#158) Trump’s Embattled Rose Garden Speech vs Alexandria Octavio-Cortez (His Narrative Match)

As could have been predicted, in his defensive/combative speech last Thursday about invoking a national emergency, President Trump scored a Narrative Index (BUT/AND x 100) of 30.  He then stepped up the combativeness another level for the Q&A.  But he’d better watch out — AOC is his narrative match.

TRUMP SLUGS AWAY AT REPORTERS AND FAKE NEWS.  Almost nobody scores over 30 for the Narrative Index.  It reflects his rage.

 

THE CAGED ANIMAL

President Donald Trump last Thursday gave a speech in the Rose Garden defending his decision to declare a state of emergency on the border.  It was predictably combative, which means I would predict heavy use of the word “but” and a Narrative Index of over 30.

His speech scored exactly 30, but the Q&A — where the beast gets poked and prodded by the journalists bringing out even more combativeness — scored 36.

I put a high degree of confidence in those two numbers.  Both texts were over 4,000 words.  I usually say you need about 1,000 words to feel like the score is reliable.

I’ve also got his AF (AND Frequency –  the percentage of all words that are the word “and”) scores above.  There’s an established baseline of 2.5% for well edited material.  His speech was a tiny bit flabby at 3.0%, but once he came under fire, his brain (or whatever reasonable facsimile that he possesses) tightened it up to 2.6%.

For comparison, speeches almost never score above 25 for the Narrative Index.  Elizabeth Warren gave four speeches last fall that I was able to find the transcripts for and analyze using the Narrative Index (But/And x 100).  Her scores were 17, 18, 21, 23.  

Bernie Sanders State of the Union reply was 18.  His speech in Burlington in November was 22. 

Also, the two speeches I found for Amy Klobuchar (DNC speech and recent announcement of presidential candidacy) scored 14 and 15 for the NI, 3.5 and 3.4 for the AF (yawn).

But here’s a ray of hope … last fall, just after her election victory, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored a 38 in her very lengthy interview (over 4,000 words) with Jacobin Magazine with an AF of 2.0.  And in a shorter interview with Chris Hayes of MSNBC she scored NI: 32, AF: 2.3. 

Those are Trump level scores.  She’s the real deal.

#157) 3 Gradients in Narrative Training: One Size Does Not Fit All

If you’re a believer in the “one size fits all” model of training for the communication of science you might want to read this.  We’ve learned a lot in our 5 years of developing Story Circles Narrative Training.  There are at least three gradients you’re up against.  If you do the math you can make a clear prediction — that our best clients should be National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, USGS and USDA.  And you’d be right.

DEMO DAY WITH THE U.S. ARMY ENGINEERS NATIONAL LEADERSHIP PROGRAM in Vicksburg, Mississippi two weeks ago.

 

Here’s three of the most important things we’ve learned when it comes to narrative training.

 

1) OLDER PEOPLE ARE BETTER

In the beginning, evvvvvveryone said, “Oh, today’s young people are the ones who are gonna get the most out of this program — they’re so good at communication.  The old folks will probably have trouble with it.”   Wrong.

These supposed “good communications” today’s young people are doing are mostly social media — texting, tweeting, Facebooking, etc.  The problem is, that stuff is mostly non-narrative And, And, And (AAA) material.  As in, “I went to school AND I talked to James AND we got some coffee AND he’s really stressed out …”

More importantly, what we learned the hard way is the youngsters don’t have any CONTEXT for narrative training.  There’s a few rare exceptions, but most of them haven’t had enough proposals rejected, papers declined, and talks that went poorly to have developed a clear context in which to grasp the need for good narrative structure and appreciate how hard it is to master. 

Furthermore, there’s a syndrome that many professors have confirmed for me — that the students are raised to be “positive” and not criticize each other.  The core of Story Circles is not criticizing each other but critical thinking.  The result is discussion sessions with young students where they praise the ABT that was just read, then sit quietly with nothing to say (I think their parents taught them, “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all”).  

