Stories Only Stick if They Are ‘Sticky’ – Part 2: ‘Unexpected'

This is a six part series which breaks down the different elements featured in “Made To Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath.

The concept of something unexpected goes straight to the heart of comedy. We laugh at jokes because our brain thinks that the joke teller is leading us down path “a”, but the punch line jumps to path “b”. That’s what makes it funny. It is unexpected.


This element is true in storytelling as well – even when the intent is not to be funny. Case in point. Here is the story of how and why my parents named their three children:


First came Martha. My older sister was named after our paternal grandmother, a stalwart women who lost her first husband when she in her 20’s and then married a coal miner.

She was also a business owner who lost her dry goods store to the Great Depression and rebuilt a successful grocery store which she ran until retirement. You can see why parents would want to name their first daughter after such a strong woman.


My brother’s middle name, Patrick, came from our maternal great-grandfather, a WWI veteran and brave entrepreneur, who married a black woman at the turn of the last century. As a livery driver – the horse-drawn Uber of the time – he saw the value in the automobile and was one of the first car owners in Madison, NJ – which he then turned into a very successful cab business. You can see why parents would want to name their first born son after such a man.


My middle name is Killeen. I was named after a British prostitute.


Didn’t see that one coming, did you?


That is the power of the unexpected element. You didn’t see what I said coming because I prepared you to go down a different path and then I changed course. And in fact, you might have been getting bored by the time I told you the story of my great-grandfather.


But I got you back!


Furthermore, that little fact about me will stick and you will remember it whenever you read a post from me!


When crafting stories for your next speech or newsletter, find the thing that your audience doesn’t see coming. Trust me when I tell you it will pull them into your story.


(And yes, it’s true. My Mom found the name in a tabloid and loved it! And no, it was no one I was related to. Just a name. In a story...)

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