Advocacy: A book review by Bob Morris

Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others
John Daly
Yale University Press (2011)

How to explain, describe, engage, and convince with maximum power and memorable impact

Aristotle was among the first to develop a concept for what we now refer to as “levels of discourse.” Years ago when teaching English at two boarding schools in New England and then later at a community college in Dallas, I used an acronym (EDNA) for the four levels: Exposition explains with information, Description makes vivid with compelling images, Narration tells a story or explains a sequence, and Argumentation convinces with logic and/or evidence. Most verbal communications rely on at least two of the forms and several (e.g. litigation) use all four.

What we have in this volume is probably just about everything John Daly has learned thus far about how to become an effective advocate operating on any/all of the four levels. That is, as the etymology of the word suggests, become someone who is “called to aid, a pleader, one who intercedes for another, a protector, champion, [and] patron.” It could be for an idea, or for a cause, course of action, another person, or for one’s self. I agree with Daly that advocacy is the highest form of salesmanship because it combines art and science with authenticity. It appeals to the heart and the mind as well as to the gut or, as some prefer to view it, the soul. It requires highly developed skills and techniques but such capabilities must be transcend by the compelling truth of what is advocated. That said, however true the message may be, its credibility and impact depend almost entirely on the authenticity of the “messenger.”

I agree with Daly that advocacy is passionate persuasion but also an affirmation of timeless values. If you examine the greatest speeches throughout history, no matter which ones you select, all demonstrate advocacy. My own choices would include several that survive only in text form such as Demosthenes’ “The Third Philippic,” Chief Joseph’s “Surrender Speech,” Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” (Man in the Arena) but there are others that have been recorded such as Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream,” and Ronald Reagan’s “Address to the Nation on the Challenger.” Yes, they have immense power in terms of content and eloquence but they also express thoughts and feelings that others continue to cherish. That is why they remain memorable.

Daly carefully organizes his material within 14 chapters, and cites hundreds of examples to illustrate key points when explaining how to think politically to achieve the desired results or objectives, frame a message, form alliances of support for it, and make effective use of storytelling elements such as setting, characters, plot, conflict, etc. These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o The Downside to Advocacy (Pages 19-20)
o Stay on Message with Repetition and Redundancy (23-35)
o Schemas Shape Understanding (45-48)
o Whoever Defines the Problem Wins (51-52)
o What Makes a Reputation? (73-88)
o Understand People’s Basic Needs (99-118)
o How to Tell a Story (125-135)
o Managing Decision Makers’ Core Concerns (148-163)
o Make Your Solution Feasible (201-212)
o Organize the Message for Optimal Impact (232-240)
o Discover What’s In It for Them (241-248)
o Come Up with Convincing Figures of Speech (280-289)

Although Daly’s observations and recommendations are relevant to almost all human initiatives, they can be especially valuable in the business world in which competition for attention is formidable and competition for acceptance of whatever one offers is often ferocious.

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and wisdom that John Daly provides but I hope I have at least indicated what his material offers and why I hold his book in such high regard.

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