Home>Highlight>The O’Toole Chronicles: Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the Art of Storytelling

John Candy as Del Griffith in Plains, Trains and Automobiles (Photo: Paramount).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the Art of Storytelling

By Kevin O'Toole, March 15 2022 12:01 am

Some of the best politicians are really good story tellers. We have all heard politicians talk, but when they tell an amazing story that usually leaves the most lasting impression. On the other hand, we all know too well the vast number of elected officials that never leave an impression and never have a good story to tell. Not a great calling card in our profession.

So, what is the trick?

I don’t hold myself out as the greatest storyteller, but I think I learned a thing or two in my 30 plus years of working this craft.

To make it easier for the reader, allow me to give an illustration. Steve Martin’s character (Neil Page), in the greatest holiday movie ever – Planes, Trains and Automobiles, bluntly told his travel companion, Del Griffith, the basic points of telling interesting stories.

In the movie, these unlikely companions were forced to spend a night together in the Braidwood Inn and the close quarters and personal habits seem to cause chaos almost immediately. An annoyed Neil admonished an incredulous, naïve, and very talkative Del, revealing many hard and painful truths.

“Not everything is an anecdote, you need to discriminate! You need to choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You’re a miracle. Your stories have none of that! They’re not even amusing accidently…and you know when you are telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: have a point. It makes it much more interesting to the listener!…”

It is the stock and trade of every elected officials to capture the attention of their audience and that isn’t always an easy thing to accomplish. Sometimes it is a bland subject matter and sometimes it is a less than an adoring public, but we still try. Bear in mind that despite what your staff tells you, you aren’t always so dynamic and sometimes you lacked sizzle. Don’t compound the problem with a droning monotone or a tone deafness regarding the subject matter.

Those verbal miscues sometimes make it nearly impossible for the listener to get the full benefit of what is being said. A helpful hint is to grab some valuable attention by starting with a relatable short story that is interesting, has a point, and some bearing to current events or the subject matter at hand.

After opening with a brief anecdote or short human-interest story, utilize the next few moments to drill your point home. You won’t have their attention for too long, so take advantage of the moment. Take advantage of the runway that was just created.


Aside from including a story in your remarks, and I can’t stress this enough – BE CONCISE! Too many times we have all been in a room where the speaker drones on and on, attempting to make salient points but having lost the room 18 minutes and 7 pages ago. You know this has happened because everyone’s head has dropped, and they are now scrolling through their phones.

There’s a lot that goes into the making of successful elected official: how they show empathy to their constituents on key issues; how they make themselves available to stakeholders; how they portray themselves as serious policymakers; and how they show they are relatable. So much of what makes a good politician a great one is how they communicate with people.

As Del Griffith said: “I know it’s not pretty, but it will get you where you want to go”

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