glaze over. Essentially, his hospice presentation was dying onstage. And yes, it was ironic.
Afterwards, I suggested that he try telling a couple of stories related to his own experience with hospice patients. He agreed to give it a try. So, the next time he delivered his orientation program, he talked about the impact of his first visit to a terminally ill patient’s home. At that instant, his presentation came alive and afterwards, several people came up to shake his hand. It was clear that he had made an impact on his audience with the story.
Stories are a powerful way to communicate. They connect us with others on a very human level. One writer said that our stories evoke the stories in others. And interestingly, stories can actually tie together data in a much more compelling way than using a spreadsheet. So, when we think about how we communicate information to others, we should consider how a story here or there might get the point across more effectively.
Earlier in this blog, I could have told you a lot of facts about my dad. The fact that he served in the army in World War II, or that he waited to attend college until he returned from the war, or that he was a member of a Rotary Club for more than fifty years. These facts would give you a sense of who he was but I suspect they wouldn’t engage you as much as one “hell” of-a-funny story of the time he was trying to raise money for that dang “Emory and Henry College Marching Band Uniform Procurement Fund.”
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.