Professional scientists are the opposite.  They have a clear context.  We saw this with the first session of the first group of scientists at USDA.  Before the session was even over they were listing all the projects the ABT could help with.

It’s just a constraint of experience, but it’s a very real and important constraint.  And the final clincher is the group of OLDER graduate students at U.C. Davis’s Bodega Marine Lab who right now are running three circles and doing a great job with it.

BOTTOM LINE:  the training works best for those with a little more life experience.

 

2) LESS ANALYTICAL PEOPLE ARE BETTER

There’s a major component to Story Circles that is meant to address Chapter 2 of my book, “Don’t Be Such A Scientist.”  Each week some of the material analyzed is scientific content (literal) and some of it is the synopses of movies (non-literal).  Most people love the inclusion of movies — they get the point we’re making — that the basic structure is the same ABT elements, but some rail against it, saying “We don’t want to be moviemakers, why are you forcing us to read movie synopses?”   That’s called literal minded thinking.  

In particular, it’s the heavily analytical people who have proven to be the most challenging so far.  We’ve found a number of molecular/biomedical researchers have chewed up the training, spat it out, and told us it doesn’t work.  I got the same thing with one person in the session I did with diplomats from the State Department and the same thing with some of the “quant jocks” (statisticians) at Deloitte Touche business consulting firm.

Heavily analytical people tend to be heavily literal minded.  They expect their communications training to deal with ONLY their subject matter.  

It becomes a downward spiral for them.  The very training they need is what they end up tearing to pieces, eventually saying that they know better than we do when it comes to communications training.

It can be painful to watch those in need dismissing what could help them.  Like a wounded animal rubbing the wound and making it worse.  

BOTTOM LINE:   It’s definitely more challenging to train heavily analytical people on the use of narrative structure, but they are an important audience and worth the effort.  Despite having the word “story” in the name “Story Circles Narrative Training,” the key word is “narrative” which is at the core of every paper, proposal and presentation every scientist gives, no matter how analytical they are.  It just takes extra effort for the analytical types.

 

3) MORE STRUCTURED ENVIRONMENTS ARE BETTER

Narrative structure is at the core of storytelling and storytellers write novels.  Do you know where novelists go to write their novels?  Writers retreats — usually cabins out in the woods where they can be isolated with no distractions.  Do you know why they do that?  Because narrative structure is really, really challenging and requires a great deal of focus.

Now compare that mode with the typical NGO communicator who is constantly jetsetting around the planet to save humanity, endlessly “swamped”, forever “up to my ass in alligators” and all the other fun metaphors to convey the lack of time to think straight.  Combine that with the fact that they live their lives on social media (which as I said is largely non-narrative) and you start to see why so much communication today continues to get worse.

Ideally, you need a quiet, sane, structured environment to work on narrative.  As a result, we’ve had a number of disappointing experiences with universities (vastly unstructured settings) versus wonderful experiences with most of the government agencies where they show up at a building each day from 9 to 5.

One of our worst experiences was a Demo Day for 50 environmental and forestry graduate students at a prominent university.  The night before the Demo Day a recent graduate warned me that the students are all so swamped with their overbooked schedules that the idea of a training program involving 10 one hour sessions would never work.

She turned out to be right.  We did the Demo Day.  Of the 50 students, 26 signed up for circles, but the next week the organizing professor said only 4 of them really meant it — the rest just signed up to be nice.

In contrast, again, look at the UC Davis grad students at the Bodega Marine Lab.  They might as well be off at a writers retreat.  They are in a structured environment, seeing each other every day, with minimal distractions.  No wonder they are doing so well.

BOTTOM LINE:  People who are running non-stop don’t communicate well.  They can’t.  There are physiological constraints.  It requires a certain degree of structure and quiet. 

 

IN THE BEGINNING …

We were a tiny bit naive at the start, five years ago.  I thought the training would flourish best with young people and academics.  It’s five years later.  Turns out its the folks who are a little older (advanced grad students on) and government agency workers who have taken to it best.  

