Why did you volunteer? Did you seek out this opportunity or were you asked? Were you drawn in by a friend or relative? Why did you step up?
You may feel in your soul the seismic shift in our political landscape from “all for one and one for all” to “every man for himself”; government of, by and for the people now somehow the enemy.
My guess is no matter how you came to become involved, you couldn’t simply sit by and watch our country dismantled by extreme conservatives. And you may feel in your bones that nothing will change if good people don’t help change it. For whatever reason, you’ve decided you must be involved.
But you are only human and you have questions and fears and questions about becoming involved. Will I be expected to do things I am uncomfortable with? Do I really have to door knock and phone call? How much time will be expected of me? What will my friends think of me? Who are these other people!? Everyone seems to know so much; will I ever fit in? Am I smart enough?
You aren’t the first to feel these things. The people you are meeting are just like you. At one time they felt as uncertain and anxious as you may now. Luckily, activists in progressive organizations are just people (most of ‘em anyway) with all their talents and faults. If you’ve volunteered for a political party and imagine it as a monolithic, impregnable organization directed by power brokers in a smoky room, the reality is a bit more boring. In many state parties and in many progressive organizations, only seven or eight people are employees. Everyone else is a volunteer!
Relax. Don’t worry.
Ther really are nice people, if talkative, and
You are special just for having volunteered at all.
What a rare bird you are! Consider this: most congressional districts (from which your US House Representative is elected) hold about a million people. Counting both major parties, the number of party volunteers involved year in and year out in most states number in the low hundreds. That means only a few hundredths of one percent of citizens care enough about the future of their country to become involved in affecting elections.
You are now one of only a very few who will change the course of American history. No contribution you make will be too small. And, like the few others who care enough to actually do something, you will find your place. You will contribute your unique skills. Ask questions, find a friend, be part of the community.
The benefits are many. You’ll meet all sorts of like minded people and make good friends. You’ll be surprised at how close you are to the movers and shakers. Depending on what you decide to do and how far you want to take things, you may end up a mover and shaker yourself!
A little story.
A few years ago Carl, a volunteer, asked me -quite indignantly- why the party did not have a veterans group for a candidate who happened to be an Iraq war vet. His tone implied it was either rank incompetence or willful oversight. My response? “Carl, this isn’t happening because no one is doing it. Why don’t you do it?” And he did, creating a very successful effort to bring vets into the campaign. The group still exists today (albiet as a Drinking Liberally group –but they do still volunteer for vet candidates!)
Because hardly anyone is paid and are all free to come and go as they please, getting things done can be like herding cats. Any volunteer organization depends a great deal on individual initiative and commitment. To be sure, a motivated individual can be involved at any level in a relatively short amount of time.
Of course, a lot of the work that needs doing may be, at times, tedious but it’s necessary work and most volunteers do find ways to use their unique talents. In fact for many people, their volunteer work is the mopst rewarding work they’ll ever do.
The world is changed by those who show up and you’ve shown up! Welcome aboard!
…and how will I fit In?
You’ll be meeting a lot of folks now that you are active. Just who are you likely to meet?
In Progressive activist organizations you’ll be meeting staffers, leadership and, of course, other volunteers. The organizations are usually small and/or have few levels so you’ll likely end up knowing everyone. Party organizations, on the other hand are huge and complex.
Party organizations are more structured than most progressive action groups and the roles people play in volunteering and leadership will vary greatly. This allows for a greater amount of democratic decision making and fairness. On the practical side -well, there is no practical side. On the personal side, the good news is you’ll have more options for the role you’ll choose.
The first person you’’ll likely meet is the young campaign staffer who hands you a map and points you out the door to talk to voters. Staffers and interns are young people hired because they’ll work 18 hour days, seven days a week, living on potato chips and Pepsi -for little or no pay. They are often college students interested in political science or law. They have big expectations put on them and are constantly busy. They are the lifeblood of campaigns and we could not win elections without them. Because they are here for a short while, though, they may not be representative of the larger, more permanent community of local volunteers. If they seem brusque or distracted it is because they are given difficult goals to meet and they are driven like recalcitrant mules.
You will be working side by side with other volunteers. Many, you will find, are your neighbors. Like you, they have families, jobs and responsibilities and, again like you, they’ve carved out a chunk of their time to be involved.
There are never anywhere close to enough volunteers to accomplish everything that ought to be done and finding consistent quality leadership is difficult, so if you think things are not running as well as they should, you’re probably right. We do muddle along and rest assured that your work is valued.
Most experienced volunteers are more than willing to answer questions. Believe me, they love people who are driven and engaged. They can also help you navigate the byzantine rules and obscure terminology. You may want to find a mentor -this can really speed your way into meaningful work. Experienced volunteers will help you; just don’t be afraid to ask!
You’ll begin meeting local party leaders –again, volunteers like you. Local leaders are not professionals -they’re volunteers who stepped up to be leaders, often because no one else would. They have usually worked a few elections and know how things run. Get to know these people. Tell them you want to be useful, let them know of your unique skills. Old timers love to help and if you also wish to take on a leadership position they’ll help you along.
One more thing: since party leaders are volunteers and not pros, your path will depend a lot on how proactive you are. Leaders cannot always devote the time and resources to make sure everyone is contacted and given direction. Step up anyway, ask what can be done. Take on a project and become a leader yourself!
Because so few people volunteer it’s rather easy to meet and get to know candidates at all levels. You may not meet the Presidential candidate (then again you might!) but you’ll likely meet US Senators, the Governor, state legislators and all manner of local officials. You’ll quickly see that most are real people who, like you, care passionately about making a difference.
Candidates are extremely busy and often on very tight schedules. In fact most candidates don’t even make their own schedules; they are led around by campaign staff from one event to another. Their day consists of meeting people, raising money, giving speeches, raising money and raising money. The higher the office, the busier they are and the more money raising they do. Their conversations with volunteers will necessarily be short, and don’t take it personally if they don’t always remember your name -they’re meeting new people all day, every day! Rest assured that the candidates truly appreciate what you are doing.
Many volunteers come to volunteering for a specific candidate, but your work will almost always crossover to other candidates and issues -especially close to Election Day. And there is also important work to be done between elections!
And, finally, the other people you’ll meet will be voters! We’ll get to them later.
How will I fit in?
Most likely you and everyone else will be involved in voter contact: phone calling and door knocking to be specific. Drudgery, perhaps, but necessary. But, in a way, the hard work is done outside of that time -in the space between elections. This is when party building is done and, if things are really going right, a more strategic form of voter contact is taking place.
Be sure to let leaders know what your skills are. They’ll never know unless you tell them! Remind them if they forget -and they will. The reality is that there are more things needed than you might think. We often find people who propose great ideas we never thought of and these tend to be the most successful. We need event planners, precinct leaders, cooks, public speakers, drivers, letter to the editor writers, blog and web writers, handout and PowerPoint-ers; we need folks conversant in social media, web design, databases, graphic design, computer hardware, and e-mail blasting. We need drivers, lawn sign planters, techies, furniture movers-and more. And there are many party offices that need filling.
Many people are active in progressive organizations between elections. Most of these are concerned with specific issues. Ask around, see what others are doing, find something that fits you. Above all, start building your network – get to know everyone!
And if you’ve often wondered why the party doesn’t do this or that -now you know! No one is a pro and there aren’t enough people to do it all. Maybe you are the one who will make things happen!
It’s a myth that there are legions of people doing political work. On our side, in my congressional district of approximately a million people there are a few hundred reliable volunteers in for the long term and another 500 or so who show up during campaigns and in the weeks before an election to help out. And Minnesota’s third CD is consistently one of the most effective in the country.
And, as it is in every volunteer organization, a very few people do a great deal of the work.
Sometimes volunteering is simply showing up at a town hall or a rally, or maintaining a website, or cooking for hungry campaign staffers. Other times it is working closely with a candidate day after day or producing a video or writing press releases and yes, contacting voters by phone or in person. There are tasks for the gregarious talkers and shut ins; for the the tech nerd and and the technophobe.
Of course, as election day gets closer and closer, more and more volunteers will be asked to do voter contact. Voter contact is how we win elections and it simply must be done. Let’s face facts though, not everyone is cut out for phone calling and door knocking. So where will you fit?
Well, what kind of person are you?
Your skill set
On the theory that you’ll be happiest doing what you do best, make a list of your skills. If you are an accountant, be a treasurer. Salespeople make great voter contact people. Writers can create press releases or flyers. Office workers can do any number of needed tasks around a campaign office. Some volunteers just cook nutritious chow for hungry volunteers who often live for months on potato chips and pop! Kjnmow what your skill set is and communicate it to leaders and staffers.
You need to make a decision as to how much time you are willing to offer. Think carefully about it. Be up front about your decision with others. Once you’ve made up your mind and taken on a task, meet your commitments. You might find as you make friends and gain experience, that you’d like to do more.
Be proactive and creative.
Since other volunteers also have jobs and a family, they may not have a great deal of time to contact you or think about what you could be doing. If you gave someone your name and said you’d help out and have not been called, don’t be steamed -call them and ask what you can do. If you have a brilliant idea and wonder why your organization is not doing it, it is likely because no one either thought of it (unlikely) or volunteered to take it on (almost certain!). This is when you say “I’d like to (fill in the blank).” Chances are that local leaders will 1) be overjoyed, 2) thankful and 3) relieved!
Here’s an outline of tasks and who might do them
I’ve chosen this word to describe someone who wants to help, but cannot commit to a great deal of time or ongoing participation. An affiliate might take on a specific task from time to time. Often affiliates are neglected by parties and campaigns because, frankly, it is a lot of work to keep track of what volunteers will do what work -especially when the volunteer coordinator (if there is one at all) is a volunteer herself! Affiliates might:
- stuff envelopes
- cook for hungry campaign staffers (almost always college students)
- Pass on fliers or e-mails from opposition candidates
- sign petitions -online or otherwise
- show up at a rally
- write a letter to a legislator or a newspaper
- design a flyer
- record or videotape an event
Stay at Home/ Shut In
Taking ona recurring task that cam be done from home is a great way to volunteer without having to leave children or work behind. Many folks who cannot get around can also help. Stay at Homes amy
- Moderate an online discussion group
- maintain a webpage
- Act as treasurer for a party organization or campaign
- Someone who will join a campaign or party organization as an ongoing volunteer.
