The Stanton Effect: Building to the Punch Line

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiToday, I’d like to welcome to the blog Nancy Hatch, who is here to bring you the second in a series of posts on The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. (See the first post here.) You know her, you love her from her blog, Spirit Lights The Way. Take it away, Nancy!


Andrew Stanton begins his TED talk with a joke about three men in a bar in the Scottish Highlands—a backpacking tourist, a bartender, and an old man.

He uses the joke as a tool to convey compelling storytelling:

* The old man engages the audience, drawing us into his world and revealing his character as he shares his tale with a strong Scottish brogue.

* He makes us care as he explains how he built the bar, constructed the stone wall out front, and installed planks on the pier . . . “with me bare hands.”


* The old man claims center stage with the sole speaking role, yet all three characters are necessary. None is extraneous. The tourist provides the reason for the telling of the tale. The bartender’s presence establishes that the old man is not exaggerating.

* In the same way he crafted the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, the old man builds his story on a firm foundation, one piece at a time. He keeps the finish line in mind. He never veers off course. He steers the story to its predetermined end.

* He creates drama (“anticipation mingled with uncertainty”) as he decries the fact that he’s not called “MacGregor the Bar Builder” or “MacGregor the Stone Wall Builder” or ”MacGregor the Pier Builder.”

Now he’s got us!

We’re curious. We want to hear the end of the story. We want to learn what he IS called. We are ready for the reveal. . . .

* When he delivers the punch line, he doesn’t complete the sentence. He allows the thought to hang mid-air. He doesn’t spell it out. He doesn’t beat us over the head. He doesn’t insult our intelligence. He doesn’t reveal his actual nickname.

He allows us to follow the breadcrumbs and connect the dots.

He’s given us 2 + 2 and leaves it to the born problem solver in each of us to fill in the blanks and come up with the solution.

And we do.

Since he constructed his tale with the same precision he used when building the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, we lay the last piece with confidence.

There’s no wiggle room. We cannot misplace his meaning.

“Och, mon . . . ye must be MacGregor the Story Teller!”

Thanks, Nancy, for being part of this series! On Wednesday, Charles Yallowitz will be on the blog with part three of The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. Hope to see you here, too.


Jordie would like to believe that he’s as good at telling a story as MacGregor or Nancy Hatch. But when one of his stories bores Kitty into a stupor, he has to rethink that supposition.

41 thoughts on “The Stanton Effect: Building to the Punch Line

    • I expect the best jokes and stories are “written backwards” ~ as soon as the writer reaches/realizes the punchline, he needs to backtrack over the terrain to eliminate the extraneous and highlight the essential.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Linda ~ Stanton’s talk is a wonderful departure point for the series. Guest bloggers can head off in any one of a number of directions. I look forward to seeing where each ends up.

    Thanks for inviting me to participate!

    • Thanks, Phillip! Stanton moves from point to point without belaboring the obvious or beating listeners upside the head with hard and fast rules. Enjoy!

  3. Very enjoyable, Nancy! And there’s much wisdom here. I love storytelling and will need to apply your insights to my bird tales. Punch line…backtracking…lots of breadcrumbs to follow here.

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  5. 🙂 Storytelling is most certain an art. (and joke telling is beyond me, haha)

    This reminds me of an South African chocolate ad from years ago, but I suspect it would be lost on those who don’t know of a South African town called Pietermaritzburg 🙂

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