State of the oration – a wish for 2019

Our recent past

The last two years have been communication shockers. Debate on political and social matters have become shouting matches. Reason has by and large been trashed by the shouty people and replaced with unsubstantiated assertions, enthymemes, and mendacity.

This is a pretty black picture – but whether one looks West or East or across many European countries (most notably the UK) – the pursuit of truth and considered argument has been put under intense pressure, and often attacked as being a conspiracy of fear. This is a tactic used for example by Climate Change Deniers and by ardent Brexit campaigners to undermine the arguments and amassed evidence of their opponents.

False argument

Particularly discouraging is the use of false (or at least incomplete) argument. Caroline Lucas – of whom I am normally something of a fan – seemed to me to do this when tweeting about the state of the railways this week (the 3.1% fare increase). https://twitter.com/CarolineLucas on Jan 2nd.

It is clearly true that the last year has been, for some railways users, chaotic and unsatisfactory. It is also self-evident that a national transport infrastructure needs appropriate investment. It is also arguable – but probably right – that the structure of the industry is not optimal. And the failures in the franchising process points to a need for radical overhaul/replacement.

Some facts

It is a fact that the industry was privatised in the mid 90s. A further fact that the infrastructure management component (Railtrack) was brought back into public ownership as Network Rail less than a decade later.

The solution

But I can see no root cause analysis which would point to the renationalisation of the railways as an obvious way forward. British Rail – the state owned predecessor – was no advertisement for quality, cost-effectiveness, reliability or investment. In fact, quite the opposite. “We’re getting there” was the most optimism it could muster. And would you put the future of the railways in the hands of a Department and Secretary of State who puts the entire blame for this year’s 3.1% fare increase on the unions?

The thing is, I do think there is benefit in having a considered assessment of different structural and investment options. But boiling everything down to a question of state or part-private ownership loses most or all of the flavour.

Why rhetoric has got a bad name

My subject and interest is communication and persuasion – what I have always thought of as the noble art of rhetoric. It upsets me that the term is most commonly used now as a put-down – “just rhetoric”. I am not surprised though, because many of our politicians do not even try to substantiate their arguments, relying instead upon disingenuity and appeals to prejudice – the “as we all know…….” statement. Assertions without a body of proof are indeed “just rhetoric” and that makes up most of what we hear from our politicians and read in our newspapers. In fact it is much worse than the bland “just rhetoric” label – it is actually sophistry. The passing of Paddy Ashdown, a politician who took pains to explain and exemplify his arguments, paints the appalling quality of the current political stock in high relief.

A wish for 2019

I thought a lot about my own company and what I do. I train and coach others to be more compelling, more influential and persuasive. But there was precious little in my marketing materials or course overviews which really focused on truthfulness and integrity. The conclusion dawned on me:

  • Influence without sincerity is tyranny
  • Persuasion without honesty is manipulation

So let us do what we can in 2019, each in our own way, to demonstrate sincere influence and honest persuasion.

 

Kipper© Mark 2 has arrived and training certified

Thank you for the thousands of reactions to my recent blog about the Kipper© communication technique. Great to see so many fans of the technique out there reflecting its power in persuasive communication.

Developments

If you’re feeling a bit rusty though, I have launched “Kipper©-Mark2” as part of the much-acclaimed ‘Getting Your Message Across’ training course which covers design and delivery of team messages (pitches) using the TeamKipper©. We have also extended the technique to running meetings – virtually, as well as face to face – using the MeetingKipper©. If you’ve ever had a painful teleconference call (and who hasn’t?) let the updated Kipper© change the dynamic for you completely.

Contacts for training

For refresher training or to roll out to others in your organisation, contact me https://bit.ly/2pGvmiT or my certified associate Amanda MacAuley http://bit.ly/2GODFPZ .

With the Getting Your Message Across course now CPD certified, it’s a great time to bring your communication skills bang up to date and unleash the power of the Kipper© in your organisation.

Licensing

Options are also available to be licensed as a trainer in the Kipper for those wishing to deliver training themselves. If you’ve been trained in the Kipper you can use the Kipper. If you want to teach the Kipper you need a licence. Applications are welcome. Note – I do this to maintain quality and integrity and to avoid the distortions of the past.

The Kipper© technique – for real

Why this blog post?

