This past weekend, as a Fellow in Rhode Island’s chapter of the New Leaders Council, I participated in the 3rd training institute which was focused on Communications. (To learn more about the New Leaders Council click here or check out my post about the first experience with the Council). We had a number of great speakers that presented on topics such as Public Speaking, Messaging and Framing, Press Skills, Advertising, Speech Writing, and Public Relations and Crisis Communications. It was a weekend packed full of learning and growth, which ended in some serious insomnia for me on Sunday night as I was suffering from information overload and couldn’t make my brain stop thinking or my pen to stop writing. The positive part of this overload is that it has resulted in lots of reflection for me on not only what are ways that I can improve my communication publicly and individually, but also how us Progressive’s as a whole can tweak our message so it is better received by those who might not understand what we’re about. Want to know what I learned? Here are my 6 ways Progressives could better frame their message:
1. Don’t adopt right-wing language when talking about the Progressive movement
The Republican’s like to use language such as “gay marriage” instead of “marriage equality” and say they’re “pro-life” instead of “anti-choice”, and as Progressive’s, we tend to use that same language when trying to spread our view of the issues. I can’t say exactly why that is but I think because we hear these terms so frequently in regular media that we think it will be easier for people to understand what issues we’re talking about if we use that wording. But these terms were crafted by Republicans for a reason. Using the term “gay marriage” is a way to make it sound like it’s a specific kind of marriage, and not the same as a marriage between straight people. It also sounds better if someone is “pro-life” because it implies that they are simply trying to protect life, as opposed to anti-choice (which is what they really are), meaning they don’t believe that individuals have a right to choose what is right for them.
2. Don’t always be the angry messenger of doom and gloom
Most Progressives that I know and talk to seem angry, (myself included) because we just don’t understand why we have to fight so hard to defend rights that seem to be common sense to us. It aggravates us that today we are fighting the same battles that the founders of our country fought in order for us to have the freedoms which were guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights. Although I understand that it’s frustrating to have these conversations, and push for these rights, we need to stop talking about how angry we are and how the country is doomed if we follow the path we have been on for years, we need to start communicating it differently. So let’s re-frame our message. Tell stories about how amazing this country will be if the goals of the Progressive movement are achieved, and use that as a motivator to get people to join forces with you.
3. Recognize your victories, even the little ones
I get it. I know, it’s not easy to be happy when you were aiming for complete equality, and that you only got a portion of what you were working for, or only one of the five candidates that you supported won the election. But these little victories are important, and might be the start of something bigger, so they should be recognized accordingly. When we make headway on a Progressive cause, we need to shout it from the rooftops, telling everyone we can about it and why it’s so important, not only for the good of society, but also for the movement as a whole. How do these victories fit into the master plan? People naturally want to be a part of the winning team, and if we as Progressives don’t publicize our victories, even the little ones, we will continue to be seen by others as the underdogs, and risk losing the support we need from the public.
4. Use more personal stories than logic
People respond to people. Plain and simple. We are more responsive to personal stories rather than to the numbers and the logic behind why something is or isn’t ethical. In my opinion, the Progressive party is the party of the people, because we are pushing for equal rights and a better quality of life for all. Many of us are familiar with the causes we are rallying behind because we have some kind of personal experience and connection to those causes. Yet when we talk politics, we forget those experiences and focus on why certain actions are rational or fair, instead of describing real-life examples of how these politics are detrimental to real people’s lives. Meanwhile the Republican’s tell stories about “Joe the Plumber” and such, then get masses of people on their side from it, because people hear the story about someone that sounds like them. These stories are ours and the Progressive issues are real, so let’s talk about them like they are in order for the public to better understand not only why a certain change makes sense, but also how making the change will dramatically improve the lives of our community members.
5. Focus on the plan, not just the cause
We all have certain issues that push us to be on the side of Progressives, which are causes that many other people believe in as well. But it’s not enough to talk about the cause, or the “why” of what we are doing, we need to talk about the plan of how we are going to get there. Causes, like ideas, are nothing without a realistic plan about how to achieve them. I believe we spend too much time as Progressives trying to convince people why they should support a cause, but we need to spend just as much time devising a plan on how to reach our goals, and sharing that plan with potential supporters.
6. Remind your audience that Progressive does not mean Anti-American
America has always been about progress. In our history we have always wanted to be the first and the best, declaring an end to slavery when many other countries were still operating as slave drivers, and working to prove that we can develop the best space programs or the most advanced technology. Personally, I love America and I have no interest in living anywhere else. But I know and see that there are changes that need to be made to make this country even better, and that’s why I support the Progressive causes and issues that I do. I want to live in a country that is for the people, and by the people, and I dream of a country where no one goes hungry, or homeless, and kids living in the inner city have the opportunities to be just as successful as the kids growing up in the suburbs. A country where we are more worried about people than we are about money, and corporations. This is my dream, this is the reason why I align with the Progressive movement, and hopefully those that believe with me will join us to fight for that dream.
I think as a whole, the people involved in the Progressive movement understand that there are clearly some issues with our messaging, which could be why we don’t have more people on our side and more support for our causes. This weekend, I was able to finally internalize the fact that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. This concept refers not only to the non-verbal and para-verbal, but also the language that you use overall and how it translates to the person(s) you are speaking to. I challenge all Progressive’s to pay closer attention to how we communicate with others, to use some of the tips outlined here, and to see if the way they word the message changes the way it is received.