Recently I was part of a team at work that had to prepare a powerpoint presentation. One of the requirements was that this presentation had to have a clear story. How would we actually do that? I suggested the ABT template of storytelling. ABT stands for AND-BUT-THEREFORE.
About two years ago, a blog reader sent me a link to a youtube presentation of scientist-turned-filmaker Randy Olson who summarized this storytelling approach. I was so intrigued by it, that I read his book, Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking. I’ve found that this simple storytelling approach is effective. When you structure your thoughts in this way, what comes out is a narrative story:
There was an accountant who worked in a big city
His life was boring
one day, on his way to work, he gets sidetracked, and falls into a hole in the ground,
He undertakes a journey to find his way home again.
That’s the entire story of A Million Suns in a nutshell.
The magic of this storytelling model is that it is very simple to explain. People immediately get it without a lot of training and backstory.
Because it’s so different from the way we normally prepare a presentation, it gets people excited and enthusiastic. The old way is to be logical, presenting fact after fact, assuming that if we present facts, we are persuasive and authoritative. This is not actually the case.
In their book Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors talked about a study that underscores the importance of storytelling. The study looked at what influences charitable giving. When an audience was presented with facts first, they were unmoved. However, if they were presented with a story first, and then the facts, they were emotionally moved, they became persuaded, and they ended up donating money.
“The researchers theorized that thinking about statistics shifts people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they’re less like to think emotionally.”
And how do you make people think emotionally?
It’s an interesting finding that changed the way I looked at presentations.
Storytelling using the ABT template is an easy one to remember. I hate speaking in front of an audience. I don’t know what to say, but several times now, I’ve latched on to this model for constructing what I say (especially in an impromptu situation).
So the next time you’re faced with presenting something in front of an audience and you’re wondering how to present it, think of ABT, it will automatically sound like a story. Sprinkle your story with facts, and your audience will love it.