The Power of ‘Yes’ in Storytelling

A couple weeks ago, our web marketing team had one of those workdays that goes down in history as “the best day ever.”

The team — Candace Timmons, Mason Drumm, Brandt Smith and I — got to work early, road tripped to Chickasha, Oklahoma, and met with a super friendly farming couple. We toured their sorghum maze that they had themed for the Bedlam brawl by etching Pistol Pete, the Sooner Schooner, college logos and helmets into. It was ridiculously amazing.

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Then, after the couple made a call to their friends at the local airport, we soared the Chickasha skies and took aerial photos of the field (oh, and lots of selfies).

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We couldn’t leave Chickasha without stopping at Crazy 8 Cafe, a new-to-us restaurant that had a mountain of desserts to choose from, including adorable cups of banana pudding. Ugh, it was such a good day.

When we ran our story and photos about the corn maze this week — the maze’s opening week — our audience’s response was wild. Here’s how it broke down as of Wednesday afternoon:

  • 4,730 Facebook likes, 1,474 shares and 292,454 impressions
  • 7,976 pageviews on OU.edu
  • Average time on page 2:42
  • And it killed on Twitter

Twitter analytics

But what really was neat was getting our story linked to from local and national media. The story was aggregated by an ESPN.com sports editor and Okie native after ESPN social media editors saw Candace’s post on Instagram. The story also was picked up by NCAA.com, which ran it verbatim with a link to our original post. It’s on TulsaWorld.com, DallasNews.comon collegespun.com and even a site dedicated solely to OSU sports, cowboysrideforfree.com. Now we joke that I’m basically a sports writer, when the reality is I Google “sports” whenever someone asks me which is my favorite.

It’s taken me a while to get here, but the point is: What a good story comes down to is you saying “yes.” Some of my favorite stories I’ve written are ones in which people hear the subject and think “That’s not a story.” Why are these my favorites? Because I love finding and sharing the weird and wonderful in something you wouldn’t expect.

Nancy and Jerry Reding, of Red Silo Productions and masterminds behind the OU vs. OSU corn maze, invited folks from OU and OSU to come and tour the maze.

OU said yes, and look what happened.

I remember reading Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” and learning the rules of improv, which center around saying yes. Fey described the rules of improv as “life-changing,” and she didn’t mean that for just actors. That, dear readers, shows the magnitude of the word “yes.”

She writes (or says if you were cool enough to do the audio book):

The first rule of improvisation is agree. Always agree and say yes. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say “Freeze! I have a gun!” and you say “That’s not a gun! That’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say “Freeze! I have a gun!” And you say “The gun I gave you for Christmas? You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we agreed that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now obviously in real life, you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says but the rule of agreement reminds you to respect what your partner has created, and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a “yes” and see where that takes you.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is “no.” “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for $1.” What kind of way is that to live?

As a journalist, I got pitched to every day. By PR people. By readers. By my editor. And if I said yes to everything, I would never have gotten around to the stories I thought really needed to be told. Obviously, there is some news judgement and judicious selection that goes on, but like Fey said, you have to start from an open-minded place in order to make the right decision.

I also find a lot of inspiration in author David Sedaris, who is also a fan of “yes.” Haven’t you ever wondered why he has so many stories that leave you ROTFL? It’s because of that one little, powerful word. It’s how he was employed as one of Santa’s elves (great story), and why he had one of his readers cut a lump out of his body when his doctor wouldn’t do it (even BETTER story).

In conclusion — and probably in the words of a Dove chocolate wrapper — say yes to something unexpected. Say yes to something unexpected, and you might be surprised at the results.

— @morganday
@OUWebComm

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