I have over recent months come across materials which show that the Kipper© technique for message design which I have treasured and taught for many years (and now own as Intellectual Property) has become distorted by some over time. This is not altogether surprising, and I do not undervalue the efforts of those who have promulgated the power of the technique. But, I thought it best to attempt some restoration and return the Kipper© to its origin, purpose and full effectiveness; and avoid any further descent into the emergence of an incompetent fish with few powers of persuasion!

Background

I have been using the Kipper© technique for over 20 years. William Macnair was the original creator and I will always be in his debt for his brilliant construction of ideas. At the beginning of 2018 he legally assigned his Intellectual Property to me and my company and I remain committed to its full and faithful promulgation. However….. it’s a bit more complicated.

Complication

Some of my blog postings on effective persuasion in communication have referred to the Kipper© framework and I assumed a reader’s understanding of it. But clearly, if readers have been mis-taught (or mis-remember) and therefore hold a different model in their minds, my builds upon it could create further confusion. So, I thought I should set matters straight and include here what the Kipper© model really is.

Further explanation and coverage of the derivatives of the Simple Kipper© (e.g. TeamKipper©, MeetingKipper©) are available in the courses I run, details of which can be obtained in the first instance from my website: http://www.garethbunnconsulting.co.uk/courses

The true Kipper© model

The Kipper© is a tool primarily designed for (and based upon) deliberative rhetoric using the spoken word – persuasion to future action.

  • Its focus is the creation of consistent and persistent memory.
  • It has three parts: Tail, Middle and Head.
  • That sequence of design (Tail first) is fundamental to the technique.

 

Part 1 = The Tail

In designing a message/presentation we should start with defining what our last few words (7 or less) are going to be – the Big Idea. It is this – usually (but not always) a “call to action” – which will drive the behaviour we seek.

In the Tail is also the Summary – this immediately precedes the Big Idea – and is represented by the black dot at the base of the spine. The Summary is a word for word repetition of the Ideas in the Middle (note – without any labels or evidence).

Part 2 = The Middle

The next part to design is the Middle.

There are two sides: Ideas on the left and Evidence on the right.

The cognitive Rule of 3 applies – we can have up to 3 Ideas. We define the Ideas first that will lead to the Big Idea, and then work out what the most compelling evidence for each will be.

You can see from the diagram that each bone of the Middle consists of a Label, Idea and Evidence (easy to remember as “LIE”). The label will however only be forthcoming when the Head is designed, and Structure labels defined.

Each bone (necessarily both left and right), can be further decomposed to a lower level of 2 or 3 sub-bones, but you will need to do more work on structure and signposting.

Part 3 = The Head

Now, the Head is a very important part of the Kipper©, designed to get the audience to a point when they can effectively listen to your message. The diagram shows the different components, their numbered sequence and very brief definitions of what they are.

There is a lot of subtlety in the Head which will determine whether the presentation will achieve its objectives. It is, after all, all about the audience!

Use a rigorous Kipper© if you seek a persuasive result

I hope the above explanation is helpful in putting rigour back into the Kipper© technique. If you have come across a version which has a different anatomy, please substitute it with this correct version, and refer the purveyor tactfully to this blog. Please also remember that this Intellectual Property is owned by my company. If you have been trained in the Kipper© you can use the Kipper© . If you want to teach the Kipper© you need a licence. Applications are welcome.

Post-truth and our duty of care

Looking back

Well, my last post to this blog was a week before the famous, or infamous, referendum in June 2016. And my analysis then, although accurate in part (especially about the role of pathos or emotions in the vote) put too much weight upon the role of ethos – the standing and credibility of the speakers. I suppose that the tactic of discrediting “experts” as a group would have eroded the impact of this particular, and normally most important, lever of persuasion.

My June post was a reflection on the paucity of facts to support the referendum decision. Since then, “post-fact” and “post-truth” have become frequently used expressions, any acceptance of which we all should, I believe, find truly alarming.

A duty of care

Every one of us, but especially the Prime Minister and other members of the Government and of Parliament, has a duty of care to the nation and its citizens. This means that we and they should not, by act or omission, do anything which could reasonably be foreseen would cause injury to a neighbour. To exercise this duty demands that we do our homework by searching for facts, forecasts, likely outcomes and balances of probability. This is the essence of “evidence-based policy” much vaunted by some, if not all, politicians and their advisors.