There’s lots of exceptions — even a few undergraduates and plenty of professors on busy campuses.  But in general, one size does not fit all when it comes to communications training.  More communications programs should be aware of this and document it further. 

#156) STORY CIRCLES: We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

We began developing Story Circles Narrative Training at the start of 2015.  We’ve now involved 7 government agencies and 8 universities in 36 Demo Days and 52 Story Circles (completed).   These are two of our WEEKLY UPDATES that Liz Foote assembles for our group every Sunday.  They paint the picture pretty clear.  In 1.5 years we’ve gone from a few participants to a whole bunch.  A lotta people are getting a lot stronger on narrative structure, and having a good time in the process.  


EARLY ON:   1.5 YEARS AGO


NOW:   THIS WEEK

PRETTY MUCH SPEAKS FOR ITSELF.  We passed 50 circles completed last fall.  We may double that by the end of this year.  This is how you move the needle in the communication of science.

#155) “Trump’s But”: Still in fine form

Here’s two representative examples of communication from President Donald Trump this fall — a speech and an interview.  One scripted, one unscripted.  His Narrative Index (But/And ratio) for both is completely predictable.  As expected, for his rigid, tightly scripted speech to the U.N, it was very low (6).  But for his combative, unscripted comments to two journalists for the Washington Post, he scored aggressively high (33).  Is there any other metric that reveals what’s going on inside this guy when he speaks?  If so, I haven’t seen it.

IT COULDN’T BE ANY MORE SIMPLE, OR PREDICTABLE.  When he needs to be delicate (wouldn’t want to go so far as to say “diplomatic”), he avoids “but.”  But … when he’s cornered and off-script, he buts away.

 

WHAT HE DOES

A president can’t use profanity (much), but the word “but” is the next best thing.  It’s what comes out when someone is reaching hard — as in, “But, but, but — let me say this … “

Diplomats are often taught to not use the word “but” at all.  This is what I learned when I ran a Story Circles Demo Day with a group from the U.S. State Department.  But, combative people use it a lot.

 

HOW KNOWING THIS IS USEFUL

I’ve been documenting the Narrative Index and Trump since the fall of 2015.   The index is useful — it tells you something about who is writing the text, and how much thought is going into it.

Prime examples of combative presentations include this year’s Michelle Wolf “take no prisoners” assault at the White House Correspondents dinner (47), Trump’s Al Smith dinner speech (38), Nixon’s first inaugural address (47), and Barbara Jordan’s legendary 1976 DNC speech (39) (I love it that Nixon and Michelle Wolf hit the same score).  It’s rare that a speech goes above 30, and only a handful go above 40.  Most are in the teens.

The Narrative Index is not very PRECISE — I wouldn’t say a speech with a narrative index of 15 is much different from one of 10.  But it is ACCURATE — meaning I guarantee you the core dynamic of a speech  (meaning the degree of tension and aggression) that scores 33 is completely different from one that scores 6.

There are countless articles about how Trump is a “master manipulator,” and countless “experts” — from psychologists to rhetoric dudes — claiming to understand EXACTLY why he’s so effective.  Whatever.  They have mostly produced useless poop.

All I know is that the Narrative Index is simple (the But/And ratio x100), objective, and reveals countless patterns.  I don’t claim to be an expert on this stuff, I just know a pattern when I see one.

#154) Story Circles Testimonial: “I began to see narrative structure everywhere …”

This is the best testimonial from a Story Circles participant yet.  It’s great how many people tell me these days about discovering the power of the ABT Narrative Template, BUT … I’m forever thinking in response, “You really should do the full 10 one hour sessions.”  And now, as we’ve just passed 50 circles, here is an excellent testimonial from Jeff Davis, President of the Western Section of the Wildlife Society.  He uses no hype (something that can’t be said of me).  There’s no words like awesome, A-mazing, or incredible (to name a few of my favorites).  It’s just a very clinical, dispassionate analysis of what he got out of the training.  And it’s a lot.  Enough to make me say you’re not going to get this sort of in-depth improvement of your feel for narrative by just practicing with the ABT on your own.  You need this training over the long term in a group.  Actually, everyone needs this training.  Ask yourself — are you serious about this communication stuff or not?