- Join a campaign as a regular volunteer
- Door knock and phone call
Leaders are always needed and are hard to find. This is usually because leadership requires a longer term committment. But if you like to build an porganization
- Be an officer in a local party unti
- organize fundraisers and other events
- strategize long and short term
- lead a team
Gregarious and outgoing
Chances are you are fairly well educated, stay on top of the issues and love to talk. You may be in a profession, like sales, that relies on persuasion. You are most needed in voter contact, especially during the persuasion phase. Door knocking puts you in touch with voters face to face where you can use your skills to help a voter over to our side.If you have strong phone skills you’ll want to let the campaign volunteer coordinator know. You’ll also make a great leader, fundraiser or campaign staffer.
One of the first things that completely mystifies new volunteers is why they get a number when they ask where someone is from! Where the heck is an SD40 or a CD11? Jargon and what at first appears to be byzantine structure and arcane rules are usually there for a reason and are not incomprehensible (well almost). Though party organizations differ slightly from state to state and from party to party, this general guide will likely apply.
Think of a precinct as a neighborhood. It is the smallest unit of party organization (besides the individual volunteer!). If a precinct is running well, precinct chairs and other volunteers will be contacting voters year round, inviting them to events and asking them to volunteer and vote for our candidates in election years.
The process varies between states -for example, if you live in a caucus state, you and your neighbors may gather elect precinct chairs at the same time (say Super Tuesday) that your state casts candidate preference ballots for statewide candidates and President and elect party delegates to conventions. Otherwise, your party will have scheduled meetings or conventions.
In many states, party platform planks -what the state party “believes” in -and puts effort into- also begin as “resolutions” at the same meeting where precinct chairs are elected. The idea for the Peace Corps came from a single person’s resolution at a precinct caucus in Minnesota!
An organizing unit (also referred to as a “county unit” or “Senate District”) is about the size of a suburban city or a rural county. The term Senate District is somewhat misleading because a “Senate” district is responsible for supporting a candidate for state Senate and also, generally two state House candidates. Senate Districts may also be supporting candidates for local city offices and school boards in their area, though larger cities and counties may have their own units to endorse city and county candidates and issues.
OU leaders and volunteers organize and train officers, conduct conventions, endorse candidates, raise money and gather volunteers to support the election of their candidates as well as school or city ballot initiatives.
In election years OU conventions get far more interesting! Delegates elected at the precinct level meet to confer party endorsement on candidates for state Senate and House seats. In caucus states this can get quite wild with people running around and screaming. It’s watching the proverbial sausage getting made!
OU conventions are often contentious; besides the Senate and House candidates vying for endorsement, delegates also choose other delegates who then attend attend both the congressional district and state conventions. People supporting a particular candidate or an important issue will hotly compete to become a delegate to those conventions. The congressional or national candidate that earns the most delegates at OU conventions is far more likely to gain an endorsement at the congressional district or state conventions. Delegates in support of issues hope to be influential at the State convention.
Each state gets a specific number of US House Representatives based on population (Minnesota, for example, gets eight). Each one represents a Congressional District. Congressional Districts party units (“CDs”) exist to endorse their candidate at the CD convention and support them with volunteers and a small amount of money. CDs also coordinate the activities of the OUs within their boundaries. OU chairs and co-chairs are automatic members of the CD “central committee”. Other CD Central Committee members and officers are also elected at the CD convention, where the candidate for US House will be endorsed.
At the state party convention delegates endorse candidates for state offices -in Minnesota, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Sate Auditor. A candidate for US Senate is also endorsed at a state convention.
Delegates to a CD convention (elected at their SD conventions) are also delegates to the state convention and are members of the State Central Committee which meets between conventions to vote on party business. Delegates remain delegates during the two year election cycle. A smaller subset of delegates is elected to the State Executive committee where they participate in more sensitive party decision making.
The convention/SCC delegates elect a state party Chair, Vice Chair, Outreach Officer, Treasurer and Secretary. The State party convention is also where resolutions introduced at precinct caucuses (and consolidated at SD and CD conventions) are voted on.
The State party is also responsible for maintaining the party organization at all levels, raising money to support it’s activities and the activities of lower party units, training volunteers at all levels and setting statewide goals and initiatives for success on election day. The party works closely with the national and state level campaigns and constituencies to plan strategy and spending.
State party employees are few. In Minnesota, the party employs only about ten people, though, in election years, many field coordinators are hired (and interns corralled) to manage day to day voter contact activities.
The national party endorses candidates for President and Vice president and supports US Senate and House candidates. Delegates to the national party “DNC Members” are elected at both the CD and state conventions and national party leadership is elected by the national delegates with the exception of the Chair who, when there is a Democratic President is appointed and generally approved by the DNC.
Being the Party
Getting active in a party can be a touchy subject.
Disappointed with the results of the 2016 election, there has been a great deal of long overdue needed navel gazing. The failures (and successes) of party units from the local to the national level have been analyzed in detail. It turns out there are many reasons things did not go as planned (and this site is devoted to one of them -framing and messaging). However, one truth remains: It is virtually impossible to get elected to higher office without the help of an organization that can marshal people, resources and experience.
The unprecedented explosion of new progressive volunteers is bringing needed lifeblood to our progressive worldview and has increased the chances of electing progressive candidates to office. For in the end, we have to elect people who share our worldview if we are to prevail. If we do not elect people, our opposition gets to make the laws.
As with any big change there are both positive and negatives. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, as they are few. First, in any volunteer organization nothing gets accomplished by standing outside telling those working inside what they ought to do. Anyone who has led any volunteer organization will tell you that people with great ideas are a dime a dozen; people willing to do anything to make them happen are as rare as diamonds. If you think something ought to be done then be ready to lead the effort to do it.
Second, there is and has been an active progressive movement with strong experienced leaders within the Democratic Party. Temptations to dismiss the party as not progressive enough is unfair to the progressive leaders who’ve devoted many years to the cause and obscures the very real opportunity we have to overwhelm conservatives in future elections by bringing more progressives into the party.
Which brings us to the good news! For progressives, the power we need is easily within our grasp. Did you know that state parties rarely have more than 10 full time permanent staff? Everyone else, from Precinct Chair to, in some cases, State Party Chair is a volunteer. Historically, only a tiny fraction of citizens volunteer for party office. Some stay around year to year, others come and go but the number at any one time is 1/10 of 1%. Bottom line: the party is made from the people who show up.
Also consider that the huge number of people who have now become active outnumber the people who have been around a while. This means new activists with new ideas can -within one election cycle- become a significant if not dominant force in the party -though it is important to join with the experienced progressives who are already there. They can help you navigate the process.
So, how do you become a leader?
Your first step is to become a delegate at the local, usually precinct, level. This generally happens in the early months of an election year. Be sure to contact your state party or local leaders for dates, times and procedures.
With the exception of some big city precincts, there are often fewer people than there are delegate positions and your journey to active participation begins with simply raising your hand. In other cases you may have to convince others that you should be a delegate. Make this easy on yourself: bring friends and family from your precinct with you and you’ll get enough votes.
Now what did you just get elected to? In most states, you’ve become a delegate to a convention where you will endorse candidates for state legislature. At this convention delegates to the convention will also choose from among themselves delegates to congressional district (endorsing a US House candidate) and state conventions (endorsing for statewide offices, Governor, US senator and President). States vary in methods and you should do your research to find out how they work, but the bottom line is that you will need to be persuasive and you will want to line up support before any convention.
Importantly, you will have the additional opportunity at any convention to run for party offices at that level such as Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, Director, etc., These people and a few others elected at large are collectively called the Central Committee. Unlike delegate positions, these offices persist after the conventions. You will either be assigned to or will volunteer to be on committees that convene from time to time in the two years following the conventions. If, for example, you think party rules need to be changed, get on the constitution and/or rules committees. If you think the party needs to encourage diversity, get on the outreach committee. There are other committees, but the point is that you are now deep inside! You’ll meet all the movers and shakers and you can be one too.
This is just an overview of the process which varies from state to state. There are many details of how it all works and even more about how to “work it”. It worth it to find all this out. Experienced people can help you.
A quick aside about rules. There are constitutions and rules that clearly define how this all works. As you might imagine, some of these these came into being to solve problems but they are mainly a way to make the process open and fair. Rules may sometimes be questionable -for example, there is ongoing debate about the wisdom of superdelegates, but constitutions and rules can not changed at almost every convention. You cannot take part in those changes if you are not there.
And a final note about Robert’s Rules of Order, which debuted almost 150 years ago. Robert’s Rules is the source of “motions”, “voting” and “the Chair recognizes the honorable gentleman from Cleveland” . It serves two main purposes -to put order on any meeting (and we all know from experience that meetings without order quickly devolve into chaos). It’s other purpose is to ensure fairness. Many organizations use it and nothing since it was published has proven better at maintaining fairness and order. It is also apolitical -it has no axe to grind. It is not the source of unfairness, but the protector of it. It is true that some people know the process better and use it to their advantage, but that’s not a reason to scrap the rules, it is a reason to learn them.
In closing, The point, again, is that to accomplish our goals we need to elect lawmakers. To elect lawmakers we need to concentrate people and resources and to do that we need a party apparatus and you need to be part of it!
In descending order of effective voter contact:
- One on one in person
- One on one by phone
- One on one letter
- One on one email
- Active social media presence
- Direct Mail
- A blast email
- A website
Do not overestimate what your website will do for you. It is a not a shining beacon luring people from around the internet with shiny objects and the smell of bacon. Few people besides your opponents or reporters will bother to look for it. You do need one though; think of your website as a reference.
Do not spend a great deal of time or money. It only needs:
- A page about you
- A page about your positions -not too much -just the basics in plain, well framed language. (Too much detail and you’ll end up misquoted on your opponents facebook page!)
- A donation link
- A link for people to volunteer
- A contact link -NOT your personal email address.
- Some Pictures
Maybe a calendar of events. In intensely fought races, you may not want your opponent’s supporters to show up and mess up one of your events.
E-mails are another tool campaigns overestimate. They’re great for followup, for keeping in touch with your volunteers and, if done correctly and with the right frequency, for fundraising.
Getting people to events and fundraising is best handled on the phone or in person with an e-mail followup.
