The year is 2014. We can land on Mars, predict earthquakes, and, with GPS, find a lost dog, a misplaced cell phone, or just about anything else. When you get an X-Ray, “x” marks the spot of what’s there, whether a fracture or something else. The general public, which largely thinks of satellites as a combination of science and magic, cannot comprehend why, then, if the satellites of several nations have spotted an apparent debris field in the same “spot” in the Indian Ocean, someone can’t just zip over to that “spot” and Bingo!, find the possible remains of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
News networks have interviewed endless “experts” to try and explain why “it isn’t so easy.” But so far, it doesn’t seem that they’ve succeeded in making the answer comprehensible.
As anyone skilled in presentation, they’ve attempted to do so using various visual aids. There, too, it hasn’t helped much either, because to understand their explanations, you have to already understand what they’re saying. Most allude to how large “the spot” is and the passage of time between receiving the image and being able to get “there.” Again, the public wonders, why does it take so long, when time is of the essence? It doesn’t make sense. You get an X-Ray and in moments, have your answer, so why does it take days in this case?
They’ve used metaphors, the most popular being that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but haven’t yet found the farm, let alone the haystack.
We’ve been told how hostile the southern ocean is. Check. We’ve been told how far the search area is from Perth, Australia – like flying from D.C. to Denver. Check. We’ve been told that planes have limited fuel time to spend searching once there. Roger that. But we haven’t been taught the key points – not about what caused MH370 to disappear, but why we can’t find it when the satellites have.
Despite so much media coverage, the preconception persists, fueling distrust and frustration. Why?
Understanding in this type of scenario requires getting over multiple hurdles first:
- People are impatient and eager to learn the information;
- People are anxious about the dangers of flying;
- A major airplane disaster is many people’s worst fear;
- If knowledge is power, not knowing makes one feel powerless;
- No information is better than inconsistent, vague and unreliable information;
- The information provided is shrouded in secrecy and what is disclosed does not relate to common knowledge;
And on and on . . .
Complex information in troubling circumstances often breeds distrust from the get-go. It is no different in litigation involving unfamiliar information – whether in the field of technology, science, finance or others that the typical jury doesn’t know or understand.
With this backdrop, persuasion requires a lot of education to an audience that is seeking quick, clear answers where none exists. How can the points be made better?
For starters, it would help if the “experts” actually answered people’s questions: Why is it so hard when it seems so easy? How is it possible, with all the technology we now have available to us, not to be able to do better?
Educating and advocating are also not as easy as they may seem. This disaster should serve to provide many important lessons, including understanding the fact that being an expert hardly matters if you don’t get your message across to your audience.
Other A2L Consulting resources related to aviation/airline litigation, teaching science, courtroom persuasion and expert testimony:
- 10 Things Litigators Can Learn From Newscasters
- Aviation Litigation Graphics and Effective Demonstrative Evidence
- FREE DOWNLOAD: Complex Civil Litigation Guidebook
- Explaining Science to a Jury
- FREE DOWNLOAD: Using Science in Litigation to Prevail
- 21 Reasons a Litigator Is Your Best Litigation Graphics Consultant
- Persuasive Graphics: How Pictures Are Increasingly Influencing You
- Font Matters - A Trial Graphics Consultant's Trick to Overcome Bias
- The Top 14 Testimony Tips for Litigators and Expert Witnesses
- FREE WEBINAR: Using PowerPoint Litigation Graphics
- 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You
- No Story, No Glory: Closing Arguments that Don't Close Loops