Best Practices: The Curse of Advocacy

Anyone who has become totally enchanted by a certain method of doing something—training, teaching, and learning, for example—knows that there is a moment of truth to be confronted: that moment when we become firm advocates of that method to the exclusion of all others.
Watching a seven-minute video forwarded by a colleague from the Mt. Diablo Chapter of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) this morning, I was struck by how different the presentation style used in this Make A Difference video was from what I’ve been trying to use and promote. The video is somewhat staid in its presentation style (background music which feels manipulative because it is so clearly designed to elicit a specific emotional reaction; stock photos which do little more than mirror what the narrator is saying–a jazz musician I know refers to this as “Mickey Mousing,”; the words of the story appearing on each slide exactly at the moment that the narrator voices them, as if we are watching a captioned video of a library storytime; and the narrator’s voice itself, in a style reminiscent of children’s storytime sessions).
As the story progressed, I kept creating a distance between myself and the presentation by paying attention to how it was being done and wondering whether the story itself were even true. And at the end, when we learn that the story is actually an adaptation of a piece of fiction published in a magazine more than 30 years ago, we can’t help but feel cheated and manipulated by the entire experience.
On the other hand, the presentation is somehow engaging. My ASTD colleague and I wanted to believe that the protagonist in this story had acted in the way the narrator described, and that her actions made the life-affirming difference which was described. The story remains powerful and sticky whether we believe it or not because we are so drawn in by stories.
As frequent readers of Infopeople’s Infoblog know, there are lots of interesting training techniques being tried and implemented, and some of them, like the Beyond Bullet Points style of presentation, can be effective in a hybrid form as well as in their more pure (in this case, absolutely no bullet points on PowerPoint slides) versions.
What the Make a Difference video reminds us is that even a technique which is the polar opposite of a method we admire and are using can be useful if we look beyond its obvious weaknesses. Even if the execution is less than perfect, its reliance on a great training technique—storytelling—can remain part of our training toolkit if we don’t fall into the curse of advocacy by adhering to one style or method to the exclusion of all others.

One thought on “Best Practices: The Curse of Advocacy

  1. Wow, you got me. I have read that story before, but it still makes me tear up. If the story is good enough, it overrides the ineffectiveness or lameness of the delivery method – you’re right about that!

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