Saturday, August 14, 2010

Know Your Opponents

When presenting a new idea, it is just as or even more necessary to speak to your opponents as it is to your fans.

With this in mind, read this piece in last Tuesday's New York Times:

For Mosque Sponsors, Early Missteps Fueled Storm

Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, remembers her first conversation with Daisy Khan around 2005, years before Ms. Khan’s idea for a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan morphed into a controversy about Sept. 11, Islam and freedom of religion.

“Strollers,” said Ms. Levitt, whom Ms. Khan had approached for advice on how to build an institution like the Jewish center — with a swimming pool, art classes and joint projects with other religious groups. Ms. Levitt, a rabbi, urged Ms. Khan to focus on practical matters like a decent wedding hall and stroller parking.

“You can use all these big words like diversity and pluralism,” Ms. Levitt recalled telling Ms. Khan, noting that with the population of toddlers booming in Manhattan, “I’m down in the lobby dealing with the 500 strollers.”

Clearly, the idea that Ms. Khan and her partners would one day be accused of building a victory monument to terrorism did not come up — an oversight with consequences. The organizers built support among some Jewish and Christian groups, and even among some families of 9/11 victims, but did little to engage with likely opponents. More strikingly, they did not seek the advice of established Muslim organizations experienced in volatile post-9/11 passions and politics.

The organizers of the Muslim community center jumped straight into the practical logistics of their idea without first knowing their audience.

This is a mistake speakers make all the time.

We get so caught up in our content, that we forget to make the audience essential to the presentation.

From the Green Room: Whenever you are presenting a new idea, take the time to think carefully about how your idea will be received. Don't bother to craft your content until you know your audience - your potential fans...
and potential opponents.


Anonymous said...

Sarah--this posting makes an excellent point. When I read this article I was astonished at how "caught up in their content" these community-center organizers were and how tone-deaf they were to the concerns of their fellow Americans. They may be entitled to build their center but they sure are clueless.
--Justin Szlasa

Anonymous said...

Given that every poll has shown that 70-80% of the public opposes the Ground Zero mosque and that countless columns, speeches, and blog posts have elaborated on that opposition, it seems fair to say that the mosque organizers "know" their opponents' views but don't care. Daisy Khan and her husband are not "clueless," as the previous comment suggests. Their intention to build a 13 story mosque center on the spot where 2700 New Yorkers were murdered in the name of radical Islam reflects a problematic agenda not a PR or presentation problem. So while Sarah's point about knowing your opponent is critical, in this case, I question which side in the dispute has failed to understand its opponent.

Anonymous said...

correction: in previous comment, I should have said polls show that opposition to Ground Zero mosque ranges from 60-70% with around 20-25% in favor.

Pat Shaughnessy said...

Great post!

Great use of a contemporary topic to illustrate the value of audience research as a way to avoid wasting valuable time and hitting roadblocks!

I find that in sales presentations this also applies. Even though have been asked to come in and present, there may be detractors in the audience waiting to derail your talk.

Sarah Gershman said...

Thank you to each of you for your thoughtful comments.