More on emails in the Effective Emails tab at left.
Social Media has the advantage that it can be shered. Write share-worthy posts!
Social media is only as good as the effort put into it. If you are not going to post everyday; if you are not going to monitor it continually; if you are not going to respond quickly, then don’t do it. If you have a staffer or volunteer do it, be sure they do it everyday in their private life (so they are adept) and that you trust that person’s discretion. Facebook and Twitter are best.
Campaign e-mails can be an effective way to motivate volunteers, solicit donors and inform voters and there are a lot of things to think about before sending one!
- Know your audience -campaign volunteers? Donors? Voters? Make sure your message and call to action are appropriate for the recipients.
- Know how to frame messages! Use our words and avoid conservative frames and code words -example: “Investment” is our word. “Tax relief” is theirs. Google “George Lakoff” for more on framing.
- Plan ahead: What is the target date? Is there a bad time or good time to send this e-mail? Do you have an e-mail service lined up to send it? Email marketing sites and services have a good deal of information about composing and sending emails.
- Are staff trained in composing e-mails and using e-mail services?
- Note that most of your e-mails will be tied to events. This means 1) there should be a tie in to your online calendar. Google Calendar is very powerful and has invite/RSVP functions. 2) Bigger/better recipient lists will draw more people. But do not expect amazing resulkts -a 10% open rate is not uncommon with an even smaller percentage responding in any way; 1500-2000 addresses may draw 50-75 people, 500 addresses only 15-20.
- The likelihood that people will open an email depends on how busy they are. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are considered by experts to be better days for sending an e-mail.
- Effective e-mailing is the art of giving things up. The more you put in, the less will get read. Resist the temptation to tell the recipient everything about your candidate in an e-mail.
- Put a short version of your well framed message into the subject line.
- Make the From: address consistent across all e-mails. You can create a generic address such as “Info@me4esenate.com” for this purpose. This way your readers can then “find” or filter their inbox by that name to quickly find all your e-mails . Using Bob@mef4senate. com and Sally@me4senate.com will divide your e-mails up in their inbox sort.
- Always use the candidate’s first and last name in your text, not “our candidate”. Avoid Mr. or Ms., however affixes such as Dr. or Senator, etc. should be used.
- Get to the Point! Compose a single concise message you want the recipient to come away with. People have short attention spans when skimming e-mail; keep your message short and do not have more than one message unless it is specifically a talking points memo.
- Include a clear and concise call to action if possible -donate, volunteer, come to an event, visit the website, “like” on Facebook, etc.
- Text should be conversational rather than formal. Remember, you are talking to a person -stay in the first and second person as you do in conversation. Use I, me, you, us and first names; these draw the reader in. Humor is fine!
- Tell a very short story. People like stories!
- Using sense modalities in your text – “Can you see how trickle down’s failurte has impacted your life?” “This sounds like my opponent doesn’t understand the challenges facing seniors. ” “William felt like his medical bills would bankrupt his family”. Sense words command attention and have sustaining power. Sense modalities in stories are even better as people vicariously experience what the subject of the story does: Bob, a management consultant and father of two, felt panic when he heard his unemployment would be cut by Republican filibustering -he saw the possibility that he and his family might lose their home. He heard the fear when his kids asked, “Daddy will we have to move?”.
- Bullet points, numbered lists (if kept to no more than four items), and bolding of key concepts help skimming readers (and face it, that’s everyone!).
- Always edit for brevity. Over and over. Think Twitter short. Do not defend and preserve that wonderful line you wrote if it’s getting in the way!
- Don’t get too wonky; add links for readers who want more info.
- Most people do not not bother to open attachments. The worst e-mail you can send says “See the attached file for our candidate’s important message”!
- Always head campaign e-mails with the candidate’s logo.
- The message and call to action should be up top (“above the fold” as newspaper people say) so recipients do not have to scroll down to find your message. Many people read e-mails in the message pane of their e-mail client, which is often only about 20-30 lines of text deep. And remember -your logo and greeting takes seven to ten of those!
- Put pictures in the e-mail and always one of your candidate’s face; clear and almost full frame. Pictures, if strategically placed, can also get readers to scroll down the page.
- Reinforce the images associated with your candidate (logo, face) at every opportunity -emails, website, lit pieces, event announcements, etc.
- Avoid flashy fonts, mixed colors, multiple fonts and sizes and all-caps. When in doubt use sans-serif fonts like Arial/Helvetica 12pt. for text. Use larger sans-serif fonts for headlines. Logos have a little more latitude but should still use simpler “display” fonts. A good graphic designer should do your website, lawn signs and e-mail template.
- White space is your friend! It makes the e-mail far more readable and appealing to the eye and forces you to tighten up your message. Less is more!
- Include clear date, time, address and a map link for any event. Ask for an RSVP, but do not require it -you don’t want to give recipients any excuse not to show up!
- Always include clear contact info including names, address, e-mail, website, facebook, twitter, etc. Use the signature feature of your e-mail client so this is automatically added to every e-mail. Your disclaimer can go there too.
- Include any required disclaimers -that’s the part that says “Paid for by (candidate) for (office), (so and so) Treasurer, address.” Know the rules in your locale.
- If you are asking for donations, be sure to provide prominent donation buttons or instructions as to how the reader can complete a donation. Try the links yourself and make sure the payment processes is clear and above all short so they don’t bail out.
- Proofread -especially for the information your readers will use to respond to your call for action (time, date, location, donate button, etc.) and for legal requirements such as disclaimers.
- Now ask someone else to proofread!
- Proofread again.
- Send a test e-mail and read it. What you see in the e-mail editoris not always what you get!
- Make sure your candidate reviews and approves all communication from the campaign.
Your E-mail List
- Build your e-mail list -constantly. The biggest mistake we see is when organizations don’t ask for or collect e-mails when they could easily do so. This is especially true of party units in caucus states (see below). Ask for e-mail addresses at every event. Have a mailing list sign-up link on your website, in lit pieces and in every e-mail. Include a forward this e-mail link in your e-mail (provided by your for-fee mailing service).
- Your list should be opt-in; recipients should choose to sign up. Paper sign up sheets can say somewhere that you’ll be adding them to your newsletter list. Your e-mails should include a “forward this e-mail” and a sign up link so your fans can help build your list.
- Keep a quality list. E-mails you collect one-on-one from people are always better than ones you find here and there. The best qualified recipients are ones that have actually demonstrated an interest in your message. In states that caucus, caucus goers are highly qualified to be on your list. Make sure you collect this info before turning it in to your party as once it hits the state database you may not be able to download it!
- You can upload delimited (.csv) files of e-mail addresses to e-mail services to quickly get started. Be sure to download all this data and cancel your service after the campaign is over!
- A quality email list doesn’t do much good unless you use it. Regularly scheduled events or news items give you a reason to keep in contact.
- Small recipient lists may be sent as regular e-mail but be aware that e-mails with more than ten recipient addresses are routinely filtered and trashed by ISP spam filters.
- Free e-mailing programs offered by your website’s hosting provider can be used to send mail but may require a web savvy operator, can be unreliable, and offer little in the way of reliable reporting. In addition, e-mails sent this way may not make it to recipients -and you won’t even know it. These programs are best for your internal staff communication where you can verify that everyone is getting your emails.
- A for-fee mailing service such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, NGP, The Databank and others get a higher percentage of e-mails delivered and offer composition, formatting, database and reporting tools for between $15 and 30 per month. If you have a large list you should use one of these services.
- Be sure to read and abide by the e-mail service or the VAN’s usage policies.
- Many for-fee companies have free accounts for lists under 500 addresses. Some offer discounts for non-profits -you’ll need to provide documentation.
- E-mail services provide extensive reporting including how many e-mails were opened, who opened them and what links they clicked on. You can learn a lot about what works from reviewing these reports. Note: only email opened while a person is connected to the internet is counted; email opened offline may not get counted in total opens unless a person clicks a link in your e-mail when they are back online.
- The VAN is also a fee service but with many extra advantages including the ability to search and filter the database to refine your recipient list. The VAN is best used when contacting voters, not necessarily your fellow volunteers. The fact that an e-mail is sent from the VAN actually adds info to the voter’s record and provides overall data to party strategists. Campaigns should strongly consider using the VAN as their primary e-mail service.
- Not everyone will open your e-mails every time. Do not assume that a 15% open rate means that you are only reaching the same 15% of your list over time.
- Contact a fellow candidate who uses a for-fee service and ask if they are “affiliates” and sign up through them -they may get a finder’s fee! Any admin of an blast e-mail account -including you- can be an affiliate, which means that if you sign someone up you get a bonus too -just another way to bring money in! (FYI, the same holds true for some website hosting.)
- If your campaign is using the VAN (and you should!), be sure to also procure the e-mail feature and learn to use the powerful filtering features to narrow your audience. Be sure to add collected e-mail addresses to voter records!
OPE: Other People’s E-mail List
- If your event or message goes beyond your organization, have other organizations promote your event through their e-mail list.
- While some list purchasing is legitimate, copying someone else’s e-mail list into your own will definitely run afoul of your for-fee service provider’s terms of service and is also not considered proper e-mail etiquette. In general, e-mail lists should be “opt in” meaning the recipient has agreed to get your e-mail.
- Regular emails make many people feel much more connected to your organization, and some people say they feel cut off if for some reason the email stops coming.
- Caution: think of the all e-mails you receive; avoid over-saturation! Experts say you should send an email at least once a month and at most once a week. You know your audience though; if you get complaints or unsubscribes you are probably sending too many.
- Separate your fundraising e-mails from your informational and event e-mails. If you mail without a service, use different From and Reply to addresses. If you use a service you may want two accounts as most services will allow users to permanently unsubscribe from getting any e-mails from an account.
- Three emails sent over a period of three to four weeks results in twice as many attendees as one email sent a week ahead of time. Don’t send the same one each time; vary the content to keep up interest.
- For events, campaign workers and marketers say that making followup phone calls between the emails will easily double attendance.
*Thanks to Former Minneapolis Star Tribune Reporter Jeremy Powers for his insight into editorial boards!
It All Starts Here
In Short: We need to learn a new ways of communicating called “framing” because what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked.
