By Tim Hayes []

I’ll say it right up front.  In the interest of complete transparency, openness, and honesty, I’ll tell you right now – I love the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants.

Maybe it’s because the place virtually oozes globs of heavily breaded, gravy-ladled comfort food that tastes so good even though you know it’s so bad for your poor overworked arteries.  Maybe it’s because the people there are so doggone friendly and happy to see you.  Maybe it’s because there aren’t many of these restaurants near where we live, and going to one seems like more of a treat than walking into any other down-home, plain-jane eatery.

Yeah, maybe it’s all of those things.  But more than anything else, I think, it’s shopping in the “general store” located adjacent to the restaurant.

I have no idea how they do it, but they have DVDs of old TV shows from when I was a kid, maneuvering the antenna on the top of the house with a bulky directional dial to pick up the three local VHF stations and the two mysteriously located UHF stations.  You really had to work to find the show you wanted to watch back then, not like today when  you flick a finger across an iPhone screen a couple of times and conjure up via YouTube damn near anything that’s ever been recorded.

The Cracker Barrel has old brands of candy and gum that no one else carries, sending me back to lazy summer afternoons at the local neighborhood store, counting pennies to buy a piece of Dubble Bubble or Bazooka gum, or to really go nuts and shoot the works on a Scooter Pie.  Then there’s the fun stuff Cracker Barrel carries, like harmonicas and chattering teeth, Groucho glasses, bouncing sparkle balls, and the king of them all, the whoopee cushion.

One of our nieces, years ago when she was very small, mistakenly dubbed the place “the Chuckle Bucket,” and the name was so perfect, it stuck.  So eating and shopping at the Chuckle Bucket has become a favorite diversion on long drives back and forth from college trips and other excursions along the interstates.

As I work with clients to help them develop and rehearse their presentations, a common technique is to see if they can bring back to their minds a story from their youth, or at least when they were younger than they are now.  The great presentations differ not at all from a collection of heartfelt, sincere, honest stories meant to lead the audience to a foregone conclusion.  The more personal the story, many times, the more the speaker’s comfort and confidence gets conveyed successfully to the audience.

Nothing newsmaking, earthshaking or groundbreaking about this observation, I realize, but too often injecting a personal touch to a larger concept either gets dismissed as hokey, or worse, it never gets considered at all.  That’s a wasted opportunity, and one that an audience could have – and, for my money, would have – appreciated a great deal.

People may hear facts, but they listen to stories.  If you want your message understood, retained, and acted upon, open yourself up a little more.  It’s no more difficult, and at least as entertaining, as shopping at the Chuckle Bucket.

Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC