The Butterfly Story

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

My sister’s wedding day was the best day of my life.

Almost two years ago, on one of those perfect summer nights in Chicago, I waited patiently at Cindy’s Rooftop Bar, a swanky cocktail bar known for its spectacular views of the city, for my newly engaged sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law with a group of our closest friends to celebrate their proposal. 

I was ecstatic. They are the perfect couple. Equally as kind, smart, and adventurous as they are beautiful.

My sister, Angelique, and I are best friends. We’ve spent our adult lives drawing the blueprints for our future home that connects via a big hallway so that we can hang out every day, sharing a backyard, clothes and parenting responsibilities – we have the whole thing planned out.

A month after our rooftop celebration, Angelique and Michael already had their big, beautiful Greek wedding date set for the following September in Salt Lake City.

Naturally, I was to be the maid-of-honor. And I was to be the BEST maid-of-honor that’s ever lived and that included giving a small but mighty speech.

I had recently proclaimed to myself and my colleagues that I would like to join the Habits at Work facilitation team. This wedding would be the perfect opportunity to practice my speaking skills and kick-off my new endeavor. The timing was perfect, but honestly, I was terrified about making a mess of it all. 

Things got worse when I asked Ang and Michael, “Twenty years from now, when your guests look back on your wedding, what’s the one word you hope they use to describe it?

They said, “Memorable.” 

Oh boy, those were my marching orders, and I suddenly felt the pressure to make sure that my little speech was the most memorable part of the whole wedding.

As I prepared, I asked myself, “How can I make this memorable?”

Easy – I would tell a story.

Have you ever been in a loud public place and somehow you’re able to recognize the faint song playing in the background?

It’s because music has structure.

Stories are to facts and figures as music is to sound.

Just like music, stories have structure. Stories stand out (and are memorable) because of their structure and the emotion they evoke.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel.”

When the big day finally arrived, Ang and Michael walked down the staircase in the beautiful Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City, and I introduced them for the first time as man and wife.

I welcomed our 250 guests and thanked them for coming from near and far to be here with us.

A classic and traditional opening to the evening.

What I did next was anything but traditional.

Instead of listing all the ways in which Angelique and Michael are such incredible individuals and perfect for each other (the facts), I decided to tell a story about a radiant white and gold butterfly (my sister) and the deliberate and thoughtful tortoise that captured her heart (check it out).

Telling this story was a risk. I wasn’t sure if the guests would make the connections, get the jokes. I was afraid my story would be the worst kind of memorable.

To my great joy and surprise, it was an absolute hit. The guests were laughing, crying, cheering. It is one of the best memories of my life.

As soon as I finished my story, I made my way toward the bar. I was approached by a woman I’d never met. She told me how much she enjoyed the story; how unique and different it was compared to most wedding speeches. A few minutes later, her husband joined the conversation and asked me what I did for a living. 

I said, “I help leaders and salespeople practice the 12-habits that make them masters of conversations.”

He told me that if I helped salespeople tell stories like the one I just told, he would love to speak with me about his business.

I said, “Of course! We’ll connect after the wedding!” My inner salesperson was beaming with pride.

And then something amazing happened….he shook my hand and said, “My name is Ted Mathis. I’m the CEO of New York Life Insurance.”

For those of you that don’t know, New York Life is one of the largest mutual life insurers in the world, a Fortune 500 company, and @Andrew Sykes has been trying to get a meeting with Ted Mathis for 20 years 😆!

The Butterfly Story (which it’s now come to be known) became a symbol of the wedding. There are few pictures on social media that don’t include the butterfly emoji in the caption or comments. Multiple guests have since reached out asking for a copy of the speech. I met a friend of a friend a few months after the wedding who raved about the speech that she never actually heard, but had heard about.

My sister’s wedding day was the best day of my life because I did my small part to make sure the day was everything Ang and Michael wanted. 

And, let me be clear, it was a small part in proportion to the amount of planning, skill, the expertise of the many people that created and delivered that grandiose day. 

I’m not a caterer, a wedding planner, a baker, or a designer, but I know how to tell a story. And people remember stories. 

Getting a meeting with New York Life was the cherry on top! But I can guarantee one thing, Ted Mathis would never have taken a meeting if I didn’t do something different–if my story didn’t stand out that day. 

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Tia Pappas

Head of Sales

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