While Lord gives adequate ink to the technical details of history’s greatest maritime disaster, his primary focus is on the people, both the survivors and the dead. Each has a story that Lord’s research (he interviewed 63 survivors) brings out, breathing life into the tale that cold facts and figures can’t summon.
Lord, who passed away in 2002, wrote a number of other books--Day of Infamy, about the attack at Pearl Harbor, is another favorite of mine—but A Night To Remember remains his most popular. A follow-up, The Night Lives On, published in 1986, is a bit more analytical, so for me it doesn’t resonate as well. And while I’ll grudgingly acknowledge the popularity of James Cameron’s 1996 film, nothing surpasses Lord’s real stories about real people who lived through, or died in, a truly horrifying disaster.
There’s a lesson to be learned here. Regardless of our technological evolution, there is a basic trait in humanity that has survived from the beginning: the love of story. Stories connect us in myriad ways. In the case of A Night To Remember, true stories put us in the place of the passengers on that fateful night in a way that Cameron’s movie (even in 3D) never can:
· Isidor and Ida Straus, of Macy’s fame, who couldn’t bear to part as the lifeboats filled. “Where you go, I go,” Ida told her husband. They spent their final moments together, seated comfortably on a pair of deck chairs.
· Daniel Marvin, a 19-year-old newlywed, who ushered his worried wife, Mary, onto a lifeboat, blew her a kiss and said reassuringly, “It’s all right, little girl. You go, and I’ll stay awhile.” Marvin didn’t survive.
· Wireless operators John George Phillips and Harold Bride, who continued to hammer out history’s first “S-O-S” on the ship’s wireless telegraph long after Captain Edward Smith told them to abandon ship. His last words to them: “That’s the way of it at this kind of time.” Bride survived; Smith and Phillips did not.
In communications, perhaps nothing is more effective than the power of story. It transcends soundbites and tweets and fact sheets. It connects people with the subjects of the story.
If a hospital saves the life of a child through an innovative procedure, what is going to impact the audience most effectively? A technical description of the process? Or a blow-by-blow narrative of how that child was saved, who was involved, what the dangers were, what emotions were at play?
As we approach the centennial of the Titanic’s sinking, the stories behind the disaster are what connects us to the people and to the event. As you reach out to your audiences, you can connect with them in the same, powerful way.
In short … what’s your story?