Telling the whole story is really important

Storytelling is one of the greatest ways of making a lasting impact and sharing important learning. The best stories are truly memorable and therefore are passed on for generations. However, many stories are told incomplete and their impact diminished because a vital component of the story is missing, that of insight. The ‘so what’ of the story, the why is this relevant to me, part of the story, the what do I take from the story?

Let me give you an example, the story of Titanic.

If I asked you to tell the story of Titanic in a few short sentences, it might go something like this. Unsinkable ship sailed from Southampton. It hit an iceberg and sank. A lot of people perished. That is the recognisable story of Titanic and the story depicted in several films and documentaries, but it is not the whole story of Titanic. The most important part of the story is missing, so what did Titanic teach us and what impact has she had on the maritime world, since that fateful night in 1912?

To tell the story properly, I would like to offer you a four-stage storytelling structure.

Situation – Paint a rich picture of the situation, set the scene. Include time, location, incidentals, the more detail the better.

Complication – Describe the complication, challenge, problem, or issue.

Question – Explore the complication presented by the situation using incisive questions.

Insight – The lessons learned, the ‘so what’ part. What has Titanic taught us?

Here is the whole story of Titanic.

Situation – Built in Belfast for the White Star Line, Titanic was the largest and most luxurious liner in the world. After rigorous sea trials with her skeleton crew, Titanic docked in Southampton, the city to be her adopted home port. After several weeks of publicity events and lavish parties for the rich and famous of the world, she eventually set sail on her maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912. A near miss with another vessel on departure and a fire in one of her coal bunkers did nothing to dampen the party atmosphere or the expectation of a record-breaking run to New York.

Complication – An unexpected number of large icebergs had been spotted that year much further South of Newfoundland than usual, creating an extra hazard to ships sailing to New York from the eastern Atlantic. The met office sent out daily warnings for ships to keep a good look out and if possible, travel slowly through the iceberg corridor or avoid it all together. There had been seven icebergs reported during the day from other ships in the vicinity. At 2340 on the 14th April Titanic struck an iceberg which penetrated 5 of her 16 watertight compartments below the waterline. 2 hours and 40 minutes later, Titanic sank with the loss of 1514 lives.

Question(s) – Why did her watertight bulkheads not stop the water ingress? Why did so many people perish? Why did other ships not come to her aid? Why has there never been another maritime disaster like Titanic? This incisive final question asks us to explore what we have learned and put into practice since Titanic’s last voyage. It leads us to the most important part of the story.

Insight – What lessons have we learned from Titanic?

Titanic changed several maritime laws and practices which still stand today:

  • The number of lifeboats carried by ships today must be enough for all aboard. Titanic only had enough lifeboats for half the crew.
  • Lifeboat and lifejacket drills to be carried our regularly. You will find this procedure done on every ship today. It was not done in Titanic’s day.
  • 4 crew members to be assigned to every lifeboat to ensure launch and safety of crew once departed the ship. This was not best practice in 1912.
  • Each lifeboat to have provisions and a compass. Not required in 1912.
  • 1 lifeboat to have mechanical propulsion. Not required in 1912.
  • Ships and lifeboats to carry pyrotechnics. Not required in 1912.
  • Watertight bulkheads must extend all the way up to the upper deck ensuring watertight integrity if holed.
  • All watertight bulkheads must have quick closing doors and hatches. Titanic’s watertight bulkheads did not reach all the way up to the deck.
  • All ships at sea must keep a 24-hour radio watch on channel 16. This was one of the disaster’s major components as ships were nor required to keep a radio watch and often shut down the radio room at night. There were several ships nearby which did not hear her MAYDAY call for assistance.

To summarise , if you are going to tell a memorable and impactful story which is going to change how people think and behave, do ensure you tell the most important part of any story, the lessons learned.


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