How To Tell A Great Story In 45 Seconds Or Less

I recently came across a website hosted by Harvard’s Neiman Foundation, which is running a terrific series called Neiman Storyboard. One feature called “Why’s this so good?” looks at noteworthy stories and analyzes why they’re so effective.

One short story – which will take you no more than one minute to read – is by Brady Dennis, now a reporter with The Washington Post. It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling that proves that even in a short speech or media interview, you can stir your audience to feel deep emotion using just a few carefully chosen words.

Here’s his story, originally published by the Tampa Bay Times:

The loneliness of the overnight shift at a Suncoast Parkway toll booth: Lloyd Blair, 71, sits back and waits for the next driver to come by his station.

The few drivers on this dark, lonely stretch of the Suncoast Parkway in Pasco County pull up to the toll booth, hand their dollars to Lloyd Blair and then speed away. None of them knows why the old man sits here, night after night, working the graveyard shift.

Well, here’s why:

Because years ago, on a freezing winter night at a party in Queens, N.Y., he met a woman named Millie.

Because he fell in love with her brown hair and wide eyes and 100-watt smile.

Because they got married, moved to Staten Island, had a son and worked for decades in Manhattan; she as an accountant, he as a banker.

Because it had been their dream to retire to Florida, and so they saved all their lives to make it possible…


For the second half of the story, please visit the Tampa Bay Times website here. (I hate to make you click away, but I want to respect the copyright of both the author and the newspaper.)

And when you’re done reading the story, click here for one reporter’s breakdown of why this story was so effective.

A grateful h/t to Jeff Domansky, The PR Coach, who profiled this story on his excellent blog. He tweets at @ThePRCoach.