Just our opinion here, but active liberals give up time, money and sweat to get candidates elected, legislation passed and advocate for change and when our messaging is poor —and it is— we are not as effective as we could be. We waste time; time we can ill afford to waste with Republicans hell bent on taking the citizen out of citizen government.
To make matters worse, Conservative strategists know something we don’t and have been winning the communications war for four decades. Conservatives now dominate the national narrative. So much so that it’s as if liberals and conservatives are playing baseball, but the game’s always on the conservatives home field!
How did this happen!?
Here’s a great irony for you: it turns out that when it comes to political persuasion, liberals are the science deniers and, doubly ironic, conservatives aren’t. There is a half century or more of solid science that shows people don’t think the way we think they think. How do we think they think? We think people weigh facts and then reason their way to a conclusion, so we spend most of our time presenting facts and showing how we reasoned our way to our conclusions expecting the voter to smack their foreheads and say “Gee, I guess you’re right, I’ll change my mind.”
No science supports this notion. None. In fact Nobel Prizes have been won proving that neither the rational actor in economics nor the rational actor next door think this way. Humans can reason their way to great things if properly trained, but few of us are formally trained in logic or science. Few of us -of any political view- are anywhere near as rational as we’d like to believe. Don’t beat yourself up; it’s not your fault – we evolved this way.
What conservative strategists know —because they study and apply the science— is that facts and reason are way down on the list of effective persuaders; people base their political decisions on feelings and moral values built up over time in their brains.
So then, if people aren’t going to listen to reason, why are we trying to reason with them?
How do we learn the science of communicating effectively with voters? And, unlike Republican politicians and media, can we use the science with honesty and integrity?
That’s what our ConnectionsLab workshops, online course and this website are dedicated to. We base our content on the science of how people really think -most centrally the work of George Lakoff– and we ground it in field work. We want any and every volunteer and every candidate at any level and in every community to have the skills they need to be persuasive.
Let’s make all that time and effort we put in worth the time and effort we put in. The first step is learning a new way to communicate!
Why Change the Way We Communicate?
We begin our study of how people really think with frames.
At this point in our discussion our definition will be that frames are clusters of neurons in your brain that understand something. You have frames for things like cars and potatoes and also for abstract concepts like love or democracy.
You can think of frames as little stories or plays. Some are simple like instruction manuals or recipes, others are emotional and deep like novels. You may or may not notice the story behind a message. In fact the person speaking the message may not be aware of the story they are telling, but brain cells for those frames are lighting up anyway.
Stories have settings and actors and roles. Predictable things can happen in these stories given the actors, the scene and the roles -and there are things that are unlikely. In the frame of “a trip by air”, the setting is a plane. The actors are passengers, pilots and the flight crew. The pilot flies the plane, the flight crew serves and protects the passengers and the passengers have the role of sitting simultaneously annoyed, uncomfortable and bored out of their skulls until the plane lands.
There are also things that should not exist in the story: free roaming snakes, say, or the Daytona 500. Passengers do not fly the plane; the plane will not land on the moon. Frames have possibilities and boundaries (Linguists say entailments and constraints ).
Politically, consider the frame Republicans use to describe immigration: crime. In the crime frame, the immigrants are criminals committing illegal acts (they themselves are labelled “illegals” to drive the point home). Criminals deserve punishment. Border patrol agents capture the criminals and courts administer justice and pass sentence. Immigrants are deported back to their home countries as punishment. Republicans become heroes protecting us from criminals and Democrats, of course, are the villains protecting the criminals.
If you’re with me so far, I think you’ll see the value of framing in just a second. Consider that a simple change of frame changes the story and it’s boundaries. What if we were to talk of Immigrants as war refugees from the brutal violence of drug wars or from non functional economies where parents cannot provide for children. In this frame immigrants fear for their lives. Democrats play the role of empathetic heroes rescuing people who’ve been through terrible trauma. This story allows the question of why immigrants are coming and asks if there’s anything we can do to help either people and families or perhaps aid the countries that are falling apart.
Note that there is no role in the criminal frame for compassion but also no role in the refugee frame for punishment. Change the frame, change the story.
I know what you’re thinking: If I say “refugee” conservative strategists will just say “criminal”. So what? They’ll attack you if you say the sun is shining because attacking you furthers their frame. You are rarely in a face to face with Republicans and in most cases you are under no obligation to respond to what they say. The point here is not winning at debate club, it’s that using the refugee frame gives voters a chance to try out a new way of looking at immigrants. and if we do this enough over time, the frame of refugee no longer seems alien (pardon the pun) -it becomes commonplace and familiar. That’s a better outcome than wasting time arguing with your crazy uncle Fred.
Here’s where this worked: the change of the frame “sin against God” to “love” on the issue of marriage rights. Conservatives have to this day not stopped calling it a sin, but the gay community took the time to use the love frame at every opportunity and “love” eventually replaced “sin” in enough voters brains. That’s the end game.
And isn’t this a better way to approach messaging than breaking out a litany of facts and figures and laying your reasoning out in excruciating detail? Can you see how people might be more moved by the feeling of compassion than pages of statistics and carefully reasoned logic? Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable if you could stop staying up late before a doorknock studying the issues and getting all your facts memorized? Because you do that, right?
Behold the power of framing.
When used with integrity, your frame gives the a listener a broader and more cohesive understanding of an issue grounded in our moral values. However, frames also create boundaries or constraints around a discussion.
For example, the conservative frame of “voter ID” limits discussion to a legal/crime frame. There are actors and elements: poll workers, voters and legislators as well as IDs, polling places and voter rolls. There are scenarios: would-be voters must present IDs that will be checked; legislators introduce legislation to “protect the integrity of the ballot”; there are victims whose vote is diluted by fraudulent voters and there are villains (us, if you haven’t guessed) who want to destroy the integrity of the ballot box by allowing anyone at all to vote. This clever constraint is, of course a smokescreen for voter suppression, but it still dominates the national discussion. (As we shall see, we help that constraint persist.)
Another very common conservative framing constraint is to force discussions into transactional or free market frames. For example, conservative framing on healthcare almost always forces discussion into transactional or free market frames. The focus is on the transaction between buyer and sellers of insurance or medical services, the taxes that pay for Medicare and Medicaid and the responsibility of the person buying medical services or insurance to choose products wisely. Even the word healthcare focuses on the care, not the health of the person or their right to it.
Here’s the danger: we’re human. When a frame constrains discussion, we don’t always notice it.
Conservative framing of healthcare has so successfully limited discussion to the market frame that we unconsciously limit our own discussion to the constraint. When we hear it said that consumers should have a choice of insurance plans, we immediately note that many of those plans provide almost no coverage. When we hear about the rising cost of healthcare, we talk about insurance company and Big Pharma profits. Great points, but in both cases we stayed within the constraint of market transactions.
It is not wrong to consider or talk about the financial realities of healthcare in the US -and it is important to know your facts. However the most important thing in any discussion of healthcare is health. There are nowhere near enough messages about how our broken system imperils the health and well-being of real people. If our messages fail to break through the market constraint, a number of damaging things happen: we don’t lead with the real issue of people’s health; we spend less time on our messages; we strengthen the conservative frame simply by staying in it and we unwittingly let the conservatives control the agenda.
The point of the Stop portion of Stop Drop and Roll is to take that step back; unlearn the habit of just jumping in and responding and, instead, learning to stop and think about things like frame constraint. The more we do it, the easier and quicker it happens. Remember, framing is a skill.
Frame constraints can work for us. When marriage rights activists chose the frame of love, the discussion became constrained to frames about family, bonding, care, commitment and the right to love who you choose. This frame gradually replaced the conservative “sin” frame until the freedom to marry the person you love became the law of the land.
Stop, find the real issue, know the constraints of your opponent’s frame and find a frame that puts the discussion squarely where you want it.
In Short: Frames are highly resistant to change, so the best approach is to change the frame.
All frames and the stories that define their boundaries literally exist as networks of neurons.
The more the stories are repeated, the more burned in the neural pathways become. By burned in I mean that connections between neurons physically and electro-chemically get stronger. We acquire frames from a lifetime of personal experience, from family, schools, churches, etc, and from our culture. We are embedded in a sea of frames constructed by others around us and even those who’ve come before us.
The more a network is burned in the more likely it is to come to mind consciously or unconsciously. Think of the brain going down pathways in a forest to get the information it needs. The pathways that are most familiar and that are well worn -the burned in pathways- are the easiest to use.
In other words your brain is more likely to consult things it already knows (whether you are aware of it at the time or not). This is no doubt evolutionary. Not only humans, but animals need to react in ways that keep them alive without conscious deliberation. This mechanism evolved long before humans did and it is a deep process of brain development and thinking.
What comes from this are some inescapable conclusions:
- He who dominates the political narrative burns in more brain cells and strengthens their chosen frames in voters minds. Conservatives are winning here.
- Once burned in, frames and the stories they tell are persistent over very long periods of time and very resistant to change.
- People’s brains, consciously, but mostly unconsciously, will tap the frames that are easiest to access.
- Once burned in, people will rationalize after the fact reasons that the things they believe are correct. This often requires some astoundingly counterfactual, illogical and even hypocritical mental gymnastics.
- People will gravitate toward others who share their beliefs. This embedding serves to strengthen their beliefs. This is natural because humans evolved to be social.
From what we now know, there are a number of conclusions we can draw about political messaging:
- The worst thing you can do is use your opponents frames to persuade. Repeating their frame -or repeating the codewords conservative strategists meticulously choose -lights up the brain cells for your opponent’s frame and will thereby will strengthen it.
- When challenging someone’s deeply held beliefs, the most likely response will not be persuasion, but defense and rationalization. Their belief will get stronger, not weaker and in many, if not most cases you will prompt the psychological and physiological responses of agitation, anger or even hostility. This is also based deep in our brain and deep in our evolutionary past. This is why it’s not worth spending time trying to persuade hard core right wingers.
Changing the frame to one that evokes our values that the other person happens to share in their lives (just perhaps not politically) is the only way to move their thinking on an issue in our direction.
Every message you hear has a story —a frame— behind it. And like most stories, they interconnect with other stories.
When you hear a song that reminds you of your childhood, you not only remember how the song goes, though you may not have heard for many decades, you also remember places, events and people associated with that song. Those frames connect to others and still others eventually diminishing like ripples across a mental sea (we’ll talk about metaphors later).
