October 9, 2018 | Letters from the C.E.O.
The Second Person Pronoun with Extended Pronouncement (a.k.a., SPPEP) Method
I’m terrible with names.
My wife Susannah blames me but I blame my hippocampus. If you are not familiar with the hippocampus (page 74 of The Truth About Language: What It Is and Where It Came From by Michael Corballis), it’s the seahorse-shaped part of our brain that gives us episodic memory and relates our facts to our experiences.
And mine is broken.
I discovered the break during a party we hosted. We were greeting guests in our foyer when Susannah disappeared to deal with a catering issue. There I was, alone, as four couples stepped through the door simultaneously. I looked into their faces and traveled back in time—to dinner parties at their homes, their children playing in mine, and trips we took together. It occurred to me that while I knew each of them well, they didn’t know each other. Introductions were in order. However, I couldn’t make them. While my hippocampus possessed vivid memories of our experiences together, it dropped their facts—specifically, their names.
I didn’t panic. I employed the Trusted Second Person Pronoun with Extended Pronouncement method (SPPEP method for short).
“Hey youuuuu” often leads one to volunteer their name. And when they give it, you use it immediately in a clever anecdote. Before long, people began to introduce themselves. It takes talent to introduce eight people using the SPPEP method.
I thought I had pulled off the impossible. But later that evening, an angry glance from Susannah confirmed a lurking suspicion—the introductions had not been warmly received. Someone had noticed and worse, they had told my wife.
My hippocampus suddenly began functioning again, and I was able to fully imagine a future unpleasant experience.
I’ve become obsessed with language, both the history of its development and the current science on how it works. And as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve become particularly interested in the hippocampus. Through it, we construct our individual narratives and we store the narratives of others—including facts. We can travel back in time to a remembered past or forward to an imagined future.
This ability to convert realities and dreams into shareable experiences is a defining marker of being human.
To prove this point, let me tell you the party introduction without a story, just the facts:
8 people in 100 square feet of space with 0.5 of the hosts and 0 names results in Susannah’s happiness ≤ 0.
Don’t get me wrong; facts are important. But I believe this exercise illustrates a common communication problem—facts alone cannot convey a human (and forgivable) experience.
If you are in the communications business, and need someone to join your cause, or support your idea or your institution, you need to speak to the hippocampus. This means speaking in stories.
I believe you already know the power of storytelling, and you’re probably using stories in your current donor communications. You also know that using stories to demonstrate gift impact is hard work.
That’s why we built Mythos—a tool to help donor professionals collect, edit, and organize beneficiary impact stories systematically. With Mythos and our creative and production services, we help universities, colleges, and non-profits deliver experiences that donors and potential donors feel and share with others—great impact stories.
My current favorite book is Michael Corballis’ The Truth About Language: What It Is and Where It Came From. I found the chapters on “Thinking Without Language” and “Mind Reading” especially interesting.
I hope you (and Susannah) find some time to read it soon.