Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some Minor Musings About Commuincation, Education, and High School Debate

The Web may never replace the physical classroom, but like public schools it gives away what many businesses pay experts thousands of dollars to tell them.  Today's prime example is Joe Carter's column "Lessons of an Influence Seeker" at First Things.  Carter's observations about influence apply to nearly any effort to communicate.

First, Carter advises that one should "[k]now your 'great objects.'"  The key communication takeaway here is "[u]nless you can clarify to yourself what you want to affect, you can't make it clear to anyone else."  The most difficult task to teach students writing a paper or debaters constructing a case is developing a clear thesis.  Once students can make an idea clear to themselves, they usually can communicate it to teachers or debate judges.

Next, Carter asserts "[m]edia coverage is not the same as influence."  Most students or bloggers for that matter don't have to worry about "media coverage."  All of us, however, do need to remember that popularity, "media coverage," does not mean one is communicating effectively, having "influence."  Carter elaborates from his personal experience: "When the readers and listeners folded the newspaper, closed the magazine, and turned off the radio they completely forgot about my message."  He concludes, "Regularity and rapport—the two keys to influencing hearts and minds—cannot be squeezed into an occasional sound bite."

For debaters, the message is clear.  Leave good points on the flow so the judge has something to remember.  Further, saying "cross apply the Mead in '98 card because the warrants are sweet" is a sound bite that may not be enough to influence a judge to vote for you.  Students turning in an AP essay need to remember that one good line doesn't necessarily earn the paper an "A."

The last two points from Carter's column that apply to the classroom and the debate round need little elaboration:  "Keep your pride in check" and "Think Long Term."

The biggest takeaway from Carter's post is "[f]ind the right balance for your message and your audience."  It probably should be turned into a poster and taped to the wall of every debate room in the country.

Finally, I think I need to read these paragraphs once a week.
Lesson #4: If you want to have a bigger influence, start by thinking smaller—So you’re not a teacher, a pastor, or a professional writer. You don’t have a forum to spread the message of your great objects. How do you get started? Here’s what you do: (1) start a blog, (2) write at least five days a week, (3) build an audience of 150 readers.

As Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book The Tipping Point, the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship is about 150. In blogging terms, this means that when your readership grows, your ability to have a truly influential connection with them decreases significantly. This is not to say that you should attempt to limit your readership to 150 readers. But if you want to maximize your personal influence, focus on establishing strong bonds and deep interaction with a core group.

Consider what might happen if each of these 150 readers read and thought about what you wrote on your blog for five minutes every day. Five minutes may seem insignificant, but it can have an exponential effect. With only five minutes every day, five days a week, you will have the reader’s attention for almost an entire day—22 hours—every year. That’s an astounding opportunity for influence.

The question then becomes how you’ll use this opportunity. Your audience is giving you two of their most precious possessions—their time and their attention. What are you doing with this gift?

Some—even perhaps most—of your time should be spent building rapport with your audience. If all you ever write about is related to your great objects, it will be a challenge to hold their attention. But if you rarely—or never—mention your core message, then you have squandered your opportunity. Find the right balance for your message and your audience.

1 comment:

caheidelberger said...

150—interesting number! An associated trick: picking the right 150 to maximize the spread of your influence?