So here’s an idea. If we use our core value frames to construct all our messages, all our messages reinforce our worldview cross all issues in people’s brains. Or, as we’ll learn next, they light up our frames that are quite likely already in their brains. To use our immigration example, People who may buy the criminal frame from conservatives might also use an empathy frame in other parts of their lives. Empathy is not a new concept to them. See how that works?
Put another way, if you are framing with our core values you strengthen those values for all issues. Your primary goal is our strategic goal -to strengthen our worldview in voter’s brains. Not to put too much on you.
“Connections Lab offers an excellent introduction to framing for progressives.”
—George Lakoff, author of THE ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!
Liberals need to change the way we communicate —because what we’re doing isn’t working.
While facts and logic—our go-to methods of persuasion—are important, unfortunately they’re not as effective as values and emotions. Built on the work of linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, and current science in psychology, this course compares how liberals and conservatives see the world and how those worldviews determine and explain their differing policy positions. We offer a method we call Stop, Drop and Roll so you can craft messages with honesty and integrity based on sound science to win today and in the long run.
Conservative strategists know how to keep us off message, hurting our message and helping theirs. Part 1.
Conservative strategists know how to keep us off message, hurting our message and helping theirs. Part 1.
Learn the art of re-framing so voters hear our frame and not our opponents’.
It is completely understandable that you might find it unsettling to talk to people you don’t know -especially since you are either calling them at their homes or actually going to their door. Few people actually like phone calling or door knocking, but when it comes to elections or advocating for issues it is an essential part of winning.
And yes, that means you; there are never enough people to contact all the voters that need to be contacted. Think of it this way: this is where your values are tested. If you really believe in them, you’ll do the hard work of talking to voters. And it’s just talking; no need to argue –just have a short respectful conversation. You can do it! Let’s take a look at common concerns and some things you can do to be effective and comfortable.
I’m nervous because I’m shy.
It may come as no surprise that shy people can often communicate more effectively that others. Shyness sets voters at ease and tends to forestall a negative response. Beyond that it takes a few calls to get comfortable -but you’ll get there! Two things you can do: be prepared and then just do it. After about four or five contacts you’ll feel like a pro!
Think about these things…
The campaign will give you talking points and basic instructions.
Ask who the best phone bankers or door knockers are and sit next to them or go with them. You’ll pick up talking and style points.
Be yourself. Tell voters you are a volunteer. Be conversational and friendly.
If you are calling or knocking into your neighborhood (you can request this) mention that you live in the neighborhood.
Most people are pretty polite; say goodbye if they’re not. Hang up or leave if they’re abusive.
Most people who will never agree with you will tell you and they’re most often polite about it. Thank them for their time, mark this on your call or walk sheet and and move on.
I’m not sure how to begin.
You’ll diffuse a lot of tension by identifying yourself as a volunteer and if applicable as a neighbor. They will be more comfortable knowing you are not a paid operative.
Don’t ask “Can I ask you about the upcoming election?” or “Is this a good time?”. Remember, the voter is also uneasy and it is too easy for them to answer your question with a “No”.
If you are making voter identification contacts (which way do they lean…) or Get Out The Vote (GOTV) contacts, your job is easy –ask them the questions from the script, thank them and move onto the next call. There is no persuasion involved and the conversation is scripted.
If you are making persuasion calls, let the voter talk a little. They may mention an issue you are familiar with. Take notes so you can come back to these points later.
Practice helps -and faster than you think. As you practice you’ll sound less scripted and more folksy. For most people, one shift is all it takes to get comfortable enough that you’d be willing to do it again!
What if I get a extreme conservative? Will they yell at me?
Even the most hardened extremists are much more polite face to face than they are behind the anonymity of the Internet. Hard righties may simply brush you off (no great loss -you wouldn’t have convinced them anyway). A few, however, relish the chance to throw their views at you. Arguing back is a waste of time and means fewer contacts with persuadable voters. Simply say thanks and goodbye.
I’m scared that I don’t know enough. What if a voter asks me things I know nothing about?
It’s unsettling when a voter demands facts on an issue you know little about. Hey welcome to the club, Sport; nobody knows everything. Remember, it’s better to say you don’t know than to try to wing it. You can’t know everything; try these things:
Start by asking voters what issues matter to them …and stop when they get to something you know! You might find one thing you are both passionate and knowledgeable about and you’ll feel much more confident!
Talk about values not facts! Facts will not win voters. I know it makes you want to scream when people ignore reality. Facts are important -they are after all the truth; but people see things from different frames of reference that are quite resistant to change. In fact, when it’s a cage match between facts and frames the facts will almost always lose (think climate change deniers). Values do work and they’re way easier -and way, way, way more effective- than talking about facts. Everyone including the voter can talk about values.
Re-frame the issue from our values and worldview. We encourage you to study up on “framing” but here’s a quick cheat sheet. Frame your talking points around one or more of these core progressive values:
Empowerment and Protection
Common Good & Investment
Decency & Dignity
Equity and Opportunity
Empathy & Social Responsibility
Freedom & Equality
Public support for Private Success
Excellence & Fulfillment
Justice & Accountability
When a voter brings up an issue, stop for a moment and ask yourself: “What is the underlying value?”. For example, when a voter asks about spending and taxes, the underlying value for progressives is investment. We hate waste as much as Republicans, but we feel it’s crucial to invest in things like roads, schools, the military, etc., that benefit all Americans.
Make the “Ask”:
This is important -you must ask “Will you be a voter that supports my candidate or issue)?” It’s a simple and necessary sentence that should always be asked in a way that requires a yes or no answer.
It will probably be difficult the first few times; it feels wrong. You just met this person and seem to be expecting a definite answer based on a minute or two of persuasion. The point here is not necessarily to get an instant voting commitment; a very positive answer identifies this person as in our camp and not an undecided voter. We’ll likely spend less time with this person as the campaign continues. A very negative answer tells us we probably won’t get this person no matter how many resources we use. Any kind of tentative or non answer tells us we need to go back to this person. This is all valuable information -and you should be sure to note this on your walk sheet or phone list.
And there are a couple of psychological nuances going on here: Cognitive dissonance: If a person says they’ll vote for your candidate, however tentatively, they are more likely to do so. Second, note that the sentence does not ask “Will you vote” but “Will you be a voter?”. It’s subtle difference: the former asks if they’ll perform an action; the latter asks a question about who they believe themselves to be. How effective are these things? According to the studies, maybe a few percent. Ask any candidate that’s suffered a recount and they’ll tell you that small [percentages matter! And- there’s no reason not to do these things.
Introducing… the voters!
While these are certainly generalizations, it will be helpful to quickly size up voters so you can choose the best approach during the Persuasion phase of voter contact. (FYI, the other two phases of voter contact are Voter Identification where we simply call to see where voters are on the political spectrum and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) when we stop persuading and just get people to the polls.)
Non voters: Just who is a non voter? Why don’t they vote? Can you convince them to vote? Are you carrying voter registration cards? These voters may vote if emotionally involved in a candidate. In 2008 we saw millions of non-voters go to the polls because they had an emotional connection to Barack Obama. If you can create an emotional connection to your candidate or to President Obama you may win these folks. Some non voters have never registered –simply being the one to register them may give you an advantage. If language is problem, engage a younger person in the household.
Low information voters: Maybe they have three jobs and can barely stay afloat raising children. Then again, some folks just don’t pay attention -maybe politics turns them off. Things happening in the world, in Washington or at City Hall just don’t interest them. The paycheck still arrives in Friday’s mail, the kids go off to school -life goes on… I’ll bet you, though, that there is one issue that they care about -you’ll just need to find it (so ask!).
Swing Voters: Swing voters are not necessarily undecided; they may actually have strong views. Swing voters, by definition, do not hew to party lines. They may take pride in being independent. It is crucially important to question and listen to this voter. Find a few issues where the voter agrees with our worldview. Swing voters may be also influenced by a person as much as an idea. And do not be surprised if you uncover a closet Democrat!
One issue voters: -For these folks the issue is a deal breaker. If your candidate is on the other side you will not likely overcome this objection. The GOP has done a great job of creating one issue voters and you may have noticed that they’ve done nothing to outlaw abortion because they know there are voters for whom this is all that matters. You may have luck uncovering other issues the voter cares about, but if they’re set, then walk away.
Undecideds: -A common myth is that undecideds are low information voters -after all, given the vast chasm between Liberals and Conservatives how can one not come down on one side or the other? Number one -because there are more than two sides. Number two, undecideds can, not irrationally, claim that both parties have problems -and in fact may actually be the problem! These are, however, our target voters! This is where your skills at framing will be most valuable. Probing for their values and their biggest concerns will lead the way. Frame their issues in terms of our values and our worldview.
Leaning Democrats: -Focus on our deep, shared values! Leaning Democrats often have some beef with current Democratic leaders but also fear what the GOP has done. Rather than trotting out facts, affirm our values on the issues that matter to this voter. Ground them once again in why we believe what we believe. Assure them you share this frustration and are volunteering to get candidates elected who get it. If things are going well, you might ask them to volunteer, contribute, take a lawn sign or tell a friend.Voters who make a positive action of any kind for your candidate are more likely to vote for them.
Leaning Republicans: We may not turn them all into Democrats but after the recession of 2007, many have begun connecting the dots that establishment Republicans had a big hand in their sinking well being. Some leaning Republicans -often older people who remember when the parties worked together and when Republicans believed that investing in our schools, roads, etc were good things- may be convinced that voting for a Democrat (or not voting for a Republican) means stopping right wing extremists. In short, some leaning Republicans can be convinced to vote for some Democratic candidates.
Green and other third party voters: Often third parties have a narrow focus around a few or a single issue. You may find you agree on those issues and you have a basis for a conversation. Do not tell them their candidates have no chance to win, even if it’s true. If they indicate they will not vote for a Republican then ask them to watch the polls and if it looks like the Republican is winning ask them if they’d vote Democratic.
Solid Democrats: We have these folks but we need them to vote! If they are really solid ask them to volunteer!
Solid Republicans: We do not have the time to convince solid Republicans of anything -it’s like putting lipstick on a pig -it won’t work and it annoys the pig. DO NOT be tempted to carry on a spirited debate. Be polite, end the conversation immediately and say “Thank you for your time.”