Tell Them a Story
By Jeff Davis

Effective science communication is fundamental to what we do as wildlifers.  We need it to

  • convince advisors to take us on as grad students; 
  • get prospective employers to hire us;
  • gain promotions;
  • establish our credibility as scientists;
  • persuade colleagues, supervisors, clients, or foundations to fund our projects or initiatives; 
  • prepare compelling proposals and reports;
  • publish impactful papers;
  • give engaging presentations;
  • influence stakeholders during meetings;
  • inspire policy makers to respond to environmental crises; and
  • change public opinion.

The problem is that few of us have ever been trained in how to effectively communicate science.  That’s why I chose science communication as the theme for our 2018 annual meeting in Santa Rosa. You may recall that our plenary speakers provided tips on improving our science communications and agreed that communicating science by telling stories is more effective than reciting facts.  California State University Chico professor emeritus Jon Hooper reminded us that knowing our audience is key. National Science Foundation Fellow, TED fellow, and National Geographic Explorer Mike Gil underscored how making it personal is what brings a story to life. UC Berkeley Doctoral Candidate Sara ElShafie urged us to have a clear theme to the story we’re presenting.  And scientist-turned filmmaker turned science communicator Randy Olson recommended we tap into the power of narrative using the right structure. 

Hoping to improve my own communications, I participated in Randy Olson’s Demo Day at the meeting and then in one of two Story Circles that formed after the meeting.  Because one annual meeting reviewer wondered whether any Story Circles would form and what would be the outcome, I wanted to share what I learned.  

Story Circles teaches participants to recognize and use narrative structure to communicate science.  The simplest form of optimal narrative structure is ABT, which stands for And, But, Therefore. These are the basic building blocks of narrative.  “And” represents a statement of fact or agreement. For example: Devil’s Slide Rock is a small seastack along the San Mateo County coast. “And” is used to represent the statement of fact because narrative often includes the statement of more than one fact.  For example: Devil’s Slide Rock is a small seastack along the San Mateo County coast, and it supported a breeding colony of about 3,000 common murres until the early 1980s.  “But” represents conflict or contradiction. For example: But the colony was wiped out due to human-caused mortality.  “Therefore” represents resolution or consequence. For example: Therefore, beginning in 1996, biologists used a technique called social attraction to restore the breeding colony, which has grown every year since.

This format is about presenting foundational information, posing a problem, and finding a solution to the problem.  This structure is what stories are built around. It’s more interesting than non-narrative structure (e.g., and, and, and; “just the facts, ma’am”) and less confusing than overly narrative structure that has too many contradictory words (e.g., despite, however, yet) and directions.

The ABT format is effective because we are hardwired to solve problems.  President Trump’s decision to not focus on the great economy during the 2018 midterm elections was a case in point.  There was no problem to solve, so focusing on the economy would not excite his base. Instead he focused on a problem and used narrative structure that follows ABT format to generate enthusiasm for the election.  The economy is great, and we’re creating lots of new jobs.  But a caravan of migrants is going to storm the border.  Therefore, you better get out and vote for candidates who will be strong on immigration because the migrants will steal your jobs.

Much of Story Circles involved examining scientific abstracts and movie synopses to identify narrative structure.  By repeatedly examining the abstracts and synopses, I began to see narrative structure everywhere. Home renovation TV shows, for example, use this structure to full advantage: We bought the house below market value, and the renovation was going well.  But then we discovered the subfloor was totally rotted, which set us back 20 grand.  Therefore, we spent less money on the furnishings and in the end came out under budget.

You don’t need to use the words “and”, “but”, and “therefore” to create narrative structure.  Synonyms such as also, however, and consequently work too. But I also found that you can set up this problem-solution structure without using any of these words.  Ultimately, though, the simple ABT template provides a framework for organizing what you wish to say in a compelling way.

