Guest post by Chad O’Connor, Adjunct Professor Emerson College
Actions You Want Them to Take!
This next installment from the bus is related to the kinds of obstacles you encounter when dealing with audiences. Let’s work on the generous assumption from the previous column that you have found the audience of people who are most likely to engage in a conversation with you, people who would seem to be interested in what you are trying to convince them about. But the problem is getting them from mental agreement to physical agreement – to get them to take action.
First, what is the thing you are asking them to do? Is it something that is part of a large, daunting, seemingly unsolvable social problem that no one has been able to make headway against? If people think of what you are asking in that manner, then don’t be surprised if they give up before they’ve even started. It’s easy for people to think of something as overwhelming and not worth trying to accomplish; people just don’t want to deal with the heartbreak of failure, to have been sold some grand dream of progress to end up with nothing. This barrier is an intertia obstacle – people won’t get moving because the force needed to get them going isn’t sufficiently compelling against their internal resistance and coping mechanisms. For instance, you don’t want to convince a morbidly obese person that they are going to be making a wholesale radical lifestyle change to get thin. That will likely result in the opposite effect – the obese person feels so despondent about the unachievable task ahead and washes that sorrow down with a Twinkie frappe sucked down through a fried Twinkie straw!
The way to overcome this inertia obstacle is to reconceptualize the problem. Is there some way that the very large problem can be broken down into smaller, more manageable parts and goals? In looking at what’s being asked with a fresh perspective it could give you new insight toward a path of progress. With that obese person example the simple steps are the things to be implementing right away because they are the least objectionable. Instead of drowning stuff in butter use one of those spray butter substitutes, switch in apple sauce in some baking recipes, etc. Take the stairs instead of the elevator all the time. Park your car farther away. Take the dog for a walk. The key here is that all of these are small initial asks that are imminently achievable. The person can feel good about these things, then ride that momentum by asking for more things, stretching the bounds slowly.
The second thing to think about is what kind of needs the audience members have to have addressed. If you misjudge what those things are initially then you need to reinvent what you’re selling as something that is somehow closely tied to their needs. Abraham Maslow developed a model of need that suggest there are basic needs that drive us more fundamentally, and that once those are satisfied we are able to focus on other, higher-level needs. I was reminded of this the other day at a presentation by a start up company that is dealing with restaurant reviews. It became apparent during our conversation that there were multiple levels of need when it comes to restaurants. The person who is ravenously hungry will go for the closest acceptable restaurant because at that moment the chief need is hunger. But as people are less hungry they become more discerning with their palates and will travel for somewhere that might be a better quality of restaurant.
So how does this look for a non-profit struggling to get its message heard? Let’s take an extreme case example here to show the point – strangely common sense as this will sound, people who have a daily fear of being shot in their crime-ridden neighborhoods probably aren’t caring much about dental health messages because that’s not their most immediate need. Things that revolve around safety are going to get more message traction.. The challenge then becomes to reframe the dental health messaging in the context of safety – to show that there is somehow a relationship between the two or at least an acknowledgment that safety is the primary issue and your other issue can be dealt with at the same time with little inconvenience to the primary issue being solved. No one ever said repackaging issues is easy, but it’s certainly important to think about…
Chad O’Connor teaches communication at Emerson College in Boston, serves as a connector for Boston World Partnerships, and works with various individuals, companies and nonprofits as a communication consultant on issues such as public speaking, message strategy, copy refining, etc. Chad can be contacted at his gmail account, chad.a.oconnor ,and found on Twitter @chadoconnor
Join us May 6, 2010 for a fun evening of networking at the South Shore Science Center.
There will be education, cocktails, prizes and a chance for your Nonprofit organization to walk away with a cash donation! For more information click on the link below.