Keep in mind the power of the personal contact. With the GOP’s preference for robocalls and paid telemarketers, you may be the only live human they’ve spoken to. You may also be the only person who actually listens to them. Identify yourself as a volunteer and a neighbor. This means more than you think!
Don’t be discouraged if it seems you have not gotten anywhere. What you have said needs time to sink in. It may well be that you have turned a voter but had no indication at the end of your contact. Remember, you are doing good work!
How it works
Early on, we identify voters, so we don’t waste time contacting people we can’t or don’t need to persuade during the persuasion phase. We use a database so that every year we have more and more information on voters and can better identify their issues and leanings. Voter ID calls are usually scripted and it is important to ask all the questions you are asked to. Say hello, identify yourself as a volunteer and begin asking questions -do not ask if you can have a moment of their time -it’s too easy for them to say no. They’ll let you know if they do not want to talk -in this case, apologize and say goodbye.
We find out what voters care about, frame the issues in our values and try to pull them to our side. Persuading voters is effective if you know how to do it. Draw out issues from the voter, listen to what they say, use this info to frame your answers and always speak from our values. Not everyone is effective at persuasion (If that’s you, that’s OK; volunteer for Voter ID or GOTV).
GOTV -Get Out The Vote!
GOTV is done in the week and days before election day. Calling voters to remind them to vote is much more effective at this time than persuasion: high voter turnout benefits Democrats! (This is the reason Republicans have put the full court press on to depress voter turnout and prevent people from voting. (What does it say about a party that is so terrified of voters they don’t want them to vote!?) The goal here is to contact as many people as you possibly can, giving them the date of election day, poll opening and closing times and polling location (this info will be provided to you for each voter.) You may also ask them if they need a ride. During GOTV we go for quantity; DO NOT WASTE TIME TALKING ABOUT ISSUES!
This is a longer term process -contacting voters between elections. Everyone can do this. Presumably your friends and family like you and may even look up to you and respect you for your political knowledge. Talking about our values in relation to issues will sink in.
Precinct chairs in particular, if they are doing their jobs, are in touch with Dems and leaning Dems in their neighborhoods attempting to provide issue education and asking them to join the progressive community. Low stress events like picnics or community forums with issue experts and legislators or candidates draw people in, reinforce our values and build a base of people who will likely say yes when you ask them to help in the next election cycle.
Intro audio, more detailed below.
A good walk, pleasant conversation -what’s not to like! Here’s a checklist for a successful doorknock.
Dress for comfort. Dress appropriately for the weather. And dress up a little (that old unwashed T-shirt with the bumper stickers and buttons you love so much? No. Take that off. Wash it. Then burn it. Please.)
Find a friend who will go with you as campaign season progresses.
Bring your fully charged phone.
Bring water and a snack. Note: these are often in plentiful supply at campaign HQ.
Park near your door knock route and move the car from time to time to be close to it.
Voter Rights and Safety:
Enough about you! What about the voters? First know that door knocking is a protected form of free speech –one solicitors do not have. You are not violating the law even if there is a no solicitation sign, however you should be sensitive to voter’s wishes.
Do not take their lawn signs, pick their flowers or hand them their newspaper. Picking up a bit of trash is nice as long as you don’t hand it to them!
Do not argue. If you feel the urge, leave; remember, this is their home.
Walk on walkways and driveways not on lawns or through gardens.
Do not put literature in mail boxes –it’s illegal. Wedge it in the door or other noticeable place where it won’t end up flying around the neighborhood.
Do not surprise people. Make noise as you approach.
Do not go around the back of the house or peer in windows.
Stay out of secure buildings. Do not get one tenant to open the door and then call on everyone in the building. Doorknocks on these building need to be arranged by the campaign in advance.
People get nervous if you talk to their kids beyond asking for mom and dad.
Nothing is more important than your safety. Incidents are exceedingly rare -let’s keep it that way! Here are some tips:
Trust your instincts over politeness or social convention. Leave an area if you feel uncomfortable.
Take your cell phone or ask for one (burners are standard campaign gear).
Share you phone number with HQ and the people you are door knocking with.
If you are uncomfortable going alone, ask for a partner. If campaign staff insists you go alone, refuse and lodge a complaint with the campaign manager.
Drive the route before you begin.
When carpooling or splitting up, agree on meeting places and times.
Know where you are going. Most campaigns provide maps.
Ask to contact voters in your own neighborhood. You not only know the area better, you will be better received as a “neighbor”.
With the staff, agree on a time to return to the office. If you will be out for a while, check in with your partner and/or the campaign to let them know where you are.
Bring a flashlight -in Northern states it gets dark before the end of late shifts.
Dress to be seen.
If the dog looks scary, move on.
If the voter looks scary, run!
Walk Sheet -a list of addresses and a map to them. Your walk sheet will show the target voters in a household, sometimes identified by age, gender and party leanings (or “no data”). You will note corrections and party/candidate/issue leaning on the walk sheet.
Pen, for checking off boxes and writing short notes on individual voters -things like “scary dog!” or “Brews anthrax in garage”.
Voter Registration Cards -don’t leave home without ’em!
Smart phone -you may be able to get your walk sheet through an app where you can enter data directly into the database.
Now Go Get ’em Tiger!
OK, you are primed, pumped and ready for this! (And you’re maybe a little nervous; that’s normal.) Here are some hints on getting the conversation started:
Consult your walk sheet before you go to the door. Look for any information that may be helpful. Party ID is likely already noted as well as gender and age. If there’s a dotted line on the walksheet between your voter and the next, it means they live in the same household -if you don’t get the first person, ask for the next.
Remember that you will need to contact many people. Have a feel for the time and avoid twenty minute conversations.
Avoid yes/no questions (except for the “ask” -”Will you be a voter for _____”). You want a conversation during the persuasion phase or information during the identification phase. Especially avoid asking if you can have a few moments of their time; it is polite, but you’ve just given the nervous voter an easy way out of the conversation.
Introduce yourself and why you are there. If you have any connection to the area mention it up front. “Hello, my name is ___. I’m a volunteer and I live here in (our neighborhood, down the street, here on the west side).”. People are more comfortable talking to -and less likely to hassle- someone who lives nearby and who they might see again!
It is OK to make a little sincere small talk “I like your garden, or “nice doggie” but keep it short.
Again, if you are contacting voters in your neighborhood, by all means identify yourself as a “neighbor”!
Intro; more detailed below.
You can’t see them; they can’t see you. How do you have a conversation?
I’m nervous about calling people. I haven’t done this before.
Totally understandable. Honestly, the best way to get past this is to just do it. After about four or five calls you’ll feel like a pro!
Think about these things;
- Be yourself. Tell them you are a volunteer. Be conversational and friendly.
- If you are calling your neighborhood mention that you live in the neighborhood.
- Most people are actually pretty polite –say goodbye if they’re not. Hang up on anyone who is abusive. People who do not want to speak with you will usually hang up way before you do.
- Most people who will never agree with you will tell you. Thank them for their time and move on to someone who matters -like an undecided voter! You will probably never meet this person and if you do, people are generally nicer in person!
I’m not sure how to begin.
Republicans like robo calls or paid telemarketers. You’ll diffuse a lot of tension by identifying yourself, honestly: “I’m (name) and I’m a volunteer from Brooklyn Park and I’m calling neighbors because I feel so strongly about the upcoming election.”
Don’t: Ask if you can ask them some questions. It’s too easy for them to answer “No”.
Do: Ask questions that require a response other than yes or no.
If you are making voter identification calls (which way do they lean…) or Get Out The Vote (please go vote now) calls, your job is easy –ask them the questions from the script, thank them and move onto the next call.
If you are making persuasion calls and get an undecided (or a soft Republican) let them talk a little first. They may mention an issue you are familiar with. Take notes so you can come back to these points later. As you practice you’ll sound less scripted and more folksy.
I worry that I do not know enough about all the issues.
Hey welcome to the club, Sport!!! Remember, it’s perfectly fine to say you don’t really know.
The good news is that talking about values is far easier and far more effective than talking about facts. With apologies to Tip O’Neill. All politics is moral. Morality is simply about about right and wrong. Re-frame the issues in terms of our values of right and wrong and never repeat conservative messages or use their codewords. (Learn more about Framing at ConnectionsLab.org)
Ask what issues the voter thinks are important –maybe they’ll mention one you know. If you can’t get the person to open up, talk about something you really care about and understand. You have strong convictions –you know why you are voting right? Use that enthusiasm. Again, talk about values and emotions and, if you can, tell stories that illuminate our values on the issue.
What if I get a Tea Partier? Will they yell at me?
You’re talking to a neighbor not Alex Jones, so probably not. Most hard righties will brush you off politely. Thank them for their time and get off the phone. If they are abusive, just hang up. Note: the old conventional wisdom was to ignore Strong Republicans (we’ll never get ’em) and strong Democrats (already got ’em). This thinking is changing as some Republicans are thinking of jumping off the GOP crazy train.
With strong Democrats, don’t spend all day agreeing with each other –there are undecideds to find!
OK, I found an undecided. How do I get them to turn the corner?
Sounds hard, eh? Well it’s just sales.
Any good salesperson draws out of the customer every concern they have before pitching the product –if you do not know what your customers need how can you sell them something!? Ask undecideds or soft Republicans what they care about. Look for the moral basis of both the conservative side (so you don’t speak it) and our side (so you do).
-By George Greene and Jeremy Powers.
Getting in a local paper is easy; a letter meant for a major daily, however, must jump through some hoops. In either case you need to get your point across fast and effectively and in ways that appeal to the editor and their readers.
What editors look for
- Letters to the editor go on the opinion page. Make them well-reasoned opinions.
- Stand strong; be direct. Don’t use weasel words, apologize for your views or discount them.
- Editors love a reaction to a story they’ve recently run. To them this is dialogue.
- One topic per letter. Be specific; don’t ramble.
- Don’t name call. You can criticize and even insult, but do so with declarative sentences not snarky words.
- Appeal to a large audience of readers and assume everyone is on your side. Take the moral high road.
- Have someone review your letter. But don’t let that person talk you out of making your point or sending it. And don’t write a letter by committee. Editors want to know these are your words. Another set of eyes, though, can keep you focused.
