Stark Contrast Makes For A Good Story

There’s nothing like contrast to accentuate the telling of a story.

In our “art of storytelling” training I like to discuss the difference between “what was” and “what is.” The greater the delta between these two points the greater the drama in the story.

There’s a terrific example of contrast in Monday’s USA Today profile on Teresa Phillips who heads a new startup venture called Graspr.com.

One doesn’t intuitively associate life on a farm with leading a new video sharing site striving to grab turf from YouTube. That’s exactly why the lead into the story works:

“Since she was a kid hunting and working on a 27-acre farm near the tiny hamlet of Allen, Kan., Teresa Phillips has pushed herself.”

Later, the story revisits Phillips’ farm roots:

“It’s been a whirlwind journey for Phillips, whose family raised horses, cows, mules, chickens, rabbits, hogs and sheep in America’s heartland. Allen (population about 216) is about 40 miles southwest of the state capital, Topeka. When she wasn’t tending to the animals with her six siblings, Phillips doted on her mule, Jack; hunted for rabbits and squirrels with a .22-caliber rifle; and fished.”

It’s all good stuff.

Not only does contrast provide a unique dimension to the story but you gain a sense of who Teresa Phillips is as a person.

It’s also noteworthy that the reporter resists the urge to close with a corny pun around “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” a certain willpower obviously not shared by yours truly. 

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3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Trish Maher September 10th, 2008 2:07 pm

    I like the perspective in Ishmael’s commentary of the USA Today article on Teresa Phillips. It’s nice to see people recognizing the stark contrast between original roots and ultimate success. Perhaps it’s not a contrast, rather, a contributor?

  2. Lou Hoffman September 10th, 2008 2:14 pm

    Trish,

    Thanks for commenting. I’m sure these elements have absolutely contributed to her success. But it’s the contrast or juxtaposition of “elements” that make for a good read.

    It’s been our experience that many CEOs are not keen to share insights into their personas that might be interpreted as unconventional. If you have a minute it would be great to hear the process that captured the anecdotes about Ms. Phillips.

    I’m assuming her childhood on a farm was one of the ways you grabbed USA Today’s interest.

  3. Trish Maher September 11th, 2008 11:38 pm

    Lou,

    I would be glad to have a conversation. You may benefit more from talking with Teresa directly. Please email me and I’ll provide you with Teresa’s contact information, if you’d like. Regarding the process that captured the anecdotes, I can tell you that Jon Swartz spent weeks interviewing Teresa’s family members and work colleagues to gain insight into her back-story and chemistry. Jon originally met Teresa when he interviewed her for an earlier article on female high-tech CEOs. He was intrigued by her background and asked if he could do a more in-depth article on her. Turns out Jon’s dad had roots in Kansas as well and perhaps he saw some parallels.

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