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Two good bad examples.

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Whenever we deliver media training to spokespeople anywhere in Australia we make one thing perfectly clear – examples RULE. One common weakness of spokespeople of all varieties (and experience) is waiting too long to deliver an example to illustrate the point. Even worse; examples are often omitted from the interview entirely.

speaker training - examples

The future: two refridgerators deep in conversation.

Why are examples so special? Well, if rational, reasonable arguments were enough, you’d be out of work and living in a perfect world. After all, we’ve all been told to read to the kids, lay off the booze, and turn off the lights a thousand times but it ain’t enough. Reasons are rational. Examples help connect emotionally and help persuade and cajole.

Also, concepts can be fuzzy – examples clarify.

You must spend time developing rock solid, slam-dunk examples before you meet the media. Examples must be broad enough to appeal to your audience and rigorous enough to withstand some skepticism.

Sunday April 1 on RN’s Future Tense we heard a spokesperson miss the mark. Mary-Anne Williams of the University of Sydney was talking about IBM-funded research investigating how appliances might automatically ‘talk’ to each other in the future, creating better outcomes for us humans. (We’ll just settle for our personal jetpacks, thanks.)

It’s all about IBM’s supposed vision for smarter cities and a smarter world. This concept is called the Internet of Things. This is a cutesy curiosity-inspiring title.

Is it clear to you what the whole Internet of Things concept is all about? Probably not and that is where Mary-Anne’s example could have helped. So what did she say to inform and inspire?

“We’re building a framework such that these devices will be able to communicate with one another. They will be able to ask each other what state they’re in. So the car will be able to ask the refrigerator if the [fridge] door is open or closed, and the refrigerator will be able to ask the car where it is right now. Is it parked near the office, is it going past a 7/11—things like that.

 Hmmm…anyone hungry for this brave new world? Everyone at least understand it? She continued:

” I mean is it useful if your refrigerator contacts the car or emails you on your mobile phone to collect milk on your way home?” Well frankly – probably not and this certainly isn’t the sort of thing taxpayers expect universities to be researching. Isn’t this the domain of some app developer in San Francisco or Bangalore or the Sunshine Coast? Doesn’t this sound twee, trivial and bollocksfull? That whole fridge-will-know-when-you-run-out-of stuff has already been around for two decades. Surely there is a better, stronger, more robust example to give.

Mary-Anne did provide another example – cars could be trained to record how multiple drivers prefer their seat, mirrors, radio, temperature etc and automatically adjust when each driver takes the wheel. Problem #1 some cars already have this. #2 Isn’t this the domain of car makers? #3 Do we really need this?

Sadly the reporter wasn’t suitably skeptical to test his interviewee so we’ll never know if there’s more to this than some national airtime promoting IBM.  

Some key criteria for any example you use:

  • does it clarify the concept?
  • can enough people relate to it?
  • can it withstand rigourous challenges?
  • does it tackle some negative or false perceptions?
  • does it sound twee?

Twee instantly makes you sound weak, leaving your argument diminshed.

Hootville has recently heard a twee example too often in the world of disability and mental health. It is given to explain person-centred funding in which the client is given more control on how she spends her dollars. We have repeatedly heard it explained thus:

“The new model gives the person with a disability the freedom to spend their money as they see fit to suit them. They may spend their money getting their dog walked / a hair cut / a massage / going to the movies. Person-centred funding gives them the choice.”

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Oh to be the recipient of all this lovely person-centred funding.

Everytime we hear a spokesperson give this sort of example we hear civilians everywhere emit a low “Hmmmmmm.” Followed by: “What if they all waste it on massages and facials?” Followed by: “I don’t know if this is such a good idea.”

A less twee example: “Many people need carers to prepare themselves to go out. These people find that there are not enough services working nights and weekends which is when many of them work and socialise. At the moment people with disabilities are forced to choose between services that the government funds. Under person-centred funding if enough people wish to spend their money on a late night carer service a provider might start such a service. No bureaucrat needs to fund it. New demands will create new services just like in other parts of the economy.”

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