Also as I mentioned before, the first key to cultivating positive perceptions is listening to and understanding your audience. But for the time when you do have to start making points, here are some thoughts:
1. Be positive, but acknowledge Provo’s limitations. Overselling Provo is just going to make your friends think you’re delusional or fatally biased (trust me, I’ve been on both sides of that conversation). There’s no reason to pretend that Provo is something it isn’t. Concede that many cities outdo Provo in one way or another, but think of ways to turn those things into selling points. Provo’s arts and sports opportunities are fewer than those in bigger cities, for example, but you can walk or bike to all of them. Take that, L.A.! For me, when a conversation shifts to a topic where Provo is just plain weak, I try to shift the trajectory of the discussion to something different that Provo excels at.
2. Make sure to differentiate Provo from BYU. This was my problem: I arrived at BYU, basically never left campus, and confused my dislike of BYU’s restrictive culture with a dislike of Provo. BYU and Provo are connected, but for some people the city is considerably more diverse and interesting than BYU. If your friends love BYU — and many people do — sell them on that. But I think a lot of people, including out-of-state alumni, would benefit from a better understanding that the university is an important but fractional piece of the city.
3. Be gentle and agree often. One of the most infuriating things I’ve experienced with a few of my fellow Californians is their tendency to constantly blather on about how great California is — and how much better it is than Utah (or anywhere). My instinct is to respond in kind, with equally abrasive arguments about Provo’s superiority, but that will never persuade anyone.
4. Point to the very real changes going on. I think this is perhaps the most important point to make. Twenty, ten or even five years ago Provo was a very different place. Two years from now — after the arrival of the temple, the frontrunner, the convention center, and various downtown improvements — it will look radically different than it does today. Many opinions about the city are linked to a Provo that, for better or worse, no longer exists. Even my cohort of semi-recent BYU alumni will have radically inaccurate opinions if they haven’t spent much time in Provo in the last few years.
So gently emphasize that fact. Sometimes it can help to have a specific moment to point to when the city changed for the better. In conversations I’ve had, I’ve effectively used the election of Mayor Curtis as that moment, but other things — like commercial flights at the airport, the tabernacle fire or even the creation of Downtown Inc. — could also work. The point is that like a piece of fruit, when perceptions get old they go rotten.
This list is far from comprehensive, and I’m personally still trying to find the right balance between positivity and reality when discussing Provo. But as people in the city talk about and see it in a better light, that view will spread.