37 Seconds to Great Storytelling

image of story stamp

We tell you about the power of stories quite a bit. And now we’re able to see what happens in our brains when we encounter a compelling story.

But how do you learn to tell these types of stories? Often, just by studying great ones.

Take 37 seconds to read this one:


The soul of the city is in a football game three seasons ago, the return to the Superdome, on a Monday night when those of us who love New Orleans first realized the city would be back. It was Sept. 25, 2006 — Payton’s and Brees’ first home game.

The Friday night before, Payton gathered his team in the empty stadium. People had died there, just 13 months before. The bodies were stored in a catering freezer. The building seemed unfixable, and now the Saints stood at midfield. On the video board, Payton played a movie about the hurricane. It showed it all, the dark, dark water, the archipelago of rooftops, the fear on the faces of an abandoned city, the slow pan of the Humanity Street sign barely visible above the current. It showed the Superdome with its roof almost torn off. It showed a city that looked as though it would never return. Then the video ended. The players, standing at the center of a rebuilt stadium, all shiny and new, talked about what they had seen and how important they were to the people who would fill these seats the next night.

They understood.

The game began and, less than two minutes in, the Saints blocked a punt and recovered for a touchdown. One of my best friends, a chef who grew up in the city, sat on his couch in Mississippi and wept. So did thousands of people in the Dome. For 37 seconds, an eternity on television, the announcers stayed quiet, the only noise coming from the screaming of the crowd. Thirty-seven seconds, while a city went completely and totally insane with joy.

Wright Thompson, ESPN.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (49)

  1. says

    That is both a great story and a great example of motivation through storytelling. The best stories find a way to tap into our primal emotions and shared experiences. When done well, they can be very motivational.

    Thanks for the great example, Brian.

  2. says

    As you said, that’s definitely a touching and compelling story; almost impossible to not read. Compelling stories is one of the keys to great copy writing. I was COMPLETELY mesmerized reading it, and the funny thing is, it’s easy to actually use; you just used it as a post!

    I’ll be sure to tell a story in my next post. Thanks so much!

  3. says

    I remember watching that on TV… Like @Daniel Johnston said… “almost impossible to not read.”

    I put (what I would consider) a compelling story into my post today… Would you please critique it?

  4. says

    Powerful stuff.

    If you can reach people like that on an emotional level every time you write, you won’t have to do much more to build a readership…

    Community manager, Scribnia.com

  5. Noel says

    Sorry … sports bore me to tears. Nothing compelling about grown people shouting at TV sets in their homes and in so-called “sports bars.”

    Subject matters.

  6. says


    Fantastic. This story has so many parts to it that lead up the to the 37 seconds that we almost forget how long 30 sec is really in TV. The thoughts of the deaths and the abandonment of people in our own country that were not able to receive adequate food, clothing and shelter and thinking that there is no way that this city can recover for years and years. But yet, they were able to and the city will never be the same but that glimmer of hope that now exists with their first trip to Superbowl and the excitement around it is incredible.

    There is a game to be played and if Indy scores more points then they are the champs but we all know already that the Saints have won this game – in the hearts of all fans as we “needed” them to show us that you can persevere when faced with tragedy/destruction.

    Very well done to create that picture for us and pull at our emotions.

  7. says

    Noel, the subject is the near destruction of a city and a rallying point that brought that city back. Football is simply the vehicle.

    Great storytellers have a great capacity for empathy. Good luck to you.

  8. Adam Noall says

    From the moment I realised the significance of the event being described, my skin tingled; almost in anticipation of the words to come.

    And the ending: ‘Thirty-seven seconds, while a city went completely and totally insane with joy’. Moving.

    Great post Brian. Been reading for a while now, first time I have been compelled to comment. Thanks.


  9. says

    That was nice I enjoyed it.

    I was present for hurricane Katrina. It was not the greatest timing to have my honeymoon in new orleans during such a hurricane, but It made it all that much more memorable.

    We were the lucky ones who could leave and go back to our dry home, the people and friends we made while we were there weren’t so lucky.

    It definitely made us grateful for what we have and realize how everything could be lost in an instant.

  10. says

    A great story indeed. I love how you used the power of the story to describe the joy everyone in New Orleans is feeling now.

    It’s about so much more than football; it’s about rebuilding and hope.

    Very moving.