Implication

This creates something of a conundrum. In a rapidly changing world and political environment, whatever the best predictions might have been some months ago, it is very possible that the assumptions then deployed might now not hold good and a current policy based upon them might now reasonably be foreseen to be damaging to the nation. And if the Government makes such a discovery, it has a Duty of Care to change course; at the very least to tell the truth to Parliament and the electorate.

The binary world

But, this word truth is a problem in our world which, urged on by some disingenuous politicians and commentators, increasingly adopts a polarised, binary view. Factions are labelled left or right, pro or anti, East or West, there are believers and non-believers, something is either right or wrong, good or bad. And we had to vote to leave or remain! I guess for some things a clear and binary distinction is useful, but I worry a lot about its simplistic over-use.

Theory of Mean

I was (figuratively) thumbing through some materials on my PC when I came across an extract from a book I had read on Ethics. The extract concerned Aristotle’s Theory of Mean. The basic tenet of this is that virtue does not lie at an extreme but sits at a point between two extremes – the mean. The most quoted example takes the concept of “courage”. If asked what the opposite of “courage” is, most people would probably say “cowardice” and vice versa. Actually, the opposite of “cowardice” would be best represented as “recklessness”. “Courage” lies in between those two extremes.

The search for truth

It strikes me that the Theory of Mean has something to offer our concept of truth. Fact and truth are not synonymous. Facts can (and should where they are available) inform an opinion or proposition. What one holds to be a truth is often a distillation of many facts, opinions and propositions. So, perhaps we can use the Theory of Mean as a template or guiding principle, and search for truth within and amongst the cloud of possibilities, rather than assume it is to be found at an extremity, on one side of a binary argument.

 

 

 

 

EU referendum rhetoric unpicked

Facts, statistics and lies

Much has been said about wanting the facts about the EU leave or stay referendum. But we have a problem here – there really are none of any substance.  The few that may be regarded as facts relevant to the referendum – for instance what it costs the UK to be a member of the EU – have been used in a way which can only be described as disingenuous.  Essentially, all we have is speculation about risks and, occasionally, probability.

So perhaps we should unwind a little and see what is going on in this murky world of political rhetoric.

Rhetoric

Rhetoric is a much maligned word. It is the art and craft of persuasion, generally applied to the spoken word. Good deliberative rhetoric involves expressing opinions or assertions (which are necessarily arguable), and then proving their validity with evidence. One of the best political proponent of this during my lifetime has been Paddy Ashdown.

Sophistry is deceitful rhetoric where lies and invention are used instead. Any observer of the EU referendum campaign(s) might well conclude that it is this that makes up a large part of the messaging. Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian 14 May 2016 provides good coverage of the lies and distortions that have been used in the US in the presidential candidate race and over here in the UK on the EU referendum.

The three levers of persuasion

But back to the problem – there are precious few facts. It is worth thinking about the three classical levers of persuasion: logos (the argument, rationale); pathos (the sentiment, emotions); ethos (the bearing or standing of the speaker).

Logos

Logos is tricky in this case because of the absence of reliable facts and figures. Other forms of evidence might include logic, deduction, analogy, example, anecdote, quotation, testimony. One cannot win a rational argument by making an assertion and then pretending to prove the point with another even bigger assertion. I say “cannot win” but clearly, the undiscerning and the reckless may well be won over in this way. One of the most powerful forms of evidence is 3rd party (i.e. independent) and witness testimony. In other words, and as an example, we should want to know what the Governor of the Bank of England and the President of the Unites States thinks. To suggest that we should only be allowed to hear from the core mud-slinging combatants in the leave and stay campaigns is to deprive us of the evidence we need to hear and assess.

Pathos

So, on to pathos. A commentator on Radio 4 on 15 May observed – with some concern – that the decision to vote to stay or leave is being taken at an emotional level. But this is not unusual. As Cicero put it – “For people make many more judgements under the influence of hate or affection or partiality or anger or grief or joy or hope or fear or delusion or some other emotion, than on the basis of the truth or an objective rule…”. It is of course the emotions that both campaigns are attempting to excite – the main one being fear – but in a heady mix of chauvinism and misanthropy and a worrying disregard for the truth.

Ethos

So how can we make a balanced and thoughtful decision? Let us turn to the final lever of persuasion – ethos – the lever which Aristotle identified as the “most important” in oratory. What it implies is that we are more likely to accept the opinions and arguments of those who we believe are credible, that have authority and a reputation for integrity. In the absence of a clear logos and wishing to avoid making such a monumental decision purely based upon pathos it is I believe the credibility of the people involved in the two opposing campaigns that has the greatest significance. I would include also the ethos of those others outside the campaign teams who choose to make comment on the merits or otherwise of a Brexit.