It’s not enough to just read about effective communication techniques or listen to good communicators.  Developing what Randy calls narrative intuition requires practice. So, to communicate more effectively, I encourage you to practice telling your science stories using the ABT narrative structure.  As actor and science communicator Alan Alda observed, “I’ve been listening to good pianists all my life, and I still can’t play the piano.”

 

Jeff Davis, President
Western Section of The Wildlife Society

#153) Our challenging “Shaping the Narrative of Invasive Insect Species” work session in Vancouver at the Entomological Society of America Meeting

On November 10, at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Vancouver, we ran an interesting session on “Shaping the Narrative of Invasive Insect Species” that ended with lots of frustration and feelings of “we’re not done here yet.”  Which was excellent and “as planned.” These are the sorts of tough, challenging communications exercises that are needed everywhere.

SHAPING THE NARRATIVE OF INVASIVE INSECT SPECIES.   We broke the issue of invasive insect species into 4 sub-topics (Prevention, Detection, Response, Trade and Policy).  The groups of experts ranged from 10 to 40 people.  Each sub-topic was in a separate room.  All  the rooms were connected to “Narrative HQ” by individuals on laptops editing in Google Docs.  The groups followed a schedule for 90 minutes, applying the two tools — the ABT Narrative Template and the Dobzhansky Template — to their sub-topic.  As they typed in drafts of their ABTs into Google Docs the group in Narrative HQ read them aloud, then sent back notes, creating iterative rounds of revision.  It was fun, really interesting, and produced substantial progress in figuring out the narratives, BUT … not finished products.  You can’t expect that in a single day’s effort.

 

WHY ONE DAY WORKSHOPS TASTE GREAT, BUT ARE LESS FILLING

A workshop is a story.  It has a beginning, a middle, and some sort of end.  Everybody wants endings of stories to be happy — sometimes at any cost.  Which means most people want their one day workshop to have a happy ending.

This is because of a basic piece of bad programming of the human brain called “the closed ending.”   You won’t find a movie that makes over $100 million at the box office that lacks it.  “Chinatown” didn’t have a closed ending (“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown”).  But “Chinatown” also didn’t make over $100 million (it’s made $29 million lifetime).  Plus it was made pre-Information Society, when audiences still had some last ability to handle an open ending.

But today most people don’t like going home feeling like the problems you set out to solve aren’t yet solved.  That leaves you suspended in Joseph Campbell’s “Special World” — which might be exciting for your brain, but makes it hard to relax.

 

WHY I NO LONGER SUPPORT ONE DAY WORKSHOPS

Now, think about a one day workshop.  In Version A, the participants fill out the blanks for the 12 stages of The Story Cycle derived from Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey.   They have a fun day learning about “the power of story” then go home with their own complicated, multi-faceted story and the feeling like they “nailed the story thing” all in one day.

This is what a scientist from a major aerospace research facility told me about a few years ago — the workshop he attended that left him feeling he could check off “the story thing” from his list of problems to solve.  But the problem is that narrative takes time to learn — you can’t expect to nail it in a day.  

This leads to Version B, which is what we preach with our Story Circles Narrative Training program.  It’s not for the “get ‘er done now” crowd.  It begins with the fact that you just can’t accomplish much in a single day when it comes to narrative.  You need long term, sustained effort.  And this is the same mind set I brought to our ESA session.

 

OUR “SHAPING THE NARRATIVE” SESSION AT ESA

We ran a very interesting session at the ESA meeting that is described in the caption above.  Let me start by offering my sincere thanks and kudos to the organizers for being brave enough to try something this original.

A couple hours after the session we had an hour long panel discussion in front of the larger group of a couple hundred entomologists.  For the panel, each of the 4 sub-topic groups presented just two things for their session — basically the one SENTENCE and the one WORD, using the ABT Template and the Dobzhansky Template (both originally presented in, “Houston, We Have A Narrative”). 

Each person had about 15 minutes for Q&A where the audience mulled over the two items.  None of them produced stunned rounds of spontaneous applause.  It wasn’t meant to be a self esteem building session.  It was meant to provide a start on “shaping the narrative” and to show how hard this narrative stuff really is, and that’s exactly what it showed.

