March 10th, 2014
As a lot of people are coming to realize, we have broken new ground in the past year with the ABT, and are seeing the power and breadth of application of this template. The ABT is not a “tip” or a “tool” to add to “your communications tool box.” It is an ENTIRELY different way to approach communication at all levels. Just look at this quote from a participant in our workshop two weeks ago at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Hawaii, “I found myself Wednesday afternoon wandering through the poster session, reading abstracts and recognizing ABT (or not). You have me thinking in a different way.” That’s it — “The ABT Way of Thinking.” Here’s some more details on what he and I mean.
ABT FANATIC. In my movie, “Sizzle,” climate skeptic Steven Hayward says, “the definition of a fanatic is someone who won’t change their mind and won’t change the subject.” I’m becoming an ABT fanatic. And may have to seek therapy eventually. In the meanwhile, you can learn more about it in my TEDMED talk and Science Letter of last year.
WHAT’S YOUR WAY OF THINKING ABOUT COMMUNICATION?
Most people would probably answer this with an innocent, “I dunno.” I think I would have a few months ago. But I’m now coming around to this idea of “The ABT Way of Thinking.” It’s very simple, and starts with just these three words of “and, but, therefore” — a way of thinking that I have now tracked back to at least the mid-80’s in the teachings of a major screenwriting professor. And of course the logic goes back to the Greeks, proving that “nothing is new under the sun.” And yet … a lot of stuff actually IS new under the sun (I’ve always hated the cynical tone of that line).
Here’s a start on the ABT Way of Thinking, beginning with the words themselves.
If you spend some time fiddling around with the ABT template, you begin to get sensitized to all three of the words. We see it all the time in our workshop. People start to feel self-conscious about saying, “Aaaand …” And … that’s a good thing. Boring people go on and on with, “and, and, and …” This is the first step to curing the boredom — by starting to develop some awareness of the basic narrative structure, or lack of it, in what you’re saying.
If you’ve said enough “and”s, then it’s time to move on to …
The second thing we start to see is an awareness of a feeling of satisfaction when people get to the “but” in what they are saying. This is the word that takes you into the narrative world. I think if someone eventually does some fMRI work around this they will see a different part of the brain light up when people say this word. Basically, “blah, blah, blah — buuuuuut …”
The brain waves are minimal through the blah, blah, blah. It’s on the word “buuuuuuut” that everything lights up. In the Neurocinematics work of Uri Hasson that I’m constantly citing, this first part is the equivalent to the non-narrative footage of people walking around Washington Square Park.
It’s when you say, “buuuuuut,” that you’ve established the source of tension or conflict and thereby taken us into the narrative world. Now the dynamics are more like the clip of Hitchcock’s, “Bang, You’re Dead,” in Hasson’s study.
All of this results in ABT users developing a sensitivity to the word “but.” You can see them smiling, emphasizing it when they say it, and responding to it when they hear others say it.
This is the word that I’m finding increasingly fascinating. It’s the, “GET TO THE POINT!” word. What’s cool in our workshops is you can start to hear people using it as a cue. As someone is going on for too long, someone else eventually leans forward and interjects with an expectant smile, “THEREFORE …….. ?????????”
Which means, “Okay, we’ve got your basic set up, and the twist, and everything else — it’s time now to pull it all together into some kind of point. Therefore …. WHAT? WHAT IS THE FRICKIN’ POINT — WHY ARE YOU GOING ON AND ON, GET TO THE THEREFORE ALREADY!!!!!!!!”
Sorry. That’s a little harsh. But it is the deal. You hear people using it as a cue, or even using it as a question, “Is there a THEREFORE in what you’re saying? Or do you just like to hear yourself talk.”
Or they can use it themselves to pep everyone up by sending the signal — just as they can sense people are wondering if what’s being said is really leading to anything, they can say THEREFORE …”
You can actually see a couple examples of Mike Orbach doing this in our wonderful CERF Sea Level Rise panel of last fall. I know at least once, and I think maybe even twice, he said, “THEREFORE …” as a means of wrapping up his point. In fact, I recall him saying once, “Therefore — there’s always a “therefore”!” He got it, on the power of the therefore.
FIGHT THE BOREDOM!
It’s just three words, but they really are that powerful. AND … they are an actual mechanism to take you into the telling of a story. And THIS I am coming to realize is a huge, huge, huge problem across the land.
Everywhere I go now I’m hearing from groups who have had some previous speaker or communications consultant who had implored them to, “Tell stories!” But I’m not hearing of anyone out there who is presenting the mechanics or a model that take you into story mode. I’m really interested in hearing about it if anyone knows of a competing model to our WSP Model.
But I’m just not hearing it.
And in the meanwhile, people from our workshops are indeed reporting back to us how the ABT changes their entire approach to communication. Which is exactly what is needed to fight the boredom!