When we talk about how our days went, most of us probably do something like this:
First, I had a breakfast meeting with Joe and we talked about the new customer-tracking system.
And then I saw an email about a companywide retreat in a few months.
And then I had lunch with my boss and we talked about the football game, her new boat and the soccer team I coach for my kid.
But chronological tales are usually pretty bland, and it’s easy for our listeners to zone out.
Therefore, why not change the pattern and grab your listeners to keep them engaged till the bitter end?
A new book called “Houston, We Have a Narrative” argues that how we present information can make the difference between people wanting to listen or just tuning out.
Author Randy Olson was a tenured professor in marine biology for 20 years. He got tired of writing and reading dry academic articles and thought Hollywood could teach scientists (and the rest of us) how to convey information in ways that would grab us. So he became a Hollywood filmmaker and now helps people grab and keep listeners.
Olson’s approach for communicating is ABT, which stands for “And, but, therefore.”
We typically tell a story starting with basic description:
Once upon a time…
I knew a man…
A guy walked into a bar….
This is like the “and then I went to a meeting, and then I talked to a colleague...”
But a story gets interesting only when something goes wrong, which starts with “but:”
A guy walked into a bar … but discovered his brother was there, gambling away his family’s fortune.
You want to know why the brother is gambling. What happened? What will happen?
The resolution eventually comes with “therefore” or “so:”
So the man learned to gamble and saved the day by making back the family fortune and then some.
How does this work for business?
The ABT approach in abbreviated form might be useful even in a meeting or in a hallway discussion. But the key is that you shape the story in a way people will listen.
Perhaps you run an investigation firm. Here are two ways to talk about how you helped rescue a customer:
A customer of ours opened a restaurant about 10 months ago. The restaurant did well and many people came to eat the famous meatloaf. I even went a few times! The owner called the restaurant “Arnie’s Home Cooking.” It had 14 tables and three people who waited tables, four in the kitchen, and a bartender ...
Yawn. It’s taking forever to get to the meat of the story and point about how your investigative firm saved the day.
Now try Option B, the ABT approach:
A customer’s restaurant opened, generated good buzz and was doing terrific business.
(But) Then it was hit with salmonella, and customers bolted. We investigated and discovered a disgruntled employee had planted the bad food.
(Therefore) We helped bring the employee to justice, and the owner reopened the restaurant.
So try ABT next time you tell your kids or friends about your workday or the time you nearly hit a deer. I’ll bet they’ll remember what you tell them and maybe want more.