Combating Resistance to the Assertion-Evidence Approach
Cornell University: Engineering Communications Program
Over the years, those of us who train others to use the assertion-evidence model often hear sentences like those to the right.
Believe us; we understand where you are coming from. We understand that you can be excited about using these techniques while being scared of rocking the boat at work at the same time. We understand that you may be employed at an organization that has deeply entrenched communication practices (often poor practices) in regards to how slides are created and used and shared. We understand that it can be hard to challenge those practices, especially if you are new on the job.
However, we encourage you to stand steady, knowing that these techniques are powerful, persuasive, and entirely effective within technical and scientific organizations. Certainly, the assertion-evidence model lends itself endlessly to customization and tailoring, which is a great advantage to you as you discover how to meld your purpose, audience, content, and audience needs. But how can you get over being hesitant about using these techniques? How can you overcome resistance to their use at work, whether it is your own resistance or outside resistance from others?
Be Sure of Yourself
If you have studied the assertion-evidence model and put it into play, you already know its power. Your ideas are more clear, your talk’s organization is better, your own articulation of content is improved. You know the method works, and you want to share the techniques for better talks. If you are trying to convince others to change how they use their slides, be certain that you have some good starting points:
Use the Idea of “Innovation” to Your Advantage
If you are in a technical, engineering, or scientific organization, you can be sure that those organizations want to be seen as innovative and cutting edge. However, many people inside of these organizations hesitate to apply innovative strategies to their communication efforts. You can appeal to their sense of innovation to try on some of these techniques.
Allow for Testing and Slow Growth
If you want to try using the assertion-evidence model, you can also come at it slowly.
Know that the Audience Will Likely Embrace the Change
Many people know that most technical talks are boring. They are probably boring because the old slide approach scripts a deadened moment. When you make a change for the better, the audience will realize it. The assertion-evidence model provides the speaker confidence, and this will show during the talk.
To the right are quotes from past adopters as evidence of how successful these methods can be. These quotes come from practicing engineers who have taken our workshops or classes.
As you can see from Matt’s quote, he decided to be sneaky about deploying the assertion-evidence technique, and it worked out beautifully. If such a move makes you nervous, talk to your immediate manager first about trying out a few new things in your presentation. With the elements covered above, you should be just fine.
For more information about how to combat resistance to change (either within yourself, your department, or your larger organization as a whole), please take a look at the book Slide Rules which will provide helpful techniques, solutions, and work-arounds. There, you will find ways to deal with reticent managers, archival solutions for clients and professors, working with bad templates, and more. Specifically, in Chapter 12, we speak to how to enact change within your organization. We encourage you to find your own style within the assertion-evidence model, and then please share your success stories with us!
T. Nathans-Kelly and C.G. Nicometo, “Stop Slipping and Sliding: Methods to Reclaim Expert Engineering Space by Using Slides to Best Advantage,” SEFI/European Society for Engineering Education. September 2013, Leuven, Belgium. http://www.sefi.be/conference-2013/images/122.pdf
T. Nathans-Kelly for IEEE-USA: “That Bullet Is Not Magic: Avoid Presentation Mistakes and Create New Best Practices” at http://www.ieeeusa.org/careers/webinars/2014/webinar-12-4-14.html
I shared this presentation approach with my dad, who owns his own company and attends some professional conferences for folks in the power generation industry. Using the low-text/high-visual approach, he gave a presentation to some chemists on water sampling at one of these conferences. He later told me, with some measure of excitement, that he had really connected with his audience. It was one of the most effective presentations he had ever given.
Business owner in power generation industry
My dry run presentation last week went fine. I got a ‘nice job’ comment from our division manager and my presentation was again deemed good-to-go. And then I did the unthinkable. I changed every single slide. I replaced all the titles with sentence headers. I added animation to manipulate focus on one item at a time in my graphics. My slide count quadrupled, but my presentation time only grew by a couple minutes. And I didn't review it with anybody. I basically snuck it in and presented it. Yesterday's live webinar went great. I've never presented with these managers or this audience before. But I received quite a few compliments. Nobody mentioned the slides being different--they all just said my presentation was ‘easy to follow’ and ‘engaging’ and ‘you're a good speaker.’
Technical manager at major vehicle company