#203) Testimony Debacle: The ABT Could Have Prevented It

Ironically, as we were working with a biomedical company last week, hammering out delicately formulated and legally correct ABT-structured answers to common questions for their product, several university professors were imploding in front of congress. Sadly, they didn’t have to end up in such a mess.

LOST THE NARRATIVE. There was no narrative flow to most of what they said in their answers.



How much planning do you want to do in advance of a grilling? If you do none, you run the risk of rambling wildly.  You do too much, you over-think and over-complicate. There’s a clear optimum, as well as an optimal level of complexity to the answers.

Last week three university presidents, tragically, secured their place in history with a catastrophically bad grilling session. It doesn’t matter how many hours the session was or how heroically they performed. When it comes to mass communication, perception is reality.

The perception was so bad one of them has already resigned from her position.

What should they have done?



Of course everyone will be engaged in literally Monday morning quarterbacking today (the Monday after the event). All I know is what we would have done to prepare them.

Here’s how you get ready for important and potentially dangerous questions.

1) EXPERT ADVICE – You bring together your subject and legal experts
2) QUESTIONS – You think up the questions you’re most likely to be asked’
3) DRAFT ANSWERS – You come up with first drafts of answers (using the ABT structure)
4) REVISION – You keep revising your answers until everyone is comfortable with them
5) REHEARSAL – You rehearse until the STRUCTURE is embedded in your mind (not the words)

The key element here — that was missing from their testimony — is the ABT structure.



One of the cornerstones of our entire ABT Training program is what we termed, long ago, “The Liz Moment.”

It refers to Dr. Liz Foote who used the ABT for a presentation in 2014, found it to be powerful, then wrote to me, relating three main features. I wrote this up in my 2015 book, “Houston, We Have A Narrative.”

Using the ABT, she found her talk to be:

1) EASIER TO REHEARSE – the ABT structure locks into your mind better than any other structure
2) ENGAGED THE CROWD – she felt her audience more connected to her presentation than ever before
3) RETAINED FIDELITY – in the days after, as people regurgitated on social media what she had presented, she found their accounts to be more accurate than for any previous talk.

By coincidence, on Tuesday we did a session with a biomedical company we’re working with where we hammered out the ABT-structured answers to their three most common questions they get about their main product. It was a tremendous session. We were all so psyched with the results.

But then our hearts sunk on Thursday watching the three academics over-complicate their answers as they failed to get to the THEREFORE’s that were needed.

What can we say. As far as we know, there is no other model for narrative structure (which is the essential element to provide answers that are clear, concise, and confident).

It’s tragic to watch something like that hearing take place. The ABT could have helped a great deal. If you want to hear more, get in touch with us, we’ll be glad to walk you through it.