By John Baldoni | April 11, 2011
If you ever find yourself having to persuade others of the goodness of your cause, you can do no worse than to follow the example of the actor, Kevin Spacey.
In Washington to deliver the 24th annual Nancy Hanks lecture on Arts and Public Policy, Spacey took time to advocate for continued federal funding of the arts, which, like many cultural and social programs, is on the chopping block. Spacey’s advocacy in Congress and to the Washington media was an example of how to present yourself and your case in ways that make people sit up and take notice. Watching Spacey on MSNBC’s Hardball was like taking a master class in persuasion.
Be accessible. Spacey, a two-time Oscar winner as well as an accomplished director and producer, was masterful in his ability to present his advocacy. Absent was stridency and table-thumping and accusatory rhetoric. Spacey also dressed right. He wore a simple business suit and in doing so came across more like the guy next door, more accountant than actor.
Know your facts. When we feel passionate about the issue, there is a tendency to rely on the emotion of the argument rather than the business case. Here Spacey demonstrated mastery of the facts about funding and its impact on the local communities, not to mention what arts say about us as a people.
Tell a story. Speaking to the media earlier, Spacey spoke of the opportunity he had as a thirteen year old to act in a scene for legendary actor Jack Lemmon. Spacey recalls how good he felt when Lemmon acknowledged his performance and related his fear that if arts funding were cut other thirteen year olds like him might miss opportunities to practice their art form.
Avoid getting into the gutter. Hardball host Chris Matthews tried to get Spacey to say something pointed about Republicans who are backing the elimination of arts funding. Spacey would not bite. He said that men and women on both sides of the aisle were equally patriotic in their love and support for the arts.
Appeal to the “better angels.” Getting support for an initiative requires support of more than a few people.; a leader must bring people together by reaching out to those who may disagree and commend them on their values. Relate their values to yours as you seek common ground. Abraham Lincoln was a master of this technique, hence the famous line his First Inaugural speech seeking to preserve the Union and avoid war by appealing “to the better angels of our nature.”
Few of us will have the opportunity to pitch the powers that be in D.C. on the righteousness of our cause, but all of us who care about an issue dear to us will find ourselves in need of help in how to reach those who may not want to hear us.
Bottom line, it is important to remember to stay calm as well as to treat those who disagree with you as colleagues, not enemies. Even if they may hurl invectives at you, keep your cool. You may not win your battle, but you will establish yourself as one who can advocate with a clear head and in a composed manner. That will win you points in the long run.