By the end there was a feeling that each group had made a solid start and had something that was probably pretty close to the central narrative of their sub-topic.  But the session also sent everyone away feeling like “we’re not done here.”  And while it was frustrating for some, it left me feeling very good.

Narrative is an endless journey.  You’re never completely finished with it.  Read Christopher Vogler’s brilliant Preface to the second edition of his landmark book on narrative, “The Writers Journey.   He talks about coming to realize that The Heroes Journey (which is a more elaborate version of the ABT) is, “nothing less than a handbook for life.”

That’s how deep this stuff is.  And the reason why people are enjoying our Story Circles Narrative Training program.

#152) Story Circles Celebrates 50 Circles!

Four years, 50 circles with lots more running and scheduled.  It’s getting to be time for some metrics for our Story Circles Narrative Training.   Here’s our log of the circles.

FIFTY AND COUNTING.  Completed circles are in black, circles currently running are red, upcoming circles are blue.

 

COMING SOON, TO A CITY NEAR YOU!

In the past month we’ve had three Demo Days — USDA, USFWS, ESA — each one just as interesting and fun as the last.  Demo Days end up being like a mini-symposium on the power, importance and ubiquity of narrative structure.  

The Demo Days give rise to the actual work — the Story Circles where 5 participants meet for the 10 one hour sessions.  The circles should take 2.5 months to complete if they go weekly, but for a session to meet all five participants must be present.  Which means lots of postponements.  Some circles have taken up to 10 months to finish.

Originally this concerned us — what if participants lost interest and quit.  But to our surprise and delight, that simply doesn’t happen.  To date every circle has gone the distance — none have been abandoned.  Something seems to happen once people get involved.  They feel, not just an obligation to the group, but also a desire to complete the ten sessions.  Some circles have even continued to meet after completing the sessions, serving as a sort of narrative workshopping group. 

There’s lots more Demo Days scheduled for the new year, including NIH in February and USDA in March.  All this, and we’ve yet to take out one advertisement.  Nor has the media written anything about the training, which seemed like a concern at first, but now who cares, it’s working.   

#151) Not Even DHY: Is this really “science education”?

What form of communication is someone practicing when they tell you what they did, then tell you what the topic they studied is, then tell you again what they did, and then that’s it — no hint of why they did it or what they were trying to figure out.  Have a look at the abstract of a paper that I just saw tweeted.  I would give this abstract a 2 out of 10 for narrative structure.  And they wonder why the education system is such a mess — one word:  obfuscation.

OBFUSCATION IN ACTION:  The ABT analysis of narrative structure involves color coding each sentence of a text — BLUE for agreement, RED for contradiction, GREEN for consequence.  Nothing like skipping the set up and problem as you go right to “here’s what we did.”

 

GREEN WITH UNENVY

The standard exercise for Story Circles Narrative Training is to read the abstract of a published paper and give it a score where 10 is perfect ABT structure, 1 is a mess.  Above is the abstract of a paper in this month’s issue of the journal Research in Education Science titled, “Epistemic Frames as an Analytical Framework.”  It’s a narrative mess, and gives you a little insight into the minds of academics who can’t think a simple thought.

It starts with what should be last, jumps back to what should be first, and never includes what should be in the middle.  It’s not that the content is wrong, it’s just that the form is terrible, making it more difficult to absorb the content.

You might wonder, is this just the obligatory style of this discipline?   No, it’s not.  If you want to see excellent ABT structure in the abstract of another paper in the same issue just look at this one.  It gets the ABT structure right.  And look at the name of the author — it might well be someone for whom English is a second language.  Which is impressive.

