Motivation, Hollywood style

Lots of my favorite movies illustrate motivation principles. Runaway JuryA Civil Action, The Insider,  The Rainmaker, Quiz Show. Among documentaries, An Inconvenient Truth and Sicko.

Runaway Jury explores jury tampering. Near the climax, John Cusack’s character encourages an ex-Marine opposing him on the jury to express his view. He knows that stifling the guy’s opinion will make it stronger. So he eggs the guy on, until he’s left out on a limb and alienated from the rest of the jurors. If Cusack had directly confronted the idea, the opponent would have won the argument. And so it is when we are trying to persuade: if we foster an authentic airing of the issue, we gain power for the idea we are advocating.

This is not easy, because giving strength to the opponent can damage us, too. With The Insider and The Rainmaker, the heroes can’t win until they allow themselves to be sacrificial victims. There’s something attractive about a person who is willing to risk everything for his beliefs. That’s what these movies illustrate.

In A Civil Action, the hero never actually wins. He loses because the powerful attorney played by Robert Duvall conspires to keep the truth from reaching the jury.

And with Quiz Show, there are no heroes. Television wins, and continues to control the dialog process by holding contrary views off the air. The “communication cataclysm” that has now hit the PR/advertising world is a direct result of the failure of that kind of media power, and the ascendancy of audience power in its place.

In the documentary realm, lots of major films tend not to be good motivators.

Think back to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. Though I loved the film and agreed with it, many of my conservative friends (yes, I try to get along with Cs and Ls!) just laughed it off. I believe the reasons are two-fold: (1) by letting the director make the movie into a personal crusade, Al made it easy for conservatives to dismiss. (2) When the facts were flowing, contrary ideas were ignored or even ridiculed.

If Al had stripped out the intimate personal reflections, and instead brought in other authorities to champion his ideas, he would have sidestepped the personality issue. And if he had aired and then rebutted the contrary “evidence” with facts and logic, his movie would have packed a lot more truth, and been a lot more inconvenient to his opponents.

Michael Moore tends to make similar mistakes. In my view Sicko worked the best of any of his movies to date, because he kept his own personality out of the first half of the film. By then, the audience was bonding to those heroes of 9/11 who couldn’t get health insurance. But then the humorous stunts, the in-your-face trips to France and Cuba, ate away at the persuasive capital he had built . I didn’t mind… but my hunch is many viewers were offended. The approach dishonored the audience. Is anyone watching Sicko now, during the current health care debate? I doubt it — even though it has a lot of good things to say.

To motivate with integrity, make even one-way presentations feel like a dialog!

How to motivate with video 2: Six ways to inform the mind

Here are 6 tips on keeping our content informative … without preaching:

  1. Talk like you’ve been listening. Today we need the audience’s permission to present our movie.  So approach them with a listening attitude — a perceptible sensitivity to why they may be troubled, baffled, or bored.
  2. Acknowledge the barriers, their questions. This is really the first M of  motivation. All the arguments must solve their mysteries, uncover their secret treasures.
  3. Blow up your “talking points”. A boxer doesn’t go into the ring with a rehearsed choreography. The match evolves one punch at a time.  Let the argument incorporate their best defense of our best argument — not straw men. The most disappointing project I’ve ever been associated with involved a client who had a major PR problem, but chose to leave out the real nitty gritty issues for fear of upsetting the audience. Assess what your audience cares about, and talk frankly about “the elephant in the living room.”
  4. Enthusiasm, yes. Ridicule, no. Why do people like talk radio? I think it’s because they’re passionate about their message. Education tends to make people broad-minded … and less passionate. But appropriate emotion feels right. Use it, clearly and fairly. If you’re self-aware, you can avoid manipulating the audience.
  5. Understatement is more powerful than “power”. Use kind, understated approaches. And when it must deal a blow to their opinions, pull the punch if possible. Because in reality it’s not like boxing at all… it’s more like a first date or a 10th anniversary dinner with a spouse who has “issues”. We need to address the issues and yet we need to avoid offense: not PC, but not cocky either. The audience really is in the driver’s seat, and if we want to get to first base, demonstrate that we care, understand, and honor them.
  6. Gather strength from your opponents. Like I said, it’s really not a boxing match. It might, however, involve Tai Chi. In this gentler form of combat, you use the leverage created by your opponents moves, to bend his energy away from your hurt.

Contrary to popular opinion, the most important part of presenting is the intellectual.

Mad Man

Mad Man

There’s a myth that people don’t care about ideas. Yep, the Dullsville slums are huge and scary, but thankfully there’s a lot of enlightened folks around, too. While I hate the tactics of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk,  one thing that guys like Rush and Glenn Beck have proven is that there’s an enormous appetite for emotional talk about issues. Ideas can be entertaining.

So instead of cueing the violins and trying to schmooze our way toward persuasion, I have found that it’s really important to address the emotions behind the facts … and lay ideational groundwork in a systematic, transparent way.

Here are two examples of the intellectual part of a motivational presentation. The first excerpt is from a video shown to Ohio Wesleyan alumni. This section deals passionately with the challenges all colleges are facing. The premise comes straight from H.G. Wells:

The case we are making here is that alumni can be proud because of OWU’s commitment to serving a very needy world. While the claim is presented with emotion, I think it displays an attitude that the idea is more important than the institution. We’re not whipping up tribal loyalty, but issuing a call to arms for a moral principle.

The second excerpt is a simple sales video aimed at accounting teachers. Here, we use humor and surprise. But the fabric of the piece is a careful set of arguments based on the hot buttons that the audience told us they cared about. For example, they were unhappy with the old Glencoe software. In the first minute, the nerdy alter-ego jumps in with “Much Better Software”. It’s an informative presentation wrapped in an entertaining bundle. The substance of the product was authentically built in response to their requests.

In the next week I’ll write about the third M, Melding with the Heart… the emotional part of motivation.

A concession to techno talk

So, yes, the thinking is what counts. But what about tools?

Well, I am a cameraman along with my other duties, and as a cameraman I like a camera that responds to my efforts and gives me a product that I can use. Lately, that has been the JVC HD-100 hi-def camera. It happens to be a very popular camera right now, for good reason. It’s got an amazing picture and it handles well, not like a lot of the other hi-def cameras that have crowded into the market.

And it happens that Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, also happens to own and love this camera. You can see an interview of him talking about the convenience and utility of this camera as a documentary workhorse here.

Is it perfect? No. Is it the only camera I use? No way. But for a lot of what we do, it’s a very useful tool for the arsenal.