Some messages are easy to communicate. They offer something with immediate gains, for very little pain, or at least not immediate and clear pain. Others promise a long delayed payoff, and a noticeable immediate cost.
It is much easier to convince people to buy a lovely, sweet, refreshing drink on a hot summers day, than to get them to stop smoking, or to pay more taxes for the next 10 to 20 years so that we can build more effective mass transit networks. (And not only the people who have to pay more taxes, but also the politicians who have to face the voting public every few years.)
So how do we convince people to commit to things that offer no immediate gratification?
1. Paint the picture:
Show people what the end goal will look like. Tell them how it will benefit, if not themselves, then their children (or grandchildren), their communities, their country, society at large. Make them want to be part of the bigger picture, the solution.
2. Highlight the values:
Point out the ways in which it is the right thing to do, how it is consistent with people’s values and morals. Again, make them want to be part of the solution.
3. Case studies:
Show people comparisons, where has this been done, how was it done, and how did it turn out.
4. Third-party experts:
Find people who have no vested interest, but who have authority, respect and credibility in the community, to talk to the idea. Even if they differ on some points and issues, do not stifle their input, rather listen to them, and be seen to listen to them, and incorporate their ideas where it is possible.
Make sure people know what you are doing, how you are doing it, and most importantly, why you are doing it. What is the background story, the history, the context?
6. Be transparent:
Be open and up-front with people, not just in the initial phases, but all the way through the project. Even, no, especially when things go wrong. Admit mistakes and failures. Do not justify them. Solicit input. Outline solutions. Move on.
7. It takes a village:
Include your audience/community at every level. Let them become part of the planning, the execution and the evaluation. Build relationships with your audience.
8. Be consistent:
Both in actions and communications, you need to stay on message. Don’t change the message halfway through. Don’t allow different and/or conflicting messages. One voice, one message, throughout.
So what do you think, can we still get people to commit to long-term projects?