#150) Story Circles is NOT Competitive (it’s Complementary)

If you run a workshop for speaking, writing, video making — pretty much any aspect of communication — the best participants you can have are those who have done our Story Circles Narrative Training program before they get to you.   We DO NOT address any of the specifics of these forms of communication workshops — no videotaping of presentations, no editing of writing samples, no directing of videos — that’s stuff for other folks to provide.  We work only on the fundamentals of how to shape material into strong narrative structure.  No one else provides this sort of long term, simple training that builds “narrative intuition,” which is the central element for effective communication.  Which means graduates of Story Circles are the ideal participants for other communications training.

Graduates of Story Circles bring the ABT Framework to any communications workshops they take part in.

 

NO REASON TO BE “TURFY”

In a call last week with one of the groups we are doing Story Circles with, they made a comment about how “turfy” communications trainers can be.  It didn’t surprise me — I’ve experienced a bit of it myself.  But when it comes to Story Circles, there’s no reason for it.

We are not competing against anyone.  There’s no one else, that we know of, teaching the ABT Framework over the course of 10 one hour sessions.  

One thing we’ve found with Story Circles is that it makes a huge difference whether the participants have read, Houston, We Have A Narrative,” in advance.  The book is where the ABT Narrative Template is presented in detail.  If they have read it, they start at an advanced level.  And if they have both read it and discussed it — as is the case right now with the U.C. Davis grad students currently in circles at Bodge Marine Lab, then they have a double advantage.

 

WE CAN’T TEACH YOU HOW TO TELL A STORY IN JUST THREE YEARS

All of this makes me think about applying to the graduate film production program at the University of Southern California.  In my class of 50 students probably about a third had never even tried to make a film before.

This surprised me at first, but then one of the professors explained their philosophy.  They believe that in film school they can teach you all the details of how to direct a film, how to operate a camera, how to edit a film.  That stuff is fairly informational and relatively easy to teach.

But the thing they can’t teach you so much is “how to tell a story.”  They have found that if you’re a lousy storyteller at the start, you’ll probably still be a lousy storyteller after three years.  You can improve a bit, but the process is so slow AND so important, that they opt to make it their highest priority for admissions — looking for applicants who already tell good stories, as reflected in the two required essays.

And that’s the bottom line — story is just about everything.  To be good at it, you need narrative intuition (or “story sense” as they call it in Hollywood).  Story Circles doesn’t make you instantly great with narrative, but with the ABT Framework it definitely sets you on the right path, making you ready to draw on the knowledge of narrative structure gained when taking subsequent communication workshops.

#149) TEMPERAMENT: Democrat Senators had the One Word, but Missed the Narrative Boat

It was right there in their questioning.  If only they knew about the Dobzhansky “One Word” Template.  The Democrats needed to control the narrative — steering it towards the broader issue of TEMPERAMENT, rather than just the specific issues of sexual assault and alcoholism.  Mazie Hirono eventually hit on it, but it was too late.  TEMPERAMENT was “the Christmas tree,” to use the terminology of Dave Gold’s great Politico article last year.  The other stuff should have been just ornaments.  They missed it because they had no clear strategy.  As Obama said in 2012, they needed to, “Tell a story to the American people,” and the theme of that story needed to be TEMPERAMENT.

The ten Democrat senators had no clear overall strategy other than a shotgun blast of questions.  They had no singular ABT.

 

TO TELL A STORY TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE 

In 2012, when asked what was the biggest failure of his first term, President Barak Obama said the following: 

“The mistake of my first term. . .was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important, but the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people …”

So what was the story the ten Democratic senators told the American people on September 27 in the hearing for Brett Kavanaugh? 

Rather than presenting a clear ABT structured narrative (Kavanaugh wants to be a Supreme Court judge AND a supreme court judge needs to have the right temperament, BUT he doesn’t, THEREFORE he needs to be rejected), they took a shotgun approach and ended up with a laundry list of complaints.  

HOW THEY “AND, AND, AND-ED”

Examining the transcript, here’s the basics of what 10 Democratic senators covered in their 5 minute segments.