Of course, when it comes to the vote, I suspect the majority will be swayed by emotion rather than anything else. But given the paucity of facts, I would suggest that the credibility of the speakers will be, and arguably should be, a prime ingredient.

A reflection

I remember talking to an elderly Peer – a cross-bencher in the House of Lords some years ago. We were having lunch in the Palace of Westminster dining room at a time when a number of votes were taking place. At the appropriate times he would excuse himself, go to cast his vote, and return after a few minutes. I asked him how he made his decisions on what appeared to be quite complex matters. He said “I don’t. I just watch who goes which way, and follow the ones I trust – or mistrust the least.”

I suspect that may be what this referendum will ultimately be about. But what a shocking way to make such a momentous decision.

 

 

 

Duty of care in the supply chain – who has the need?

Purpose

I do want this blog to stimulate some discussion and I hope legal opinion. Mind you, legality is a much lesser issue than ethics or morality. I simply want to state a case on behalf of SMEs and micro businesses. And it is fundamentally to do with communication.

Honesty and an apology

Do you ever wonder where you sit in a supply chain and why it is that people you would expect would communicate honestly do not? I do, and sometimes feel ashamed of the way in which I treated small companies and individual contractors when I had an Executive role in a big corporate. To all of those to whom I might have shown disrespect in the past I apologise profoundly. I now know what happens and also why – but why is not the subject of this blog.

Treatment of suppliers and CSR

A few years ago a large company to which I am a (very small) supplier insisted that any supplier to them should have a published CSR and Sustainability policy. Although it seemed an onerous expectation of a micro business providing coaching and training services, I did take it seriously and decided to define such a policy for my company. What better than to start with that customer’s own policy statement as a template? I looked at this carefully and decided I could adopt much of it but would go one step better when it came to dealing with my own suppliers and sub-contractors. So, my policy includes this phrase:

“We undertake to offer equivalent or better terms for any sub-contracted resources and we commit to timely payments of their invoices.”

Many of my friends thought that this stance was commercially stupid – I would end up taking the risk on debts from big companies. But I disagreed – and still do. Businesses are ultimately judged in the market by how they treat their suppliers as much as – and I believe ultimately more than – their end customers. This becomes their “ethos”. It reflects what they believe. Simon Sineks’s video about “Starting with Why?” also testifies to the truth of this. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. “

Recent context

The recent publicity about Tesco and their alleged poor historical treatment of their suppliers (including delaying payment of invoices) is testimony to this argument. Press coverage in January 2016 suggested that whereas Tesco had improved behaviours in recent months, there were other upmarket high street names (one that has always been my shopping favourite, oh dear) that lagged behind Tesco’s’ recent commitment to 14 days’ payment terms to their small suppliers.

Customer or supplier

There is, though, another piece of argument that I need to probe. It is the concept of “customer”. It strikes me that, when looking at classical retail structures in a competitive market, the customer supplier relationship is clearly demarked. The customer (actually consumer) has a need or want; the supplier provides against that requirement. In other words, the “need” is with the purchaser. And consumer law backs the purchaser – the person with the need.

But in some commercial relationships, the opposite can apply. If the buyer is a big corporate and the supplier is an SME or micro-business, the need, especially when it comes to communication and a fair commercial relationship, is with the supplier of the product or service.

Illustration

Let me illustrate. I run a micro business providing training and coaching services to a big corporate. I need a high level of trusted communication (and relationship) from that customer so that I can plan my business financially and commercially. (Let us ignore the repeated delays in payment of invoices which are an irritation and cost to me.) The key thing is that an unexpected termination of a rolling contract or repeated cancellations or postponements could have a significant damaging impact upon my company. I believe in this instance that the customer owes a duty of care to the supplier – my company. So, timely communication of requirements and forecast is an obligation upon the purchaser of the products or services I provide to them.

But is that the way we are treated? Unfortunately, it is not. Big corporates are the worst. They care enormously about what their customers think of them (of course it has a direct affect upon their trading) but have little regard for the way they treat their suppliers (especially small ones). And, in this instance, if protection in law is needed, it is protection of the supplier as opposed to the customer that matters.

