Build a Bridge

by Carolyn Osborne
(Columbus, OH)

Bridge, Picture by Billy Alexander

I used to be the director of a battered women's shelter and as such was often called upon to make speeches about my work.

This was twenty years ago, and at that time, the mere mention of a battered women's shelter would make people feel uncomfortable and defensive - especially men. Domestic violence is not an easy topic to talk about and oftentimes people assume that spokespersons for battered women's shelters are not sympathetic to men.

One time I was invited to a social club--it could have been Lions or Kiwanis or something like that--and my audience was mostly men. That's when I decided to build a bridge between my topic and them. All of them had people they cared about, so I focused on the folks who needed us rather than the folks who did the abusing.

At first, the vibes felt a little negative, but as I continued to talk, I could feel that people were becoming receptive. It ended up being a successful talk.

I have found that it is really important to imagine the position of the people who are listening. Who are they? Where are their interests? What is going to make them sit up and listen? What will make them so defensive that they can't listen? If you think about this, that can help you to craft a speech that helps your audience to move forward in their understanding of your topic.

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