FEINSTEIN –   FBI
LEAHY –  DRINKING – Mark Judge
DURBIN –  FBI (ask McGahn)
WHITEHOUSE –  DRINKING – yearbook references
KLOBUCHAR –  DRINKING – high school, college
COONS –  DRINKING – Liz Swisher,  FBI
BLUMENTHAL –  HONESTY, CONSPIRACY, DRINKING, FBI
HIRONO –  TEMPERAMENT, DRINKING
BOOKER –  DRINKING, CONSPIRACY
HARRIS –  FBI, Gorsuch, CONSPIRACY

BY TOPIC:
FBI –  Feinstein, Durbin, Coons, Blumenthal, Harris (5)
DRINKING – Leahy, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Coons, Blumenthal, Hirono, Booker (7)
CONSPIRACY –  Blumenthal, Booker, Harris (3)
CHARACTER –  Blumenthal, Hirono (2)

It’s was a bunch of stuff, but no single, consistent, repeatable theme emerged.

 

WHAT’S OUR THEME GOING TO BE?

In a perfect world, that morning, before the hearings began, the 10 senators would have met in a room to lay out their strategy.  At this point Senator Mazie Hirono would have spoken up, saying the one word she did say three times during her segment that afternoon — “TEMPERAMENT.”

The group would have thought this through, then said, “Great word — it has human qualities and is central to the qualifications for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.  All of what we have for criticisms of Kavanaugh can be tied together under that one umbrella term, so let’s make it our theme for the day.”

Then the LEADER (something that’s clearly lacking in the Democratic party) would have figured out how to have the group “tell a story” that would have had a beginning, middle and end.  The leader would have said:

“Okay, Feinstein, you’re going first — you begin by explaining to the American people what TEMPERAMENT is and why it’s central to being a judge.  After her set up, then each of you need to connect your line of questioning to this one word theme.  Whitehouse, when you read the entries from his yearbook, explain how that material reflects on his TEMPERAMENT.  Harris, when you compare his process to Gorsuch, explain how Gorsuch had the right TEMPERAMENT to be a Supreme Court judge which made his confirmation easy, but Kavanaugh does not.  Blumenthal, instead of rambling through four topics, pick one that no one else has covered and relate it to TEMPERAMENT.  Then Harris, you’re last, so give us an ending to our story by pulling everything together, saying that we feel all of what we’ve heard today underscores our belief that Judge Kavanaugh lacks the TEMPERAMENT to be on the Supreme Court.”

Furthermore, this leader/narrative coach would have said, “If by some miracle we get lucky enough for this guy to lose his cool and present to the American public a live demonstration of his poor temperament by, for example, asking Senator Klobuchar if she has ever blacked out from drinking, or by claiming he is the victim of a left wing conspiracy backed by the Clintons … then whoever is next should make an issue of it by saying, “THIS is exactly what we mean by your temperament being wrong.”

TEMPERAMENT would have been the story for the American public.  Every newspaper would have carried the simple headline that the Democrats feel he lacks the TEMPERAMENT.   And the authors of the bestselling 2012 book, “The One Thing,” would have been saying to themselves, “wow, they must have read our book!”

But that’s not what happened.    

 

HIRONO KNEW

I heard Senator Mazie Hirono on NPR that morning.  Look at what she said:

“ … what really will be focused on is, as far as I’m concerned, Judge Kavanaugh’s credibility, character and candor. And before all this began, I already questioned his credibility.”

She was the one who knew best that the focus needed to be at the broader level than just his high school transgressions.  She was saying, regardless of the accusations of Dr. Ford, she already had problems with him at the broadest scale.  And this is why she, alone, eventually found her way to the key word of TEMPERAMENT.

If you search KAVANAUGH TEMPERAMENT now, what you’ll see is a tidal wave of articles, but they all begin after the hearing.  Which is a shame.  Had the Democrats come up with a strategy, they could have started talking about TEMPERAMENT several days before the hearing.  That would have “planted” their theme in advance, getting ready for the hearing.

All of which would have established the simple core narrative, and allowed the senators to TELL A STORY to the American people.   Just as Obama said should happen.

But they didn’t.  The Democrats are just so totally narratively adrift these days.  It’s painful to watch.