- Author: Mark Bolda
I had an interesting conversation a number of weeks ago with my boss, Assistant Vice Provost Mark Lagrimini, concerning how we extensionists present information in a format that successfully changes the way people think about and approach a subject.
To Mark I shared my long running thesis that we as experts should address emotional reactions, as some topics within our milieu of work can induce, with not only empirically derived evidence, but also with emotional responses to be more effective in getting our point across.
Take for example a discussion I participated in at a Board meeting of the California Strawberry Commission some time ago. Their public relations group was discussing how they are attempting to convince consumers that conventionally produced strawberries are free from pesticides and are safe to eat (of course they are, really!). However, the tack presented was to deploy scientifically derived information, but I countered this by saying that what is driving people's concern of these berries is fear. Fear is an emotion and using only logic and facts to assuage that I firmly stated will not be successful.
Instead, fear needs to be countered by inspiring the gut instinct of trust, and trust in human beings comes from a lot more angles than just numbers and scientific facts.
This isn't exactly radical thinking. Picture the following. You are on a flight over the ocean and suddenly the airplane enters some fairly powerful turbulence. This shakes a lot of people up, so what will it take to calm people down? Do you notice that usually at this point the pilot comes on the PA system in an easy tone and explains it's all going to be ok? Might be a good time to buckle up, we'll be through this storm in a bit, or maybe they'll change course a tad and fly around it. Does he or she launch into a lengthy explanation on the physics of flying and the engineering of the plane that is made to withstand this sort of disturbance? Of course not. Knowing that a uniformed pilot, an expert with thousands upon thousands of hours of experience and training, is up there calmly at the helm does a lot to reassure us that all is well.
Ditto is goes with those of us, researchers, PCA's, and farm managers, who are engaged in working with growers. I find it highly unusual that our audiences and clientele are convinced by a one off presentation by someone they barely know and sense hasn't worked with the subject for very long, no matter how solid the research and how polished the presentation. Confidence in the expert only builds over experience and time, which includes the creation of a good track record, construction of a good reputation and feeling of trust that follows.