Shawshank Redemption – it’s the story not the facts

Frank Darabont’s 1994 movie about a banker imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit barely covered its budget after a lukewarm box office reception. But the film has since developed a cult following, regularly featuring in the top 5 of the ‘most-loved movie’ polls.

Based on a short book by Stephen King, the film tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who in 1947…well, here’s the basic gist:

  • Man is accused of murdering his wife (he didn’t)
  • He gets sent to prison (it’s brutal)
  • He makes the best of it and forms some friendships (one in particular)
  • He escapes (in a clever manner)
  • He’s reunited with his prison pal (the end).

Now read that and it doesn’t seem like much does it? But those are the basic facts. My point is that the facts don’t make the story. There’s a world of difference and if you try to tell it merely by relating the basic facts NO ONE will be moved by it!

But this is what people do all the time – business owners, sales-people, job seekers. They deliver the facts, but don’t tell the story. And it’s in the STORY where the emotion resides. THIS is what makes your proposition compelling.

Job seekers often make claims like:

“excellent communication skills”

“good team player”

“adaptable and good under pressure”

These claims are just that – claims. And even when asked to substantiate it they might relate an anecdote or case study, but they don’t do the story justice. They deliver the facts, not the emotion. If it was made into a movie, NO ONE would watch it!

Shawshank is one of the most popular movies of all time because of the way the story is told. You get to know the characters, and there’s good (Tim Robbins, Morgan Feeman) vs evil (the warden, the head guard). There’s the notion of time and the journey and the development of the relationship between the main (and subsidiary) characters. There’s an identification with the principal leads, of wanting them to have justice, to have ‘redemption’. There’s humanity juxtaposed with senseless brutality. There’s the claustrophobia of the setting and precious moments of hope – only for them to swept mercilessly away. And there’s a wonderful twist, a reveal that people still discuss to this day.

Darabont succeeds because he forms a terrific connection between his audience and what’s on the screen. He takes us with him on that emotional journey and it’s a skill that anyone in an influencing role should seek to learn.

Think of your business pitch, or job interview, in the same way. It’s the not the bare facts that people find compelling. It’s the humanising of the story that makes it work. It’s about how you make your audience feel about your proposition that counts. It’s about taking them from A to B.

It’s a piece of storytelling.

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