Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Lesson in Persuasion at the World Economic Forum

Persuasion is a key ingredient to success. It’s true whether you're a hollywood screen writer, corporate employee, or international diplomat. In each case, your objective is to influence your audience, your boss, or your enemy or ally to feel or act a certain way. Refugee Run, a one-hour simulation of terrifying refugee life at this year’s World Economic Forum, persuades in a way that is unique and particularly effective.

As we've previously written in this blog, Refugee Run places Forum delegates in the environment and mindset of what it’s like to be a refugee – bare tents, crying women, warring gunshots, barking soldiers, dark silence, and frightening unpredictability. We partook in the experience and realized that it was more intense and jolting than expected. Kudos to Refugee Run for re-creating such an experience so powerfully. But beyond the Run's ability to re-create an experience is its ability to influence the "rulers of the universe" who go through it.

The Run inspired Richard Branson to take over Mia Farrow's hunger strike in 2009. It compelled COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, to reach out to strategic business partners to explore more ways to help. And it's rumored that, at this year's Forum, it compelled Jeffrey Sachs, in concert with UN Global Impact, to bring the Refugee Run to their Leaders Summit in June 2010, a summit that, according to UN Global Impact Executive Director, Georg Kell, will host 1,000 international CEOs.

At the World Economic Forum, an environment in which who is saying something is sometimes more persuasive than what is being said, Refugee Run bucks the trend altogether in how the message is communicated – through experience, not simply discussion or Powerpoint presentation. It's a lesson in persuasion that we can all learn from and is applicable to numerous contexts, whether that context is solving the world's most pressing challenges or dealing with a problematic boss at work.

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