A reflection

Tesco appears to have recognised its supply chain responsibilities and the importance of their reputation in the wider market. The consulting and technology sector (the one I know best) should turn the same mirror upon itself.

The original Duty of Care legal precedent is worthy of a reminder. It referred to “acts or omissions which could reasonably be foreseen could cause injury to their “neighbour “.  “Neighbour” was broadly drawn and I understand that under English law it applies providing there is a contract in place.  So, “neighbour” includes supplier, does it not?  So, please, on behalf of smaller suppliers – let’s have some Duty of Care!

Sales – putting credentials in their right place

Selling – discovering the right perspective – theirs!

Selling is a form of communication. It should, if it is to be successful, draw upon the art of persuasion – rhetoric. But, from my observations of the way in which companies pitch for business, it would seem that there is often a preoccupation with themselves and their products and services rather than with the client and his issues. This can of course seriously detract from the pitch.

This preoccupation frequently starts early in the sales cycle. There will be the internal pressures to push certain products and services – “strategic offers” is sometimes what they are called. Effort will be expended on establishing what the win themes are and how to differentiate from competitors – often based upon out of date views or a misunderstanding of competitors, laced with some self-denial.

By the way, this usually takes place before there has been any detailed analysis of the potential client’s circumstances, issues and concerns. The result is that these themes are often inward focused and can, without continual and objective refreshment during the sales cycle, become completely detached from the prospective client’s real needs. As my friend Joe Binnion put it – we need to think about “buying themes” rather than just “win themes”.

And, does it not make you wince when you see the last section of the proposal or presentation entitled “Why [insert name of bidding company]?”? It is usually followed by crass regurgitation of those old win themes (sic) or a set of supposed differentiators which sound just like everybody else’s. What is transmitted to the potential buyer is lack of empathy, indifference and arrogance. I have never been convinced that these things will help people buy.

Use of credentials

I wanted to touch on just one symptom of this internal focus – the misplaced and over-use of credentials in a pitch. I use a simple mnemonic “QAEC” to help put credentials into context and avoid what I often come across – a situation where their over-use detracts from rather than enhances the power of the presentation. This very simple structure is explained below. It does match perfectly with the “kipper” tool for the design of messages, courtesy of the Rhetorical Company.

A sales presentation is in effect a narrative – a story based upon a number of ideas or points which lead the listeners to an “Ah Hah!” moment when they form a mental impulse or conclusion and are persuaded to action. Let us take just one of those points (bones if you are trained in the “kipper”) in an imaginary narrative.

Identifying the question – Q

The main reason you would make a specific point in a pitch would be to answer a question that you believe the listener might have – the “Q”. For instance, you might have established that the listener is concerned about how quickly an action needs to be taken.

Responding with an answer – A

The answer (“A”) to this might be: “You can’t afford to wait” or “You are running out of time” or “You need to start now”. So this becomes the point you make.

Proving with evidence – E

Any assertion made needs to be proved by evidence (“E”) and it is this that pitching companies often fail to address – leaping instead to telling the audience about how they did a wonderful job for another client in a super-fast way. This is not only irritating to an audience because you are not talking about them, you are not satisfying the basic rules of conversation – that is that conversations are about responding to each other. This also applies in presentations – it’s just that only one side of the conversation is vocalised.

Let us continue the example and take as your point – “You can’t afford to wait”. This should trigger in the listener’s mind a silent question – “Why’s that then?” The next thing you say needs to be evidence – proof of the point you have made. It is clear that citing a credential here does not prove the point. In this case, good evidence might consist of (for example): citing actions taken by competitors; movement in reputation scorings; the time taken to achieve realisable benefits.

Making the credential relevant – C

If you take the idea of a one-sided conversation to the next step, you might imagine that having demonstrated and proved the urgency of action, the silent question in the listener’s mind might be something along the lines of “OK, but will it be possible in that timescale?”. It is at this point that use of a credential (“C”) may be both justified and helpful, since it now provides proof that “it really is possible”.  The credential is though optional – the key components of any point (bone) you make are the point itself and the evidence which proves it.

Summary

Credentials do have their place in a sales pitch. But do try and avoid them becoming the main reason for your pitch. If you follow the simple QAEC sequence described for each point you make in your narrative, you will find that where you do use credentials they are an enrichment of the listener’s experience rather than a detraction.