You never know when you’ll encounter an example of excellent salesmanship, least of all at the movies. However, that is exactly what happened over the holiday while watching “Hidden Figures,” the wonderful new movie with an outstanding cast that includes Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner. It’s the surprisingly little known story of three amazing black women mathematicians who were instrumental in the 1962 NASA rocket launch that took John Glenn into space, making him the first American to orbit Earth. The example involved changing some deeply held thinking.
When you introduce a new idea, service, or product, you are naturally coming up against previously held biases that may be based on any or all of the following: earlier experiences, cultural norms, fears, politics, vested interests, etc. In these situations, logical arguments alone rarely change such closed minds.
It takes a creative approach to crack open such rigid thinking.
Mary Jackson, Creative Mind Opener
In the movie, the obstacle was segregation. Engineer Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, a feisty and determined young black woman, is told she cannot take courses she needs to advance her career as an aeronautical engineer, because, being in the segregated south at the time, the courses are taught at an all-white high school. Not one to accept no for an answer, she petitions the school board to get herself admitted. In the movie, she appears before a Judge and successfully wins acceptance to the school.
This is how she did it..
First, she did her homework.
Mary researched her “buyer,” the judge. She learned that he had a number of “firsts” in his background. For example, he was the “first” in his family to attend college.
Second, she anticipated objections
In a fairly tense scene, when the judge denied her request for admission to the school, Mary listened and remained calm.
Third, She responded creatively to win agreement
Her response was along the lines of…”Just as you were the first in…, the first in… and the first to…, don’t you think it’s time for the ‘first’ black woman to attend an all-white high school?” He paused. Before he spoke again, you could see him visioning his own past and feeling all the positive associations that came with having been the “first” in so many situations… and what that meant to him…
Mary’s analogy resonated so much on so many levels with him that he reversed his decision and she was allowed to attend the all-white school. Based on how she framed the issue, how could he do otherwise?
You Don’t Need to be A Rocket Scientist…
I have not done justice to the drama in the movie, so, definitely go see it. However, the point is yes, you may need to be an aeronautical engineer to put a man into orbit, but you only need to be a creative communicator to re-frame another person’s thinking, particularly in seemingly impossible situations.
Analogies and metaphors speak to listeners on many levels. They communicate instant understanding and resonate emotionally and visually. Because of that impact, they are among your most powerful persuasion tools in any presentation, demo, or public forum. As you begin the new year, use this rhetorical tool to help you achieve the results you want.
Happy New Year!
Words Matter – Make What You Say Pay!
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