Tense and Tension



Did you watch the movie APOLLO 13 with Tom Hanks?

The most famous line, you'll remember, is:

"Houston, we have a problem."

The problem is ... mission commander Mike Lovell never actually said that.

At the time he radioed the message: "Houston we've had a problem."

So why is this interesting and important exactly 50 years on from the event that one NASA controller called their "most successful failure ever"?

Because tense creates tension in your communications.

"We've had" is past tense. And any Hollywood script writer will tell you that you lose the inherent drama of being 'in the moment' if the problem has already passed, as implied.

So with the tiny creatively-licentious tweak to "we have" -- a present tense drama unfolding -- it signals game on. It's breaking news.

The other bit of Hollywood license had the ground controller saying;

"Failure is not an option."

He ramped up the high stakes for all. Only he never actually said that.

Once again, it was a clever emotive-laden soundbite to make the message and the movie more "sticky" and ensure it orbited in popular culture for a long time.

And so it was that a $62,000,000 budget returned its makers 355,000,000. ROI that any manufacturer or marketing director would be happy with, right?

The other great lesson for corporate communicators like you is this; early on in your pitch, proposal or presentation come right out and say what the audience's problem is ...

"The problem is our dinosaur industry is about to fall off a cliff."

"The problem is it's going to take at least 12 months to create a vaccine."

"The problem is no one wants to stand in the rain to hail a taxi anymore."

You must establish the challenge, the obstacle, the broken-ness of the current status quo.

When the audience knows and feels they have a clear and present problem, only then can you possibly have a solution for them, which they'll be now more eager to hear.

Try building these three tips into your next business storytelling outing, and bring your message safely back to earth amid thunderous applause.

Cheers. Stu

Chief Neuro-Messenger (and occasional Tea-Lady), CatMatDog.

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