Three obstacles

A useful tool in preparing a presentation is to consider the principal three obstacles an audience may have to accept the intended message. A great presentation has a single message but an audience requires to be persuaded. Sadly, even providing positive evidence is not as effective as countering the initial resistance. An effective tool in rhetoric is to accept this challenge and overcome those obstacles. Three is a magic number.

three obstacles

Effective presentations must do more than simply deliver facts. Limited new information can be stored due to limitations of processing but progression through Bloom’s Taxonomy towards higher-order thinking has significant value in adding to the retention and learning within a message. Unfortunately, the human condition is almost intrinsically to reject change so an effective tool in persuasion is to address, not the change but, the reasons for resistance.

The underlying structure of an effective presentation is not prescribed, despite the opinion of some. Some tools make structure effective and memorable. The number three is perhaps the best of those tools. The magic of three has something to do with pattern and shape and the need of the reader now to have a further thing in that list in addition to pattern and shape! Famous speeches use the structure of three; ” ‘Government of the people by the people for the people”; “3 Rs, reading writing and arithmetic” and even “paediatric trauma is about different numbers, different diseases and different outcomes.” It is suggested if one makes a list of, say favourite musicians, that if only two are quoted Miles Davis and James Taylor, the audience would automatically add a third of their own such as Bob Dylan. Whereas if four are listed Miles Davis, James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Andrew Barr the audience would question at least one of the list. Andrew Barr is the driving force behind The Barr Brothers. Three seems to work.

The value in challenging obstacles to an effective message as opposed to offering reasons to accept a message is rooted in cognitive processing. Positive factors of a process are always met by an enquiring mind thinking the opposite and asking, “but?” The technique of deducing the most likely three obstacles and pre-emptively answering those three questions for the audience will deliver the “consummation devoutly to be wished” as Hamlet suggested. (Shakespearian scholars will, of course, recognise that this answer is in response to a tri-phased question of “the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

A presentation to improve presentations might be based on positive factors such as improving the structure, highlighting the value of sans serif fonts and moving out from behind the lectern. (notice the three). This leaves an audience questioning what is wrong with the current structure, challenging the idea that a font alone may be problematic and that delivery isn’t about a podium. The converse, utilising challenge might suggest that what is currently delivered fails, that Times New Roman shouldn’t be accepted and that podiums are a big problem. These are entirely different presentations.

No message is accepted at face value. It must be internalised, compared against current understanding and then challenged. (notice the three) An effective rhetorical device in presentations is to pre-empt those challenges and build the presentation around answering the three obstacles.

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