The thrill of victory/the agony of defeat

Who remembers ABC’s Wide World of Sports, with its iconic voiceover? Every episode of the show promised to bring us the stories of athletes and athletics, including “the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.”

The tension between those two emotions is part of what makes sports so compelling to us—and that’s why the folks who broadcast the Olympics or other big sporting events spend so much time airing the stories about individual athletes. Hearing their stories gives us even more of an emotional connection to the outcome. Watching them learn, and fail, and try again gets us invested in the competition—gets us rooting for their success.

So as you’re watching the Olympics and NBC interrupts the competition to show you a feature about the athlete, don’t get annoyed—get interested: What kinds of things do they want you to learn about the competitors? How much time do they spend on “the agony of defeat”—or the struggle of intense workout programs—vs. “the thrill of victory”? How can you apply these techniques to your own storytelling?

Speakers always want to focus on triumphs. I understand that—they’re way more fun to talk about. But triumphs don’t just float down from the heavens; they’re always a product of hard work, trial and error, victory and defeat. Why wouldn’t you want to tell the backstory? It’s what gets your audience invested in your success.

I talk a lot about authenticity. Your “agony of defeat”—or challenge of choices, whatever—is your opportunity to be vulnerable with your audience. At least a little.

Does vulnerability make you uncomfortable? Get over it. If you’re selling a product that requires an emotional response, you’d better learn how to connect emotionally with your listeners. I’m looking at you, non-profit leaders. But emotion also “sells” in the corporate world: when you’re talking about reorganizations, rebranding, your corporate culture and values.

So celebrate the thrill of victory—just like the athletes, you’ve earned it. But don’t forget to embrace “the agony of defeat.”

  • sports
  • storytelling