I’m continuing to mull over the 1969 classic book on making presentations, “Moving Mountains, by Henry Boettinger. A key premise of the book is that every presentation consists of three parts – the Statement of the Problem, the Development of the Problem and the Resolution of the Problem. The thrust of the book is getting agreement of the listeners that the problem is indeed a problem and that the arguments of the development lead to a resolution of the problem.
However there is something terribly inadequate with this approach, because even if the listener agrees that the problem is a problem and that the proposed resolution does resolve the problem, there is nothing in the conclusion that leads the listeners to do anything. They might agree intellectually with the speaker, but there is nothing to lead to action. It doesn’t move the listeners to any action conclusions.
By contrast, what seems to me central to a presentation that gets people into action is a very different logical structure. It also has three main components: My Story, Your Story and Our Story. Thus My Story – the story that I the presenter tell - leads to Your Story, i.e. the listeners’ story which the listeners themselves create, which turn leads on to a new story – Our Story, i.e. what we are going to do together. The presentation has a narrative thread built into it, in which the listeners’ action is integral.
This is a very current problem. Matt Miller writing in the New York Times on June 4, 2005 asks poignantly, “Is Persuasion Dead?” and describes the ineffectiveness of public debate to change anyone’s fundamental opinion. He refers to abstract arguments. It never seems to occur to him that persuasion based on abstract arguments has never worked.
I’m reminded of how ancient a problem this is in my current reading of Homer’s Iliad. In that classic poem, which tells of the Greek’s invasion of Troy. They had been expecting a quick victory and then would come home as heroes. Instead, the war has dragged on for ten years and there are many arguments as to whether it makes sense to keep fighting the war when so many men have died and the goal itself hardly seems worth the cost. Many rational arguments are put forward as to why the Greeks should stop fighting and go home. But the rational arguments are brushed aside, as everyone on the Greek side is in the grip of a powerful – Greece is going to win a thrilling victory. So long as no new story supplants the current story, the war drags on. Sound familiar?