If you’d been in the audience out in the sun that hot August day, you’d have heard the police chief and any number of politicians extol the virtues of affordable housing.
And right around the end, just when the heat was starting to get to you and you were kind of hoping it was over, you’d have seen yet another dignitary take the stage.
“Oh goodie,” you’d have thought, pulling at your collar. “Another stuffed shirt talking.”
How long, you’d have wondered, until you can get to air conditioning or at least a bit of shade?
You’d move on your chair to keep your pants from sticking to your leg and glance back up at the speaker.
The dude looks kind of familiar. And you’d try and place his face as he’s talking about some capital campaign, blah, blah, $20million, blah, A-list people, blah, Name in society pages, bla bla bla.
Maybe that’s where I’ve seen him, you’d think. Or maybe he just has one of those faces.
You stop listening for a bit as you try and remember what it is you were supposed to pick up on your way home when suddenly he stops you dead in the middle of your thought and you have to rewind what he just said in your head to be sure you heard it right.
So now this guy, Tom is his name, now Tom has your attention he tells the story of how, through illness, a couple of bad moves and a lot of bad luck, he lost everything.
He went from being an A-list party guest to being marginally housed, unable to support his family and relying on kindness for food and for shelter he could afford.
And for a few fleeting moments, perhaps not forever, but at least for an instant, the world you thought you knew was turned on its side.
He was a man you assumed from the same class as you, which is where he spent most of his life.
And he lost it all.
It could happen to anyone.
It could happen to you.
When I heard Tom’s story, it stopped me cold.
It is easy to dehumanize those without power.
They become the “them” in an “us” and “them” scenario.
But Tom was an us. He was presented as an us. And it became impossible to think of him as a “them.”
Building empathy by showing your products or services being used by people just like your ideal audience is not new.
But using the element of surprise to make people question their pre-existing constructs around it can be a very effective way of making your message much more memorable.
Just ask Tom.