Stories—and storytelling—are powerful.
They help charities secure more donations, persuade juries in trials and sway opinions in politics and the boardroom.
Every small, personal story has something of the universal in it, and when the story is well told, it can spread rapidly and change lives in surprising and unexpected ways.
Let me tell you about one such story. In 2011, Caine Monroy was a 9-year-old boy much like any other kid his age—except that he had built an arcade in his father’s auto parts store in East Los Angeles.
Caine built the arcade entirely from cardboard boxes found in the store, along with other everyday objects and old toys.
Once he finished it, Caine waited patiently for his first customer. Sadly, he waited quite a while since his dad’s store is located in an industrial mall and receives little foot traffic.
Finally, a customer arrived. Nirvan Mullick showed up looking for a door handle for his 1996 Toyota Corolla. He met Caine and bought a Fun Pass for $2 that gave him 500 plays in the arcade.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Mullick is a partner at an L.A. creative agency. Struck by Caine’s inventiveness, he decided to make a video about the arcade. And to make the story even more interesting, he organized a flash mob encouraging everyone in L.A. to visit and play in Caine’s Arcade.
He posted the event information on Facebook, and it eventually made its way to the front page of Reddit. On the designated date, Mullick organized the surprise party while George, Caine’s dad, distracted the youngster with a visit to their local pizza joint.
Given his previous track record at attracting customers, imagine Caine’s surprise when his dad brought him back to the store and he saw a crowd of more than 100 people lined up to play his arcade.
In April 2012, Mullick released Caines’s Arcade, an 11-minute video telling the story of Caine, his cardboard arcade and the flash mob.
The video quickly went viral, racking up over 1 million views the first day alone. And the impact on Caine was nothing short of astounding.
According to George, “Caine has really come out of his shell. He talks to everybody freely now and he doesn’t stutter any more. And he’s doing way doing better in school.”
After the documentary was released, Caine became the youngest entrepreneur to speak at the USC Marshall School of Business.
He also addressed the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. MIT invited him to participate in a summer program and UC Los Angeles offered to design a course curriculum for Caine when he’s old enough to attend college.
Forbes and Fast Company both wrote about Caine’s determination and creativity.
The Exploratorium in San Francisco displayed his arcade. Caine led a workshop at Maker Faire teaching kids how to make their own cardboard creations.
Mullick started a college fund for Caine, encouraging those who viewed the video to contribute. The original goal was $25,000. Two years later, the fund has grown to over $239,000 with a revised target of $250,000.
Three days after releasing the video, Mullick began sketching out an idea for a non-profit organization inspired by Caine’s Arcade. Later that year he launched The Imagination Foundation with a mission to find, foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in kids.
“The idea is to give kids not only the tools to build the things that they can imagine, but to also imagine the world that they can build,” says Mullick.
Its signature event is the Global Cardboard Challenge, held in 2013 and 2014 on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the 2012 flash mob. This year’s event was Saturday, October 11th. The event encourages creativity with cardboard and to date 100,000 kids from 50 countries have participated in 270 events.
Today, Caine is retired from running the arcade. He’s moved onto his next venture—a bicycle shop that repairs and remakes existing bikes.
Find your story
We can’t all be filmmakers like Mullick. And not many of us have a story as powerful as Caine’s Arcade.
But for your next presentation, whether it’s for your board, potential investors or the sales team, avoid the typical canned corporate talk that sticks to the facts.
Instead, appeal to your listeners’ love of stories. Find a hero to whom they can relate. Introduce conflict. Show pictures and video of real people. Strike a chord that triggers empathy. Encourage people to laugh. Give credit to others in the company. Dig deep and begin your presentation by telling a story.
Who knows? You may just find a story that helps change the world for the better.
Photo Credit: Storytelling/shutterstock