The War For People’s Attention: July Newsletter


It’s that time of year, for those of us living in the Arizona desert, when we keep our Charmin in the freezer for some occasional relief. But once again we, your public sherpas, are here with a few tips to make your work life and life-life a little more successful and, we hope, easier. We’re glad to do it, no sweat.

Stay curious,



You’re Usually Losing

Let’s get to the point: truth and reason are frequently losing. Your measured evaluation, research and reams of data presented in an objective way to an increasingly skeptical and mostly disinterested public, intended to appeal to their logic and common good, is competing with a steady diet of electronic and algorithmic emotional propaganda. And that propaganda is backed by billions of dollars invested to get people’s attention and keep them engaged to sell them, confuse them, and to scare the hell out of them. This is new ground for all of us. Why wouldn’t the public be angry and why would they trust you?! Read More 

Anger as a Motivational Tool

Facts and data will inform, but emotion is what motivates change and decisions. Emotional triggers are behind every behavior, including the ones that you need to elicit from the people you’re trying to reach and involve. Perceptions drive people to engage with you and emotion will motivate them to co-produce decisions with you. Anger is a most effective motivator, and used wisely, can benefit the right things for the right reasons. Consider Jon Stewart’s testimony to Congress on behalf of 911 responders. Read More 


Use the Right Words

There are 171,476 words in the Oxford English dictionary. The average person uses between 20,000 to 48,000 of them, so we need to pick the right ones. Complex science, engineering and public policy need to be explained in ways that normal people can understand. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” It’s a constantly learnable and improvable skill.Read More
And speaking of words, here is a list of some common problem ones.


Are You Confident or Arrogant?

One of the secrets to (re)building trust really isn’t much of a secret, but it also isn’t exactly intuitive. The clients that we work with almost always feel that they need to project professionalism and confidence in their dealings with the public. That may certainly be true in almost all peer to peer business negotiations, but needs to be tempered and reconsidered when dealing with angry or skeptical citizens. In those cases, your confidence and professional façade most often feels like arrogance, which doesn’t help your trust building efforts. That means you have to find that sweet spot in that complex mix of competence, assertiveness and humility. Read More 



I rarely run across anyone who likes to use a microphone. When they’re handed one, people say, “Oh, I don’t need that, they can hear me, I’ll talk louder.” But increasinglythey – the audience – can’t. And when people can’t hear you or have to strain to do so, it quickly becomes frustrating for them, and frustrated people who might already be agitated by your issue aren’t going to respond well to your message. You’re facing a combination of an aging, hearing-challenged population, typical lousy room acoustics, and frequently soft spoken experts. Learn to use and embrace mikes; make sure you’re heard. This microphone aversion seems to be a real and troubling affliction. Maybe we could start a GoFundMe page. Read More 


Silence, When Speaking, is Golden. Ironic, Huh.

Successful public speaking requires people who listen. One way to get and keep their attention is by emphasizing the space between your words – varying your pacing, slowing down, pausing, then sometimes pausing and repeating what you’ve said. Letting the quiet settle over the room. They’ll notice and focus better on the words that follow. Try it. Read More 


And On the Bright Side

People who deal with tough public policy, stakeholder conflicts and upset people much of the time can become jaded, skeptical and even cynical about working with the public. You begin to wonder if people are truly as unreasonable and crazy as broadcast, cable and social media news coverage makes them appear to be. The answer actually seems to be no, if you put any stock into the latest from Pew Research Center. The majority of the public seems to be more reasonable than we might think. We’re constantly reminded of the left/right political divide, which suggests that all of us are on one side or the other. But it seems that most of us really don’t like the current state of politics. Read More 


Effective Public Participation, Managing Opposition and (Re)Building Public Trust Training

We’ve added a few more classes in 2019. We’ll help you succeed and build working, effective, more trusting partnerships with the public and your other stakeholders. The Participation Company (TPC) facilitates, consults, coaches and trains civil service, NGO and business people about their community conflicts and building effective public engagement programs. We help you make the disgruntled, gruntled. Our job is to help you do yours.

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Public Participation Foundations’ (5-day) classes:

  • Colorado Springs, CO – August 27-29 (Planning)/October 23-24 (Techniques)
  • Denver, CO (NEW DATES) – September 11-13 (Planning)/October 21-22 (Techniques)
  • Orange County, CA – September 24-26 (Planning)/November 20-21 (Techniques)
  • Kansas City, MO – October 7-11
  • Pittsburgh, PA – October 14-18
  • Phoenix, AZ – October 21-25
  • West Palm Beach, FL – December 9-13
  • Charlotte, NC – January 13-17, 2020
  • Plano, TX – April 20-24, 2020

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Strategies for Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation’(2-day) classes:

  • Paul, MN – October 7-8
  • Phoenix, AZ – November 18-19

2019 Open TPC ‘Public Facilitation Essentials’ (3-day) class:

  • Denver, CO – November 12-14

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).

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