  11. says

    Yes, this is a beautiful story, and it’s not just a football story. I got especially misty-eyed about Peyton bringing his team into the now-rebuilt stadium to remember what had happened there. And the quiet when the Saints scored a touchdown. Very touching….

  12. says

    The beauty of that story IS the empathy it conveys Brian, you are perfectly correct there.

    The hard part, I think, is translating that emotion into the copy I produce as a marketer. How do I connect with an audience when the subject matter is seemingly unemotional? A rhetorical question, but something I continually push myself to understand.

    I like to say that you shouldn’t just be thinking “about” your customers but “like” them. It’s their perspective that matters most and it’s that perspective that we (myself included) can often forget about.

    Thanks for the story — the highlight of my day!

  13. says

    I didn’t just see the story in my mind, I was there. Now that’s great storytelling.

    Could someone pass the tissue, please?

  14. says

    This is a powerful reminder for my nonprofit work too. Our community foundation has found that telling our stories…the stories of donors and the stories of grant recipients and the stories of those served by the nonprofits we support…is so much more compelling than just spewing out statistics about how much money we give away or even how many people we serve. You’re absolutely right: story is the key.

  15. Sonia Simone says

    @Elizabeth, I really find that’s true for me on the other side, as a donor. The stories are what let me make that connection and think, “I want to help that person and people like her,” not “I should send some money to that organization.”

  16. says

    Hi Brian,

    OK I do understand the power of story telling, however when I read that story all I read was football and being an Australian, American football is alien to me! 😉

    However yes I do agree on the way to tell a story full of emotion.

    Hope all is great.

    Kind Regards

    Jacinta 😀
    (An Aussie mum trying to create a business online while her 2 year old sleeps! :))

  17. Andy Perkins says

    I agree this is one of those great stories. The challenge for me, though, is not appreciating them but coming up with them. And using them in an authentic way.

    I remember the game. I remember the 37 seconds. But I wasn’t part of the ‘historic moment’. So it’s unlikely I would share the story in my writing.

    Is there a process that writers can use to identify and capture compelling stories?

    For a blogger, one source may be your readers and subscribers. You can include a question in your next online satisfaction questionnaire that asks for stories relating to your product or service.

    Those that relate a simple but unexpected emotional experience are the most powerful.

  18. says

    Excellent story! More evidence of Dan Pink’s assertion in “A Whole New Mind” that the High-Touch/High-Concept world we’re entering requires people who can use “story” effectively.

    It’s this skill (along with the other right-brain-directed skills he talks about) that are going to take Western society to a new Golden Age in the years to come.

  19. says

    You can tell this story is powerful, because it succeeded in moving me — somebody who has little interest in sports and knows next to nothing about football. I seriously do not understand what “blocked a punt” means.

    But I didn’t have to understand the details. The contrast of death and destruction in the early paragraphs with victory (touchdown I do know) and joy in the last one were enough to deliver the point.

  20. says

    It’s always better to mix your sales message in with a story. This is how we remember things quickly and vividly, because most of our senses are being used, instead of just a list of facts as bullets.

    Even though some people didn’t like the content of the story, it doesn’t matter. I will bet that most of the readers walked away remembering it, and that is what’s necessary when putting your selling message into a story format. You want sticking power.

  21. says

    I’m liking the story, but not necessarily the underlying message, as we don’t necessarily know ‘why’ the crowd was cheering, beyond, they were glad their team didn’t move to another city….

  22. says

    An interesting story and the sympathy of many people at that time. That need to be taken in this context, how to make others interested to read no more than 40 seconds. That’s what made me interested!

  23. says

    Not only a touching story, but a great example of how detail in the right places can really make the story stand out. I am a very visual person and I could play this out like a movie in my head. Keep up the great work!

  24. says

    i love stories .it works magic if it connects with people emotionally.great books,blogs and literature have lots of stories in them

  25. says

    This is as intense as it gets. The art of building up an audience or a single reader to the anticipation of the “killer finale” is what all writers strive for.. and few succeed. The 37 second pregnant pause is the perfect way to send shivers up and down the readers spine. Very nice read today. It reminds us we’re all in show business and having our reader hang on every word is what we do.

  26. says

    Wow. Nice way to illustrate that every article we write needs to have emotional as well as rational pull. It’s like a quest to see if we can boost our level of skill to deliver more than just copy.

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