- Only send it to one media outlet and let them know they are getting exclusive use of the letter. The editors of the paper don’t want to wake up the next day and find the exact same letter to the editor in their competitor’s paper.
- Right size the letter to the media outlet. Don’t ask the metro newspaper to publish a letter about library branch hours in one small suburb. That should go in the community papers. Likewise your local weekly probably won’t run a letter about a statewide bonding bill with nothing local in it.
- The ideal letter to the editor puts in words something the reporter was thinking when he/she wrote a story but knew they couldn’t put it in the story without crossing the line of news and opinion.
A message is anything that comes out of your mouth. There are good messages and there are ineffective and potentially damaging ones. An effective message is framed in a way that evokes core liberal values.
One reason conservatives are better at communication than we are is that they know the science behind how people think. We love to fling facts and reason; we debunk and point out hypocrisy. Cognitive science has almost a hundred years of evidence to show that those methods don’t work well. And while we are trying to prove our opponents wrong, we never seem to get around to our message. Conservative strategists know all this and bait us constantly because they know we’ll take the bait.
- Stop and analyze. What are conservatives saying? What is your position?
- Drop facts and debunking. Stay out of conservative frames and don’t use their words.
- Roll with a well framed your message rooted in core progressive values.
- Consider attending one of our framing workshops for much more on framing.
Letters are great, but if you are a person with standing, you may be granted an opportunity to write a longer rebuttal or opinion piece. Standing simply means that through your job, your area of experience or your connection to a newsworthy event an editor may believe you can speak with authority and credibility. If the issue is ethics in government, for example, a former Judge has standing. If the issue is the environment, your position as chair of an environmental group gives you standing. A teacher has standing on local education issues. If you do not have standing, recruit someone who does.
Even if you do all of the above, your letter will not be effective if you bore people.
- Don’t just tell people what you think, tell them why you care! (See framing above.)
- State your point up front. If you take too long to get to it, people lose interest.
- Tell a story about real people. Stories are inherently interesting. The story should illustrate the point you are making.
- Use a metaphor to help people understand a new or complex issue. Ex: “The Internet is like a superhighway”.
- Talk to the reader. The words “you” and “me” shouldn’t scare you.
- Use active verbs. Rather than “to run”, use “running” or “run”.
- Experiment with your sentence, word and paragraph order. It’s a wonder to move a word, sentence or paragraph and watch a whole piece crystallize.
- Be willing to excise great chunks of our lovingly birthed prose. Once you get used to it, the results in readability and effectiveness make up for the disappointment. As the advertising folks say: “Advertising is the art of giving things up”.
- Proofread. Then have someone else read it, make corrections and proofread again.
- Writing needs to ferment -leave it overnight and reread it before you send it. You may find something you would have rather said —or not said. You’ll also instinctively feel grammatical rough spots and excess wordage.
The Win Number
\Your WIN number is the number of votes required to win your district which will, of course be 50%+1 of the number of voters turning out to vote in your election.
How will you know how many voters will vote if they haven’t even voted yet!? Calculating a win number is both a science and an art.
Your state’s Secretary of State will have vote totals from previous elections for the specific office you are running for. Take a look at the last four races and consider these factors:
- What was the turnout? Note that the number of voters varies between an election year and an off year. Also notice that fewer progresives vote in the off years.
- Do you know how the candidates and incumbents campaigned? Did their efforts impact turnout? Was there an independent who received a few percent of the vote? Was there large voter registration drive from a presidential campaign?
- Has the incumbent been in office a long time? Have they had an increasing number of votes over that time, or is the number stagnant or even falling off?
- Do you have a progressive-leaning constituency in your district that can be cultivated that hasn’t been in previous elections? Do you have the means to tap into that?
- Have the demographics of your area changed?
- Do you have a large percentage of college students or graduating seniors who’ll be going out of district to college?
- There is demographic information available from other sources that can be looked at. Be creative, and get digging -the better you know your district the better your win number calculation will be.
- If you’re running in a state race, your party’s Caucus can help you develop your win number. But you’ll get further if you come in with your own starting calculations.
What do I do with the Win Number?
Knowing your win number helps track your efforts during the campaign. Knowing the factors that got you to that number will help if a factor changes significantly during the campaign.
Lastly you’ll be asked for this number when you’re talking with big donors and endorsing organizations. Delegates and donors like to support candidates who do their homework!
Thanks to Deb Pitzrick for her insight on win numbers!
Preparing to Run
Many first time candidates have a great deal of drive and passion to run, but not enough knowledge about what it really takes to run for office. It will take hard work and most of your time. You’ll ask for a good deal of help and patience from friends and family. You will need to identify supporters and turn them into delegates for your endorsement. You will need to door knock thousands of doors and spend a great deal of your time begging for donations. It will take a knowledge of the way your chosen party works and how to work it. Running for office is a big deal and not for the unprepared; you’ll need to go into this with a lot more than a sincere desire to make a difference.
If there is one overarching piece of advice for first time candidates it would be to start early. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to do; waiting until March of the year you’ll run puts you at least a year behind. Here’s a general guide to prep time:
2 or more years: Governor, US Senator, US Representative, some statewide offices
1-2 years: State House and Senate, big city Mayor, some statewide offices
Up to 1 year: all others
Once you’ve started, you’ll need to let party people know of your interest before you announce it officially (believe it or not, the day of a congressional district endorsing convention is not a good time to announce your run for Congress -that happened!).
Start your journey with party leaders and activists by the Fall of the year before your election; they’ll help you get a realistic idea of your chances and what needs to be done in your district to win. Make your official announcement anywhere up to the filing deadline. Sometimes an unofficial early announcement to party people is all it takes to keep others out of the race! This also gives you a better chance to line up enough delegates to endorse you the following spring. The early candidate who knows the activists attracts more delegates.
Beginning in January, parties begin to elect delegates at caucuses or party meetings (depending on your state). Well before that you should have gotten to know activists on your district; they are most likely to become delegates to your endorsing convention. You’ll be seeking their vote long before you seek votes from voters. You need to know exactly how delegates get from being just regular folks to being delegates. The process can be quite involved but it’s very important. The party has three things to offer you: people, money and endorsement. Start early and the people will be plentiful. Do not expect your money to come from the party; there are legal limits to how much money a party can give you. An endorsement is valuable in that it gives you recognition, focuses party resources and usually causes un-endorsed candidates to drop out.
Have you run for office before?
If not, you can’t rely solely on your belief in winning. If you yourself have no experience, hiring an experienced campaign manager can help. Candidate training from Wellstone, your party and other organizations can also prepare you for the realities of campaigning. As a rule of thumb, the higher the office (“upballot”), the more campaign experience you’ll need to win.
Have you helped another candidate?
If you have never volunteered on a campaign, you don’t know how it really works. The best way to get that experience is to actively volunteer on a campaign. And if you’ve helped someone, they may help you; you’re getting into politics -you’ll need friends!
Are you on the inside?
Are you active in the party you seek endorsement from?
Have you gotten to know potential delegates to the endorsing convention?
Will you support the party’s other endorsed candidates?
Will you abide by the endorsement and drop out if you don’t get it? That’s not an absolute requirement, but seriously consider your chances of actually getting elected without endorsement and if they are low, staying in will help the opposition party and may reduce your chances of being endorsed in the future.
Have you run against any endorsed or incumbent candidate in the party you seek endorsement from, run for office in another party or are you supporting any members of an opposing political party during this election? If so, your chances for support are slim.
Do you know the party people?
Your announcement is one thing, but well before that you should be getting to know the existing, experienced party activists. These people are very likely to become delegates to your endorsing convention and they’ll have a good deal of influence over newer delegates. Local leaders are also actively seeking potential candidates, so getting to know them early gives you a leg up. Party Leaders and local activists know the nitty-gritty of voter contact in your district, they organize volunteers and they may very well know more than you do about running a campaign. Get to know these folks at party unit meetings at least a year before you intend to run. By the time the race begins you’ll have a huge advantage. Bottom line, asking people to give up their time and money to endorse and canvass for you is much more likely if they already know you.
Are you running for the right office?
Conventional wisdom says that it takes three campaigns before you win anything. Think carefully before you shoot for an up-ballot race. School board, city council or parks commissioner races (down-ballot) are great for first time candidates. There is, however, an insiders name for unknown candidates with no money or experience whose very first campaign is a run for Congress: “sacrificial lamb”. Talk to candidates, leaders and activists with experience campaigning for the office you seek to be sure you are really right for it this time around.
Successful races generally need three things: campaign experience, name recognition and sufficient funds. Or any two of the above as long as one is sufficient funds. It’s a sad fact that it takes money to win. Can you come into the race with commitments for a third to half of it before you ask for an endorsement? If you are counting on the party to give you money, understand that there are legal limits on how much they can give you -and that number is surprisingly small.
Have you had any candidate training?
Are you comfortable asking people for money? Family? Friends? Strangers?
Will you ask for money as often as it takes to get what you need to run your campaign? (This may mean many hours each night.)
Do you know a lot of people in your community?
Are you comfortable walking up to people you don’t know and talking to them about yourself?
Are you comfortable talking to large groups of people?
Are you skilled at public speaking?
Are you able to promote a positive self image?
Are you able to sell yourself and your positions?
Are you able to calmly listen to people who disagree with you?
Are you open to new ideas and ways of doing things?
Are you able -physically and emotionally- to walk several hours a day for many months? If you are not, how will you compensate?
Do you have a strong personal support network to help you through the emotional ups and downs of a campaign?
About Your family
Families and spouses suffer a great deal when mom or dad run for office. You will be gone most nights and weekends. When you are home you’ll be dialing for dollars.
Do you have very young children? If so, this may not be the time.
Is your spouse all in? Campaigns are stressful on marriages.
Is the extended family ready to step in to watch the kids?
Be certain everyone’s completely OK with this and eager to support you.
About your campaign
Have you identified a competent and experienced campaign manager who will commit the time necessary?
Can you pull together a team of volunteers who’ll work with you to win your race?
Will you pick the best people for the job even if it means hurting a friend or family member’s feelings?
Do you have a skilled treasurer you can trust? Have they been trained? This person must file federal and state reports that must, by law, be accurate and complete.
Do you know how much money you need to raise?
Can you get commitments for a third of that amount by the day you announce?
Can you personally fund 25% or more of your campaign?
