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It’s Not Enough to Represent a Just Cause – How Can You Reach Your Audience?


I attended a panel discussion of a group of senior executives this morning.  The moderator asked the panel a question about employee retention.  One executive responded that he works to make sure his staff understands how their responsibilities fit into the bigger picture of the company.  He said, “We’re not curing cancer, but what we do is still pretty important.”  Another panelist agreed in the approach and reiterated, “Well we’re not curing cancer, but it’s important to our clients.”  One executive on the panel actually did work for a company who helps physicians cure cancer – I guess the others were feeling less than adequate.

It is important that leaders help employees understand how their job fits into the bigger picture of the company.  It’s important for people to feel they’re making a contribution toward a greater good.  But when it comes to presentations, there’s a danger with being too emotionally wrapped up in your message.

Emotional Appeal Overload

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re one of those people who works on a cure for cancer.  Is there anything you could possible say that could be wrong?  “Sorry for not following up with on that email.  I was busy curing cancer.”  Maybe not.   Maybe you’ve got a free pass because you’re doing such important work.  But to motivate an audience to take an action, simply representing a just cause isn’t enough.  The reason is emotional appeal overload.

Let’s face it.  There are sixteen gazillion just causes in the world.  Help a wounded warrior.  Rescue a child from slave trafficking.  Save the rain forest.  There is an abundance of amazing organizations doing good work toward just causes.  But it’s also easy as the person being exposed to all these just causes to get emotionally overloaded and shut down.  “I already feed a poor child in India.  Do I need to do anything else?”  Sure it’s hard to look a person in the eye and say “no” to their worthy cause.  But in a presentation situation, it’s far easier for the individual audience members to retreat into the anonymity of a group.  If you want to reach the audience, regardless of how just your cause is, you need to meet them where they’re at.

What Do They Care About

Understand what’s important to the members of your audience.  What are the messages that members of the group send out about themselves?  How is your message aligned with how they see themselves?  People are selfish, but we don’t want to be made to feel guilty about it.  We want to do the right thing, but we already assume we’re doing what’s right in the best way we know how.  And we will stick to our perspective when we fear we’ll lose face, even though underneath, we may feel uneasy and fear that we are wrong.  Simply beating someone over the head with your message is not enough.  We all crave meaning to our lives.  But we don’t want to be made to feel selfish, or stupid, or poorly because our meaning in life isn’t as meaningful as yours.

People want to change but they need to be given a way to change that preserves their dignity, is congruent with who they are as people, and isn’t so hard to do that they know they won’t do it.  Provide your audience with this information, and you’ll have a better chance of making a different when it matters.

Maybe you won’t cure cancer.  But what you do does make a difference.

What Have You Found that Works?

How have you been able to reach an audience and persuade them to take action.  Love to hear your comments!