Wrestling with Stories: What Sweaty People in Tights Can Teach Us About Storytelling and Life
Who knew grown people rolling around a ring in costumes could impart valuable lessons about storytelling? Yet professional wrestling, in all its melodramatic, testosterone-fueled glory, offers an unlikely masterclass in crafting compelling narratives.
Beneath the body slams and theatrics, wrestling utilizes story elements like multidimensional characters, cliffhanger plotlines, and audience participation. Promotions like WWE have turned storytelling into a science, keeping viewers hooked for decades on high-stakes rivalries between classic heroes like The Rock, John Cena and Cody Rhodes and villains like MJF, Rick Flair, and Roman Reigns, along with current stars like L.A. Knight (yeah!) captivating new audiences.
What can communicators and marketers glean from these bizarre tales of good vs evil featuring people named Junkyard Dog and The Undertaker? Surprisingly, a lot!
This article dives into the unexpected insights wrestling provides on engaging communication and marketing. We’ll also unravel some deeper life lessons buried within the over-the-top drama.
Grab your folding chair and let’s explore what sweaty people in tights can teach us all about the power of stories.
Sweat, Sequins and Storytelling: Wrestling By The Numbers
Let’s lucha libre-dive into why wacky wrestling works:
- $5+ billion market value for WWE
- 35+ seasons of WWE Raw
- 1+ million Instagram followers for The Rock
- 19787873 GIFs of people getting hit with chairs
Wrestling clearly resonates worldwide thanks to drama-filled storylines people just can’t turn away from. Promotions like WWE blend fiction writing, improv theater and combat choreography into a singular art form.
Vince McMahon himself has admitted wrestlers are essentially live-action superhero characters. Through stories spanning years, they become icons representing values like courage, loyalty or ruthlessness.
So what makes wrestling’s utilization of storytelling so darn effective? Let’s suit up with some analytical spandex and find out.
Tales from the Ring: How Wrestling Weaves Magic
Wrestling promotions employ three key techniques to develop must-see storylines:
Wrestlers get saddled with one-note personas like “greedy millionaire” or “deranged punk”. But the best wrestling storytellers evolve these stereotypes into multidimensional characters.
Through backstories about rivalries, betrayals and moral dilemmas, one-dimensional “heels” can gain some redeeming qualities. Similarly, virtuous “babyfaces” may show more realistic flaws and weaknesses.
This nuance helps the audience emotionally invest in wrestlers’ journeys. We believe in these characters because they seem authentic, even within the theatrics.
Plots Thicker Than a Steel Cage
Each wrestling match furthers bigger plot arcs about feuds, ambitions and moral battles. Promotions know how to twist these long-running stories in unexpected ways to keep audiences guessing.
Cliffhangers, plot twists, foreshadowing — it’s all there! Wrestlers’ personas and in-ring battles combine to advance these intricate plots. Events like WWE’s Wrestlemania become the pulse-pounding climaxes these never-ending story cycles build towards.
Promotions have this plotting down to a science, carefully timing revelations for maximum impact. It’s like binge-watching your favorite prestige TV drama every week.
Ramping Up Crowd Engagement
Unlike most forms of entertainment, wrestling uses live audience reactions to shape stories in real-time. Promotions provoke viewers into visceral responses — streaming excitement or volcanic anger.
Based on crowd reactions, wrestlers pivot and ad lib to heighten the audience’s emotional involvement. This feedback loop results in an interactive, participatory experience between performer and viewer.
Sound like any other art form you know? Wrestling has borrowed tricks from theater’s playbook to make audiences an integral part of its never-ending narrative.
These principles of character development, plotting and engagement underpin great wrestling storytelling. Now let’s explore what they mean for communication, marketing and our lives in general.
Lesson 1: Communicating Like A Champion
Wrestling offers three tips to pin down stronger communication:
Craft Vivid Characters
Storytelling creates empathy and connection. Anecdotes with vivid characters are far more compelling messengers than dry facts alone.
Let’s borrow from wrestling and introduce some multidimensional “characters” like anecdotes and examples to boost our communication. It helps listeners invest emotionally in what we’re conveying.
Simplify Complex Ideas
Wrestling feuds synthesize layered backstories into high-stakes drama. In communication, stories similarly serve as entry points to complex concepts, making them relatable.
Leaders often begin with an illustrative story before presenting data. When we humanize information through narrative, it becomes sticky.
Make Messages Memorable
No one’s falling asleep during thrilling wrestling storylines! To replicate that, incorporate narrative structures into communications.
Statistics jumbled together tend to fade from memory. An appealing story arc preserves information so audiences retain it better. Information combined with inspiration truly resonates.
So there you have it — stupendous communication tips from sweaty wrestling stars. Let’s now see what branding wisdom their wacky world provides.
Lesson 2: Marketing SmackDown
How can marketers body slam their competition using wrestling’s branding strategies?
Be A Character
Wrestlers like The Rock personify brand identity. The best brands similarly have a well-defined ethos they reinforce through stories.
Figure out your brand’s core personality. Is it rebellious, intellectual, satirical? Build engaging narratives around that character.
Wrestling storylines stir passion and devotion in fans. Brand storytelling similarly forges visceral connections between customers and companies.
Attach your brand to cultural narratives people already respond to at a deeper level. Activate those existing emotions through your messaging.
Tell Your Tale
Promotions use interviews and skits to flesh out real-life wrestler rivalries. Likewise, quality content makes facts and features far more compelling.
Weave product details into story-driven content that entertains and hooks defined audiences. Use your brand’s personality to shape an engaging ongoing saga.
Brands carry more impact when they leap out of the boardroom and into the cultural zeitgeist through stories people can believe in.
Okay, so wrestling provides some pointers for captivating communications and branding. But is there a deeper message buried within the pile drivers?
Pinning Down Deeper Life Lessons
Past the blood, sweat and folding chairs, wrestling mirrors life in poignant ways. Here are two subtle lessons:
Every wrestler goes through a hero’s journey, experiencing betrayals and beat-downs before rising from the ashes in soaring comebacks.
Similarly, we all face our share of difficulties and self-doubt. Wrestling plays to a fundamental human need for stories about resilience and redemption.
Bonds Beyond Ringside
Storylines make audiences feel part of a community, drawing self-worth and purpose from those bonds. No matter how cheesy, wrestling reminds us of our social nature.
We too are part of numerous communities bonded by shared stories — from friends and family to nations. Our identities grow through these connections.
So even flashy wrestling offers glimpses into profound human truths. Now let’s bring this spectacle to a close before things get too philosophical!
The Heart of the Story
Who knew nonsense like a bald billionaire challenging random people to wrestling matches could be so insightful? Behind the camp and dumb fun, wrestling shows how stories that resonate with shared dreams, fears and aspirations will always compel audiences.
Whether it’s communication, branding or finding meaning itself, the principles of storytelling remain universal. Even a world of larger-than-life characters ultimately reflects basic human needs.
So thank you sweaty people in tights for the education. The next time we see you body slammed through a table, we’ll appreciate it as art. Now back to the regularly scheduled programming of grown people pretending to fight in their underwear.
Feed Me More?
If you too want to don metaphorical tights and craft wrestling-worthy stories that compel audiences, I suggest you either join our Uni classes where we’ll train you in the art of developing intriguing characters, plot twists that shock and awe, and engaging audiences till they scream your name or, as a first step and for ongoing insights, check out my podcast FUNK !T — mindful media & communication. Join The Professor (look at my persona with real life influence!) as he nerds out over examples of stellar storytelling across industries and more mindful media approaches.
Now get out there and bring the melodramatic ruckus! Just maybe leave the steel chairs at home.