April Newsletter: Wordsmithing, Power and the Fear of Lip Gloss

Dear Valued Associate,

I hope spring has come to your house in the northern hemisphere. We honor this season in the desert by the semi-annual changing of the ceiling fan direction (blowing up in winter, down in summer) and (of course) blade dusting. Dilly, dilly!

I haven’t quite reached the age of needing Velcro sneakers and side-door bathtubs, but it feels like I grew up in a bygone era learning that it’s wrong to cheat, or game the system, or stack the deck – we’re supposed to play (and work) fair. I still believe that most people feel the same way, but it sure seems like we’re living a new normal in the U.S. So you’ll find a couple of pieces on power and facilitating public involvement below, as well as some thoughts on language and communication, and how to handle the single biggest fear that most people have.

Stay curious,




I was talking to ALEXA the other night and we were discussing the fact that the subtlety and effectiveness between almost the right word and exactly the right word can make or break any encounter between two people or between a facilitator (or presenter) and a large group. Are you willing to consider the nuances?

Metaphors and similes are good ways of communicating complex science and policy to normal people, which can sometimes feel like playing darts with cooked spaghetti. But when you find the right comparison and you know you’ve gotten through, you’ll get as excited as that lady from Peru who found a yam shaped like the Virgin Mary!

If you’re interested in a deeper dive into how complexity can best be explained, read on.

Elton John was right; sorry does seem to be the hardest word.


Glossophobia is Not the Fear of Lip Gloss

Public speaking (glossophobia) is a source of high anxiety for most people – it’s our biggest social fear. So, when people are thrown into scary situations, they’ll typically hide in their more comfortable ‘expert’ zone and end up sounding like a robot reciting technical data. That, of course, sounds incomprehensible or condescending to the audience and everybody goes away unhappier than when they arrived. Let’s see if this helps.

As you become less terrified, here are some thoughts that you can add to your repertoire.

Sometimes, if you’re delivering the same basic message to various audiences over and over again, it can feel like it’s getting stale or you’re falling into a rut. Remember that in spite of you having said it a dozen or more times, your audience is probably hearing it for the first time. I like these tips.

Here are a few more ideas based on research.


People Power

For a while now, it’s seemed clear that public participation is under assault at the highest levels of U.S. government. Functioning democracies share power with the governed. Of course there are arguments that politicians are obligated to wield their power on behalf of the people who elected them, therefore public involvement after elections is mostly unnecessary. But U.S. and local laws and common sense say differently; the past half-century has promoted direct democracy and the active engagement of people about all kinds of decisions that affect them. We work with clients who are doing this very effectively, and with others who are learning to do it well. They understand the distinct difference between ‘power over’ vs. ‘power with’.

Our (The Participation Company) managing partner, Debra Duerr, has her own take on the subject in her latest blog.


Public Outrage, Involvement and Group Facilitation Training

Learn how and why agencies and municipalities succeed or fail in their dealings with the public and moving issues forward. The Participation Company (TPC) facilitates, consults, coaches and trains public and private sector people about their community conflicts and public engagement programs. Our job is helping you do yours.

Open 2018 IAP2 ‘Public Participation Foundations‘ (5-day) classes:

  • Arlington, VA – April 16-20 (Still time to register!)
  • Boulder, CO – April 26-27 (Techniques only)
  • Minneapolis, MN – July 30-August 3
  • Chicago, IL – September 24-28
  • Orlando, FL – October 15-19

Open 2018 IAP2 ‘Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation’ (2-day) classes:

  • Orange County, CA – April 19-20 (Still time to register!)
  • Los Angeles, CA – April 26-27
  • Denver, CO – June 28-29
  • Minneapolis, MN – July 26-27
  • Chicago, IL – October 18-19

IAP2 courses from The Participation Company are eligible for Certification Maintenance (CM) credits through The American Planning Association (APA)’s professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

Click here to join us and watch for more IAP2 and other original TPC courses coming up. We also work with our public and private sector clients to customize in-house training, coaching and facilitation for their specific challenges. *Except for the food, all classes are gluten free.

You’ll also find more original ponderings from Debra Duerr, Wendy Lowe, Doug Sarno, me, and other very stable geniuses at at our blog.

The Participation Company LLC is also a strategic partner and provider for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).