I teach business storytelling workshops around the country and in the new Executive Master’s for Sustainability Leadership program at Arizona State University, and the impact these newly story-empowered executives have when they use narrative to communicate data is profound. But my students’ greatest obstacle is finding where to start in the story process. Therefore, I have them begin with the And, But and Therefore (ABT) method: a simple formula that I call the DNA of all stories.
Harvard Ph.D.-turned-USC film school graduate, Randy Olson, uncovered the ABT from the most unlikely of places: South Park. He was watching a documentary, “6 Days to Air,” about the manic schedule Trey Parker follows to create each episode of the crass but brilliant cartoon, when the secret was unveiled. When a script isn’t working for Parker, he goes back and replaces “ands” with “buts,” which creates conflict and tension in the story: the secret sauce to entertaining an audience. The tension then requires resolution, or the “therefore”: the conclusion of every story. It’s a simple and perfect three-act storytelling structure. Foolproof. Even for Cartman.
I find Olson’s “aha” moment particularly ironic because he teaches scientists how to translate their intellect into stories that the rest of us can digest. Love it, Einstein learning from Cartman. And he always starts with the ABT, as seen here…
Olson’s two books, Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in the Age of Style, and Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking, are excellent resources for anyone who wants to use the science of storytelling to humanize their communication.
He has a new book, Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story, that was recently published. Olson joined me on Business of Story podcast where we explored his new book and how you can use the ABT in your storytelling.
The ABT has been invaluable for my ASU class to help sustainability executives become Chief Storytelling Officers. We’re fortunate to have Olson join us as a guest speaker this month when he will underscore the ABT process to our students.
I highly recommend starting each of your business stories – from high-level strategy to communications plans to sales presentations to blog posts – by writing your And, But and Therefore statement. It takes only a minute or two, and you will be amazed at how it will clarify your thinking, focus your narrative, and create an important theme for your story.
Then use the 10-step Story Cycle to bring your story to life.
What’s your story?