You don’t have to be the loudest speaker in the room to be heard.

But you do have to be the best storyteller. Honing your storytelling skills helps you amplify your impact as a speaker.

When you embed your message in a story format, it not only engages your audience, but it also makes that message sticky.

Storytelling connects to the emotional part of our brain (the limbic system) releasing chemicals that stimulate our attention, focus, empathy, and long-term memory. And that’s powerful because our decisions are tied to our emotional reactions.

When crafting your presentation, first determine what you want your audience to think, feel, and do. Then try using the simple ABT method described below to craft your overall message. This simple storytelling approach lends itself to powerful communication which means the ability to amplify your message and your influence.

The ABT method formally created* by Dr. Randy Olson and explained in his book, Houston We Have A Narrative) is a simple way of structuring a compelling narrative. It literally stands for And, But, Therefore. Where the “AND” establishes the setup and creates the context for the story (The Agreement). The “BUT” introduces the conflict and establishes tension in the story (The Contradiction). And “THEREFORE” provides the resolution (The Consequence).

This is very similar to Aristotle’s story structure of, “Beginning, Middle, End” and Shakespeare’s play structure of, “Act I, Act II, Act III”. It also aligns with Joseph Campbell’s the hero’s journey, where the hero is pulled from their ordinary world by a challenge that they must overcome in order to achieve their goal and be transformed.

Randy created this method in 2012 and began using it to determine the Narrative Index of hundreds of famous speeches throughout history. He would count the number of “ands” and “buts” in a speech and determine their ratios to create a narrative index score.

He found that the most successful speakers were also the best storytellers and they used far more “buts” than “ands” to create storylines filled with tension that kept audiences more engaged.

Here’s an example of how I applied the ABT method to one of my own speeches on change management:

“Rapidly changing technology AND consumer expectations have forced companies to adapt with speed and agility. (THE SETUP/AGREEMENT)

BUT in the race to maintain competitive advantage, leaders have placed more focus on innovation and operational efficiency while overlooking the human element of change. Ideas, initiatives, and technology do not implement change. People do. (THE CONTRADICTION)

THEREFORE We must devote more focus to leading our associates through change if we want to transform and win market share. ” (THE CONSEQUENCE)

This is just one personal example, but if you practice with it, you will find that the ABT method can be applied to almost any communication piece to make it more compelling.

Let me know if this is helpful, and feel free to share your own ABT statement in the comments. Happy storytelling!

*Randy Olson first heard about the ABT structure from Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, who used it to replace “ands” with “buts” in his scripts to create more tension in his stories.


Andrea Cadelli

Andrea is a speaker, author, and storytelling expert. She loves helping you embrace your authentic voice and make an impact with your message. Through the power of story and the art of storytelling, she helps you ignite emotions, inspire change, and influence results. Follow her and unleash the power of your authentic voice.

1 Comment

Cori-Leigh · December 16, 2018 at 9:22 am

Andrea, I enjoyed reading this post! While I have heard of the ABT method I’ve not read the referenced book by Dr. Randy Olson. I’m looking to improve on both my storytelling and speaking. This is helpful and I’m glad I read this today.

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