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ClimateBites offers metaphors, soundbites, quotes, humor, cartoons, stories and graphics for everybody who talks about climate change and wants their message to stick.

Climate Communication Tips
A touchstone for tone. . . and your real audience

“When you counsel someone, you should appear to be reminding him of something he had forgotten, not of the light he was unable to see.”

           — Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658)

Gracian’s aphorism is a nice touchstone for “tone,” which is so crucial to winning over an audience.   In a debate with a skeptic, keep in mind that the key audience is not your opponent; it’s the silent onlookers.  Focusing on the skeptic across the table is like a trial lawyer trying to persuade the opposing attorney.    Forget him!    Stay focused on the jury, who are listening to both your words and your “music.”

Assume that the “jury” includes at least one partially-open minded person, who is trying to decide whom to believe.    Often as not, they will decide whether to trust you based on your tone, attitude, values, identity and likeability, as much or more than your facts.

Listen to some of the masters in Great Presentations/Home Runs!.    They all stay friendly, calm, confident,  and undefensive, no matter what is thrown at them.    And when correcting some misinformation, they are gentle with other people’s self-esteem.

The Gracian quote, from The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)  is worth keeping in mind when answering skeptics.

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One Response to Climate Communication Tips
A touchstone for tone. . . and your real audience

  1. Amazing bite. I really liked your advice, especially the part “In a debate with a skeptic, keep in mind that the key audience is not your opponent; it’s the silent onlookers. Focusing on the skeptic across the table is like a trial lawyer trying to persuade the opposing attorney. Forget him! Stay focused on the jury, who are listening to both your words and your “music.”

    That advice reminded me of something I present in my own personal climate change program. I tell skeptics of climate change and even have it written in my power point: “You are all welcome here at my program. Re-solvers of climate change like me can learn a lot from you.”

    In my next slide, I then challenge them with the Frank Zappa quote, “The mind is like a parachute: it works only when it is open.” I feel like I have had good success with friends who are skeptical of climate change with this quote. I challenge them to look at my program with an open mind. They then seem to let down their guard a little, become more relaxed, and become more open to what I have to say.

    Of course, if someone refuses to keep an open mind about the evidence of climate change, as I learned at the recent climate change conference I attended, talking to them can be a huge waste of energy. They have already made up their mind. Talking to them would be like blowing as hard as you could into a closed parachute in an open field with no wind blowing. You then wonder why the parachute is not opening by the strength of your breath.

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