The Twist in the Tale

I recently came across the following terrific commercial from Guinness. If you have not seen it, watch the clip before reading further.

As the commercial unfolded, I was thinking that the message would have something to do with perseverance and commitment in the face of adversity. And, indeed, the first word from the voiceover at 0:34 (when one of the players struggles to right himself after being knocked over) is “Dedication”. The game continues and we hear about “Loyalty”.

But at 0:42, something unexpected happens. The game ends and we learn that all of the players except one are able to walk without any assistance whatsoever, and we hear, at 0:47, the word “Friendship”. And that’s when we realize what the story is truly about. And it sticks because we didn’t see it coming. At least I didn’t.

Here’s another commercial with a story built on the same principle of a surprise twist:

It’s the surprise ending—the twist in the tale—that often makes a story memorable. Many great movies and books are based on this principle. And those are the ones we talk about: “Man, it blew my mind when I realized that she was the murderer!”

Here’s a list of 30 films with a twist. (Do I need to say “Spoiler Alert”?) And here’s a highly entertaining list of “25 turns, pivots and twists to complicate your story” from novelist Chuck Wendig.

We can apply the same principle in the stories we tell in our speeches. Not every story needs a twist, of course, but having a surprise ending can be a powerful way to reinforce a message. Below are five ways to give your stories a twist. Can you think of others?

  • Tell a story about yourself but only reveal that it was you at the end.
  • Tell a story about a famous person but only reveal the person’s identity at the end.
  • Tell a story where things are going badly but there is a positive ending.
  • Tell a story where things are going well but take a turn for the worse.
  • Tell a story that reveals an unlikely connection between two people and/or events.

And to conclude on a lighter note, here’s one last story with an unexpected twist!


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Stories and Storytelling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Twist in the Tale

  1. argothiel says:

    Oh, I know at least two more:
    – Tell a story where things appear to be a fiction, but turn out to be real at the end.
    – Tell a story where events, things, people appear to be real, but turn out to be a delusion at the end.

  2. Jim Cronin says:

    Great post John. I have now changed the text of my forthcoming keynote to reveal at the end that my opening story was about me. Thanks for sharing.

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