Each election season we see dozens of suitable candidates pitch themselves as the best choice for their desired office, only to be distrusted, ridiculed, or ignored—and there are plenty of reasons for each. Most of the time candidates are tossed aside because they just didn’t leave a memorable impression on their constituents, or anyone else for that matter. That’s likely because they didn’t convince anyone that they cared.
Maybe they didn’t know the ins and outs of their topic. Maybe they fell flat at portraying enthusiasm, concern, and true emotion. Or perhaps they were unrelatable. All of these problems translate into, “I don’t care enough to learn about my community and its problems. I’m not interested in being friends with or helping anyone, and, truthfully, your money and my ego are my top priorities.”
Surely no one runs for office just for personal gain, but, hey, maybe some do. You, however, are different. You care deeply! You are capable of viewing the world from another person’s eyes and you intend to make their view better. So, it’s time to build a narrative for your campaign that is chock full of enthusiasm, determination, energy, and empathy—a story so good it can’t be ignored.
According to Dan Payne of the Boston Globe, a narrative in this context is "an overarching goal that explains, unifies, and gives motive to... multiple initiatives.”
What Do You Care About?
If you can define what you care about changing, youhave a great basis for your campaign’s narrative. Don’t define what you think you should care about. Be honest.
What matters to you? Is it allocating more tax dollars for teacher salaries? Maybe it’s protecting small business owners from tax increases, creating solutions for public pension issues, or managing immigration. Once you have your key concerns outlined, it’s time to ask yourself another question.
Why Do You Care About This?
No one cares about things they haven’t experienced or witnessed in some way, directly or indirectly.
Today I read the story of a woman featured on the “Humans of New York” Facebook page whose name is Gretchen Buchenholz. Gretchen was a preschool teacher who went to a meeting in an unfamiliar building in New York. During the meeting she decided she needed a piece of paper to jot down notes, so she stepped in the room next door to see what she could find. When she opened the door she discovered several homeless families waiting to be processed for the night. Many of them were sleeping on plastic chairs and some of the babies were diaper-less, rolling around on bare mattresses. Ever since that day she’s been an advocate for the homeless and the children who are raised under such circumstances.
While Gretchen’s story isn’t exactly political, her life’s work as the director of a homeless children’s program began with a single spark. One moment witnessing an injustice she would’ve otherwise been oblivious to.
Your campaign was probably conceived in a similar fashion, like being a small business owner suffering from tax increases or witnessing your children waste their days in a broken public school system.
If there’s a story behind your purpose, you have an invaluable advantage over the competition. With this unique perspective you can carve out your niche and win the heart, donations, and votes of everyone who falls in it.
Use Your Stories to Back up Your Data.
A good politician mixes storytelling with micro and macro data. The difference between a stellar politician and a boring speaker is the method used to deliver the facts. The human brain craves common ground and a colorful vision; it doesn’t really like cold, hard numbers. So, pair the two for optimal and accurate communication.
A candidate could say that a 6% tax increase will increase the risk of a small business closing its doors by 14% in 2015 without gaining a whole lot of traction. If that candidate brought the statistic home by saying “Fred, the garage door repair man on Maple Avenue, will no longer be able to pay for his work van and only employee’s salary because of this increase,” people will be able to picture Fred, his failing business, and the pain felt by his family and his employee when the business closes down.
Fred’s business takes a dull figure from mildly discouraging to being extremely impactful. When the audience can relate to the pain of not being able to pay the bills, they begin to latch on to your cause and support your solution.
While building a narrative is essential, making up stories for the sake of having something to say probably won’t win over many supporters either. Because politicians have a reputation for being dishonest, each candidate already has a giant obstacle to overcome. The people crave honesty and transparency now more than ever, and they’re great at spotting out-of-touch politicians. With this knowledge, you can only do one thing—be genuine. A genuine concern for Fred the business owner, the constituents, and community at large is imperative.
If you are the candidate with the best solution, and the most passion and empathy, you’re already on the cutting edge! Let building relationships and getting to know your audience be your guiding force in all of your campaigning tactics. Once you’ve established yourself as a thought leader and trust-worthy candidate, the donations and votes will come in easily.
If you’re genuinely concerned about connecting with the people, you’re off to a great start. Perhaps now it’s time to start planning your strategy.