The Day My Life Changed Forever

June 30, 2005, my life changed forever.

Like every day that changes your life forever, this day started like any other.

I had settled into my home office, a cozy wood-beamed alcove in my home here in France.

I had just rebooted my computer.

A steaming cup of coffee was perched on my cluttered desk. I was gearing up for another day of writing,  phone calls and brainstorms.

And then the phone rang.

I picked up and barely heard my husband, calling me from Copenhagen where he had gone on business.

There was trouble. I could feel it.

After an interminable pause, in a voice just above pure silence, he said, “I just had a heart attack.

Then the line went dead. I frantically tried to call him back, but got no answer. For about 15 minutes I wandered around the house in a daze.

I was trapped in a white, soundless bubble of panic and paralysis.

But I quickly broke through and sprung into action.

I figured he had to be speeding his way in an ambulance to a Copenhagen hospital. If I could just figure out which one…

I leapt to my computer, googled ‘hospitals Copenhagen’ and started to dial.

Much to my amazement, I hit the jackpot on my first try. I was patched into the emergency room where a nurse told me my husband had just arrived.

After several long, nail-biting moments, I got to talk with his doctor.

My husband had had a mild heart attack. But it was ‘nothing to worry about’ and ‘everything was going to be okay’.

I sunk into my chair trembling with deep relief.

But in 3 short hours, my world would turn upside down — again.

I received another phone call from a good friend of mine in Copenhagen.

In a panic.

It turned out that my husband did not have a ‘mild heart attack’ at all.

What he had was a dissection of the aorta— a catastrophic rupture of the main artery leading to the heart, which causes massive internal bleeding. 80% of the people who suffer this ‘explosion' in their chest die before they ever reach a hospital.

The other 20%--if they are lucky—survive.

In our case, my husband made it to the hospital. But his grip on life was tenuous.

He was fighting for his life.

By the time I managed to grab a plane and get up there, he has been on the operating table for 10 hours.

When I arrived in the ICU, it was like he was a ghost. Ice cold to the touch, they had ‘frozen’ his organs to protect him during the long operation.

And the prognosis was bleak.

All his major organs were failing. His body was packing it in. He was clinging to life by a thread.

Two days passed and nothing changed.

The doctor pulled me aside and told me to prepare for the worst.

And that is exactly what I did…

I called arranged for my two (really young) daughters to fly up to Copenhagen, crossing my fingers they would make it on time.

To say goodbye—forever—to their young father.

48 hours had passed and the unthinkable had become the thinkable.

And then a miracle happened:

The doctors decided to do one last ditch attempt—a third surgery—to clear the fluid around his heart.

And this time, it worked.

He came back.

The organs kickstarted back up again.

Between the time my daughters boarded that plane and the time they arrived, somehow—some way—he had been given a second chance.

And nothing could have ever prepared me for what was going to happen next… (More to follow later).

The Moral of the Story?

I told you that story (and have left you hanging wondering what DID happen next) for one simple reason.

To show you the power of a good story.

A story will draw you in like nothing else.

The most elegant of communications, stories allow us to transmit our passions and visions so that we can touch people in the most profound way.

Never underestimate the power of a good story

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Stories are universal.

They are not the jurisdiction of one culture or country; they are the heartbeat of universal human existence.

Through stories, we learn. We remember. We change.

How Stories Activate the Brain

What exactly takes place in our brain when we tell and listen to stories?

Science shows us that when we process ‘rational’ information (i.e. share a list of facts or a spreadsheet) we activate only two parts of our brain called the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas--the portions of the brain where we process language.

Something altogether different happens to us when we listen to a story. In fact, an emotionally engaging story will engage multiple brain regions---up to 7 times more brain activity than ‘dry’ data will trigger.

As we imagine colorful rich three-dimensional images and are deeply touched with emotions, our brains engage totally, responding exactly as they would if the event was happening ‘real-time’.

Stories influence, engage and inspire—in a way that no other form of communication can.

Did you know there are only 7 types of stories in the whole world?

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There Are Only 7 Stories—In the Whole World

One of the most interesting facts about the power of storytelling is that most stories fall into one of 7 basic plot lines.

Here they are:

  1. The Comedy (Clarity Tales): A comedy is usually a story about clarity (or the lack therefor) in human relationships. At its core, a comedy is about the humor of miscommunication.
  2. The Tragedy (Cautionary Tales): A tragedy—and tragic characters--remind us vividly that our actions are often fraught with regrets and remorse.
  3. Rags to Riches (Against All Odds Tales): These stories relate the heroic journey of an individual realizing their full potential in life against what seems like insurmountable odds.
  4. The Underdog (Conquering the Unconquerable): This plot line is as ancient (and beloved) as stories themselves. The hero of this story must have the strength to confront something bigger than themselves, marshalling the courage and perseverance to defeat the wicked, towering giant.
  5. The Quest (A Hero’s Journey): The story as Quest is a classic. Homer’s Odysseus is probably the most famous — and most copied — of these ancient tales. The heroic quest is all about achieving goals and solving problems along a consciously chosen and often difficult path.
  6. The Journey (And Return Home): A kissing cousin to the Quest, the Journey story often follows an unending twisted path where the hero confronts situations beyond his control. At the conclusion of the journey, the hero returns to his starting point to share his transformation as well as crucial lessons learned (such as “there’s no place like home”).
  7. Rebirth (Renewal Tales): Renewal stories are all about inspiration. The story, which normally start from a tragic beginning, shows how the hero creates something new out of the old whether it is a renewed sense of self or a brand new lifestyle.

How Stories Can Help Sales

A great story --in any one of its 7 versions--is a powerful weapon indeed…

But did you know that it can also be a formidable tool for driving your business forward?

Unfortunately, most businesses haven’t recognized this and persist on using one-dimensional ‘left-brain’ logic-driven communications rather than the more emotive, visual engagement of storytelling.

Storytelling can help boost your sales.

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So next time you sit down to craft an important piece of communications, remember how our brains process ‘logic’ and facts’ versus stories. Tell a story. If it is authentic and people relate to it, they will engage with you. And never forget that engagement is only a single step away from buying from you.

And if you believe that people only make ‘logical’ business decisions, think again. Because as the saying goes, people buy with their heart and justify that decision with their head. Emotions--like the kind stirred up through good storytelling--are a huge motivator to taking action.

When we talk to prospects and clients, if we’re not communicating the fundamentals — our shared human values — what are we really communicating?

More data? More facts? More features and functions?

More noise?

For thousands of years, people have been using stories to teach, inspire and move other people to action.

Isn’t it time you use the eternal magic of stories to move your business forward?

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About the Author

Nicknamed the 'female David Ogilvy’, Sue Rice is famous for her exquisite writing skills and strategic savvy. A native Californian and Stanford University graduate, she launched her career on Madison Avenue in the 90s and eventually helped run BBDO Europe in Paris as their Communications Director. Now a 7-figure entrepreneur, Sue helps businesses create high-quality content that attracts clients, builds brands and skyrockets sales.