Sunday, April 09, 2006

what can I do?

Dear Reader,

If you spend time going to lectures, reading books, or listening to radio programs about the Lamentable Things we are doing in this world (extinctions, violence etc. etc.), you may notice, as I do, that presenters tend to leave out what they would like people to do differently. That is, they invest their time and energy (and by consequence the time and energy of their audience) focusing on what they do NOT want, including how the undesired things are coming to pass, without saying what they'd like to see.

As a listener or reader, you may, as I have, sit up and pay attention. "Yes! That's terrible. I don't like that either! I don't like that cultures/species/innocent children/beautiful forests/cute-little-frogs are being assimilated/destroyed/harmed/wiped off the face of Earth!"

You sit up, take notice.

You are motivated to do something.

And then... you will probably find that your presenter, now that s/he's got your attention, now that you are ready for the next step, waiting for a suggestion, a strategy, a program for turning this thing around, simply stops right there.

Yes, your presenter has probably devoted very little attention on what they WOULD like to see, and even less on what strategies might accomplish it. Just when they've got us primed and ready, when they could tell us what we could do ... just then, they simply stop. They end the lecture/article/program with vague suggestions such as "get informed" or "become organized" or "push for change" without clarifying what these things would look like - how we can do them and what we'll accomplish if we do.

For example, please listen to the CBC Quirks and Quarks radio interview with Terry Glavin, who travelled the world to research his book Waiting for the Macaws, about the current mass extinction occuring on this planet along with tales of hope, in the form of sustainable interactions between humans and other species. Notice how he responds, at the end of his interview, to Bob McDonald's question about what people can do. (Please note that this is merely a radio interview, and not representative of the wealth of information, stories, and points of view presented in his book).

I have seen, at least 20 times at public lectures, that members of the audience, convinced that something must be done, stand up and ask "what can I do?" At this, the presenters tend to stall and fall back on the above mentionned cliches. I appears that they are unprepared to answer such questions, to offer direction or strategic guidance. As though this is not their role. Even though, time after time, it is clear that members of the audience would like some guidance with regard to the next steps to take based on the information presented.


What is going on here? Why are intelligent, thoughtful, caring, motivated people putting most or all of their energy into convincing people that things are going wrong - at the cost of using valuable air-time/publicity to present strategies that people might actually use to do make things better?

I have a few ideas:

  1. There may be something in the way the problem is framed in the minds of the presenters that channels their thinking along the "I need to prove that there's a problem, people need to really get this, and then things will change". Perhaps the speaker thinks that things are going wrong because of ignorance, or complacency, and that they need to shake things up a little and then hopefully people will rise up and sort it out.
  2. Perhaps the presenter has not done the more detailed analysis of the system dynamics (the elements of whatever situation they are discussing that influence the way it unfolds). Perhaps he felt he had to "go it alone" without asking for help, and only has so much time. Maybe she is good at certain tasks and not others, and is more confident about storytelling and less about functional analysis.

At this point I would like to express what I'd like to see done differently. I'd like to see the people in the special position of being able to address tens or hundreds or thousands of people with their messages choose to include a strategic framework in which people can fit specific actions toward the common goals. I'd like people to walk away from articles and lectures with a clear sense of what they can do to see their goals fulfilled.

In order for this to happen, I'd like some advice, and some support:

  • Advice: I'd like to hear from presenters how they feel about this situation - when they are confronted with these questions. How does it feel to be asked "what should we do" when you've prepared a lecture/article/book about something people care about?
  • I'd also like to know what might help them include some strategic analysis into their presentations. I'd like to know if they would like others to support them, perhaps offering guidance or encouragement. Perhaps something else. What is it that guides your creative energy?
  • Support: I'd like readers to send letters/emails to radio presenters/authors/lecturers asking them to prepare specific suggestions for specific short term goals in their presentations.
Here is a formula for you to use when speaking to or writing to presenters. Ask them to identify:
  1. specifically which people they think occupy positions of influence over the situation they are addressing
  2. what they suggest would influence these people - including names and roles
  3. what type of communications/interaction would be most influential.
  • A specific suggestion from a author/presenter could look like this:
    • Please read the following details about the proposed Incinerator Plant to be built in the migratory bird sanctuary contained in (short, concise list on a webpage/article etc.) about this situation. If you have any questions or confusion about anything presented here, please email me or ask someone for help in making sense of it. Please write four short letters: a) to the federal Minister of the Environment (copied to the Prime Minister), b) to the provincial Environment Minister (copied to the provincial Premier), c) to the national newspaper of your choice, and d) to the local newspaper of your choice. In these letters, please include with your own concerns the specific details listed next to each type of letter mentioned in the (above mentionned webpage/article).

What I'd really like from you, reader of this posting, is to:
  1. tell me what you have noticed about this "what can I do?" situation I'm presenting in this article.
  2. refer me to people who make presentations, so I might ask them the questions I asked above - and hopefully I can learn more about what influences presensters, and this will help me edit things like this post, and help me write more clear and more specific requests.

Thanks for reading this. I'd like to know what you think. I'll be grateful if you take a little time and respond to my requests. Please share any thoughts or suggestions you may have, including anything that might make it clearer and help me focus more on what we can do to encourage presenters and authors to focus some of their creative energy on positive action.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jungle Love said...

The lack of action oriented solution talk hits home. Very true!! While I think I try to give solutions, it is too easy to describe problems and feel your work is done. But the truth is, it is a lot hard to fix problems than to identify them!!

Finished... wow... pretty good Owen. I think you have the right elements identified to help people take action.

It's funny, because I just went to a presentation at McMaster by the President and CEO of Siemens Canada. He was talking about shifting our power usage to electrical based (from Diesel and gas); he acknowledged the challenge in generating clean electricity, but felt economies of scale and a move towards cleaner energy (including nuclear) would help.

Anyway, the main thrust of his presentation (after talking about Siemens canada for a while) was about the Magtrains and what they could do to revolutionalize transportation in Canada. Very cool - 500KM trains - Toronto Montreal in 50 minutes... crazy. And he pointed out that it could be put together in 3-4 years (within the term of elected officials) though he didn't suggest that we write to anyone, or do anything. Just - there you go.

On top of being a bad discussion, it was more of an informative pamphlet.

I wonder if when I'm teaching students, I can make every lecture into an action oriented outcome. Something that the students can do to practice the concepts or skills learned in the class. Could be pretty cool.

Thanks Owen.

Brent

6:25 AM  
Blogger Jungle Love said...

Next question is whether or not you can use this blog posting to influence speakers. I wonder what website, blog, organization you could get involved in. Perhaps you could write a presentation on this topic that could be presented at a speakers convention? Or you could run a quick workshop at a University for professors? Or you could hook up with Toastmasters. Thoughts? Would love to help you with that presentation - workshop. Workshop would probably be better.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Glavin said...

This comment has been removed because it linked to malicious content. Learn more.

9:36 PM  

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