October 11, 2008

A flowchart of "why you should care"

A friend of mine works for a community service organization. A new staff member in the program recently gave a talk to a fraternity on why they should get involved.

My friend described her colleague's methods of persuasion, including (her words) the "flowchart of 'why you should care'" that her colleague displayed, with graphics linking all of the relevant -- and irrelevant -- local organizations into a complex web.

Then she described the academic research paper her colleague used as a handout. I began to pity the frat brothers, who I'm sure sat very politely through this presentation, then promptly forgot everything they were told.

Put yourself in the audience's shoes for a minute. You're a young male college student, giving up an hour of your free time to hear a talk about community service. The speaker shows you charts and graphs and hands you a research paper "for more information."

What's the likelihood that you're going to be engaged enough to retain any of this information, or read a research paper that's not even required for any of your classes? What's the likelihood that you're going to be excited about joining up?

Where did this speaker go wrong? She didn't pay attention to her audience. She didn't think about who they are, what their needs are, and what they would be interested in.

Even if she didn't have much time to do research on the group, as she is new to the program, what's the easiest way to get her message across without too much effort? Stories.

Tell stories about the people her program serves.

Tell stories about how volunteers have helped and are helping these people.

Tell stories expressing how rewarding and fun it is to volunteer.

Ask the audience to share their own stories of volunteering in the community.

Hopefully, my friend will take the new staff member under her wing and teach her what she needs to know to reach her young audiences. Otherwise, she's got a long road ahead.

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