‘Tell Me A Story’ – from Alan Alda’s new book on how 60 Minutes succeeds

In his recent book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face:  My Adventures in the Art and Science of Communicating, Alan Alda (Hawkeye
Pierce on the war television series M*A*S*H – 1972-1983) tells of a conversation he had with Don Hewitt, the inventor of the television show 60 Minutes.

“It went like this:  when a producer would come into his office to pitch a segment, if they started telling him about an issue, or a law that needed to be changed, or a scam that was making the rounds, he would put up his hand to stop them, and he’d say, “Tell me a story.”

Alda writes that “Don was certain that those four words were what kept 60 Minutes at the top of the ratings for years.”   If you’ve watched the program you know that Hewitt was right.

Building on his acting career, Alda’s life’s work now is about teaching communication – through his new podcast Clear+Vivid.  

When I read Don Hewitt’s directive “Tell Me A Story,” I immediately thought of speeches I’ve heard, and given, in my lifetime.   Most of them in church.   How many of them could I or anyone else remember?   Not many.

But I do remember stories, some I used to tell myself.   Most of them about the changed lives I saw at the Community of Hope.

Now that I listen more to speeches and sermons than I give, I wish that some of the speakers I hear would learn the art and science of communicating by story telling.  Unless a speaker can illustrate a theme or topic with a story, their presentation, in Alda’s words is neither Clear nor Vivid.

When Navy Chaplain Brian Weigelt was preaching at the U.S. Navy Academy Protestant worship service he would often put a picture without description in the bulletin.  I waited eagerly for his sermon knowing that the picture was about a story he was about to tell.

I’ll never forget some of those insights communicated by pictures and stories.

When sitting through speeches and sermons occasionally I would like to do like Don Hewitt – put up my hands and say stop –  “Tell Me A Story.”

Then I might listen and maybe remember.

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One Response to ‘Tell Me A Story’ – from Alan Alda’s new book on how 60 Minutes succeeds

  1. Kent Vandervort says:

    Three Stories Leaders Tell: The What and Way of Using Stories to Lead Paperback – January 1, 2013
    by Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons (Author)

    Do not know if you has seen this book. But same idea but relatedto leadership.

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