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ask about the future

Art Shostak

Question: "What are the twelve major ingredients of a successful futures talk?"
Answer by Arthur B. Shostak, Emeritus Professor of Sociology.

First, you should ask the client to prepare a prioritized list of questions worth attention from a futurist, and then select to tackle only those that excite you.

Second, you have to really want to give the talk.  That is, you have to be eager to share forecasts of significant value to your audience. They must sense your passion and enthusiasm, both in the service of their well-being. 

Third, honor Gekko's Law, named for the character played by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street: "Tell me something I do not already know." Bring novel and brow-arching material if you expect the audience to remain attentive.

Forth, shun the use of PowerPoint, unless you are a virtuoso.  Otherwise it signals your re-use of stale material, and is subtly understood as an insult.

Fifth, be available for spontaneous humor.  Never plan to tell a joke.  But, be relaxed enough to unexpectedly create a funny line, best at your own expense, and enjoy laughing at yourself. 

Sixth, do not shy from ominous, threatening, and upsetting forecasts: You are not there to play Pollyanna, or, Cassandra. Audiences expect a mix of forecasts, much as they experience reality.

Seventh, be alert to particular current events that bear directly on your listeners, and draw links to your forecasts.

Eighth, draw on sources that contradict one another:  Lay out the debate tersely and fairly, and then highlight your forecast preference and reasons for it.  Listeners should feel encouraged to agree or not. 

Ninth, protect and cherish time for give-and-take:  Compliment really good questions, and never demean any.  Be cogent, and recognize a cross-selection of questioners.

Tenth, draw throughout on a one-page outline you gave out at the very beginning. 

Eleventh, highlight your e-mail address on the outline, and warmly invite post-talk dialogue with any and all.

Finally, begin and end by reminding listeners you do NOT know the future, and that is a good thing: It is NOT to be revealed, but rather made as best we can - through acts of commission and omission. You have tried to explicate unexamined assumptions, highlight policy options, note their plusses and minuses, cite some pragmatic action steps worth consideration, and possibly aid listeners envision far better futures than grasped before you began.


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Here's Dr. Shostak's professional snapshot -

Since joining the World Future Society shortly after its 1968 founding Art has been fascinated by the range, relevance, and potential of this multi-disciplinary art form.  He introduced and taught a Drexel University (Phila. PA) college-credit sociology course in futuristics from 1975 through 2003, and a custom-tailored course for labor unionists from 1980 to 2000 at the AFL-CIO George Meany Center for Labor Studies (Silver Spring, MD.), the only such course in America (then and now).  His forecasts have appeared in major newspapers, leading magazines (Business 2.0; WIRED, etc.), and different publications of the World Future Society (WFS). He has attended nearly every Annual Meeting of the WFS, and generally been a presenter.  In 1972 he co-created the Philadelphia Chapter, and   led it alone from 1974 until 2004 (the oldest city chapter in the WFS).  He has  also enjoyed giving as many as 20 commissioned futures talks a year for a wide variety of organizations here and abroad (Brazil, Canada, Israel,etc.) Most recently he has  edited four books for high-schoolers of original essays by futurists, and is now developing what may be one of, if not the first college-credit undergraduate course in futuristics offered on the Internet (available late in 2005 from the Drexel E-Learning Corporation).

Comments may be made directly to Dr. Shostak at shostaka@drexel.edu or see his website at  http://www.futureshaping.com/shostak  .