Do you know your win number?
Who is the incumbent? How much support do they have? Are they in your party?
How have other candidates fared against the incumbent in past elections? What has been the historical spread?
How have voters split on candidates for this seat over time? What’s the trend?
Who are your voters? What are the demographics?
About your party
Do you understand the endorsement process? Do you know who to talk with to find out?
Do you understand “the way things are done” in your district?
Have you met with activists and leadersat the party level who will endorse you?
Are you willing to start one or two years in advance to get to know the people who may become the delegates who endorse you?
Have you met with your party’s House or Senate caucus leaders (if a legislative race)?
Do you understand you can’t “educate” people into supporting your positions?
Have you studied framing? Do you know the difference between framing and messaging?
Do you know what an “elevator speech” is and why it’s important?
The earlier and more completely you have all this figured out the better chance you’ll have of winning!
(Thanks to Deb Pitzrick and Cheryl Poling for their campaign and party leadership experience and their contributions to this article.)
Looking good on TV and sounding great on radio and TV is both an art and a science. You may never have done this before and, if you have, you’re probably still no pro at it. There are technical aspects -what to wear, your good side, using microphones (see How to Use a Microphone), but there are also issues of preparedness and nimbleness under pressure. You’ll have limited time to get across very important messages. In this age of journalism as spectacle and equivocation, you may be competing for precious time with an opponent and an interviewer. That’s a lot to think about and that means it’s important to be prepared.
A significant part of looking good on camera does not necessarily happen in front of the camera. Many people ask, “Why do I have to learn to be on camera? I’m not trying to become an actor.” Your reason for learning to be comfortable on camera – for learning some basic camera technique – has nothing to do with dramatic acting or performance, but everything to do with being prepared to convincingly and effectively deliver your message.
Cameras change reality in subtle ways. People will be watching you on a TV , which also has subtle and not so subtle effects on what you look like. For example striped clothing or deeply saturated colors may set off flashing and moving patterns visible on viewers’ TVs. You will want to have some mastery of the process so that, in the end, you will come across as the person you really are, and not what the camera can turn you into.
-At the risk of sounding trite: BEFORE they turn on the camera or give you a microphone, ask yourself: “Why am I here? Why am I getting in front of a camera?” What do I really need to get across? Now, under NO circumstances should you ask these questions out loud. Asking these questions out loud made General James Stockdale, running mate to Ross Perot, famous: 17 seconds of audio ended his career!
Believe it or not, repeating General Stockdale’s fate is NOT the most important reason for knowing why you are in front of a camera or an audience. If you are composed; if your thoughts are collected; if your focus is on your ideas, it shows on your face and it shows in your posture. It also makes you look calmer (usually, because you actually are calmer) and you’ll feel more confident and relaxed. The subtleties of vulnerability show up very clearly on TV, so it is definitely better to prepare yourself well to avoid that feeling.
A couple of quick hints before we send you online for more details:
- Breathe. OK, now breathe again. Slowly. And exhale…slowly. That should drop your blood pressure about 20 points, and slow you down to a realistic tempo. Now, Smile.
- Do not get too close to a camera -your nose will swell to ginormous proportions and your eyes will look huge.
- HDTV is not kind. Let a makeup person help you if one is provided. You may not think you are sweating, but TV lights see everything and can be very hot. A little powder takes the shine off your cheeks and your bald pate. Avoid stripes. Shave. Brush that dandruff off your suit. Bring a friend who will check you before you go on. Better yet bring your spouse: you know nothing gets by them!
- Find your good side in a mirror. Remember to turn your face a little to show off that side.
- With your body turned a little to your good side, sit forward in your chair so your back is not slouching.
- If the camera is below your sight line, ask to have it raised -or your double chin will have you looking like Jabba the Hut. If the cameraperson won’t do it, then lean into the camera (but not too close -see above!) and tilt your head up a little to stretch out your wattles.
- Breathe…, smile.
- Nodding your head while listening to a questioner or other interviewee looks weird on TV -like you’re a chicken. Practice not doing that in everyday conversation.
- Practice in front of a mirror raising your eyebrows, smiling, making faces, speaking normally. See what works, what doesn’t. Ask a trusted friend or family member -or again, your spouse or mother- to be brutally honest with you about things you do and little affectations that might be distracting on TV.
- Microphones are like guns -always treat them as loaded. Be careful of what you say and do: when you think you are off the air, you are probably not. Technicians do not always turn off mics because you leave the set to relieve yourself. Prime Directive -never say anything compromising within 100 yards of a TV studio. And remember to get rid of the wireless mic the moment you are off camera! Think about this before you start jaw-jacking with the other guests or the crew.
- Breathe…, smile.
Special Thanks for this expert insight to our own Mark Brull, network television writer and producer going all the way back to Barney Miller!
Joel Silberman’s video tutorial. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-okKQ3ezqSw) Joel talks about simplicity, stillness and authenticity through your posture and “game face”. Joel has nuggets like “27 words, 9 seconds, no more than 3 thoughts” -and more. While you are watching, watch how Joel holds himself and speaks
This article shows an example of poor lighting. Though made for video professionals, you’ll get an idea of what to avoid and what to seek, so you are well lit. http://www.tvtechnology.com/article/shining-a-light-on-politics/211586
The Importance of Being Heard
If you can’t be heard, you won’t be listened to! You are not a rock star, so it’s understandable that you might not know how to use a mic. However, your primary goal is to communicate and this is a skill you must have.
Consider that you may be speaking in a noisy area or speaking to senior citizens where voice clarity and volume are essential. Consider a debate where one candidate can be heard loudly and clearly, while others sound weak and unintelligible. If you learn to use a microphone properly you will be heard and you will be listened to!
How to Use a Microphone
Nothing will improve your microphone skill more than actually using one. I highly recommend that you buy a good mic that brings out the best in your voice, as well as a little practice amp so you can practice at home. You can make all your mistakes in the privacy of your own home.
A salesperson at a local professional sound and music dealer can help you audition a mic that picks up and shapes your voice to sound as good as it can. Test mics by speaking normally (don’t be embarrassed -it’s like karaoke without the booze!). Don’t scrimp; $50, but no more than $150 should get you a quality mic. A little practice amp can be had for $50-75. If you don’t buy a setup, then at least borrow a mic and amp so you can practice.
You may also want to bring your mic to speaking engagements and request that they let you use it.
Imagine the mic has a balloon attached to it as in the picture below. The balloon is something called a “pickup pattern”. I like this picture because it lets you visualize where in space you should speak -namely inside the balloon! The diagram shows the very common “cardioid” or heart-shaped pattern which is sensitive in front, but not so much in the back (to reduce feedback from nearby speakers).
Addressing the Mic
Now imagine that the microphone is an ice cream cone. Hold it no farther than six inches away and hold it a little below your mouth or off to the side so people can see your face and, importantly, so you don’t breath on it. Heavy breathing is… shall we say, inappropriate in a political speech and people will be distracted by your breathing and not hear your words.
When practicing, adjust the amplifier so you can hear yourself. If you hear feedback, put the amp farther away from you. Speak in a normal, comfortable voice. Try moving the mic around. Can you hear how your voice virtually disappears when the mic gets farther than eight inches from your mouth (i.e., outside the balloon)? Now get right up against it; can you hear how full and boomy it sounds? Keep doing these things until you have a good sense of where your mic should be.
Be aware of how you are holding the mic and check yourself while practicing. If you turn your head as you speak, remember to turn the mic along with it. If you tend to hold the mic pointed out at your audience like a pointer or at your side like a suitcase you’ll need to practice. Do not wave it around like a sword either -you are NOT a Jedi Knight (sorry).
Plosive and Sibilant Sounds
Plosive sounds often come from words beginning with “P” or “B”. The rush of air causes a popping or booming sound that you may not hear, but your audience will. Foam is often put on the mic to mitigate this, but it may not be enough. Words with “S” or “T” are “sibilant” and make hissy and whistle-like noises; sound equipment amplifies this and it can be very annoying and distracting to a listener. Practice making these sounds so you hear this problem. You may not be able to learn to stop making plosive or sibilant sounds, so your best option is to minimize it by repositioning the mic slightly to one side and, if necessary, a little farther away.
You might wonder why some performers (especially solo singers and comedians) seem to be positively swallowing the mic. They are using the proximity effect. If you get really close to a mic, the bass reproduction goes way up and treble gets crispier (try this on the mic you just bought). The loud bass helps comedians call attention to a punch line. Lotza bass + crispier treble = a “warm” tone is great for singers- and maybe you: if your voice is thin or weak you can get closer to the mic to bring out some richness and warmth. Here’s a link where you can hear the proximity effect .
At some venues, especially when you will be on TV, you will likely have a wireless “lavaliere” mic clipped to your clothing. The sound tech will know exactly where it should go but it will likely be on your lapel or shirt. Do not allow clothes or your hands to brush against the mic. Lavaliere mics are very small and connect to a little belt pack clipped under your clothes or behind you where it can’t be seen. Be aware that the wire snakes up under your clothes; avoid embarrassment and viral cel phone videos by putting it on before everyone arrives.
CAUTION: Remember, always treat any mic as if it’s “live”. This is really important with a lavaliere because it’s small and you stop noticing it. If you walk away after an interview or go to the bathroom for a moment, your mic is probably still on. For these situations get in the habit of curbing your more colorful utterances until you are at least a few blocks away from the venue.
At the Gig
Get there early and bring a friend, preferably the same person every time so they become trained to look for problems. Both of you should case the joint. Make the venue turn off the mariachi music playing over the ceiling speakers (a common problem in hotel ballrooms). See if you can turn off ceiling and floor fans (you don’t notice them but the mic will). Close doors to hallways and minimize any other extraneous sounds. Ask where you’ll be speaking. If you are the first one at a panel discussion, see if you can choose a middle position! Choose a non-squeaky chair.
Ask to meet the sound tech and request a sound check. Be nice to the sound tech; they can make you sound great (or terrible). If you have your own mic, ask if you can use it, but be OK with it if the tech says no. During the sound check be attentive and do what the tech asks. Speak into the mic at your normal volume. You do not have to force sound into the mic.
Sit or stand in a comfortable position. Move a desk mic closer, so you won’t have to lean forward. If the mic is on a stand, it is perfectly fine to reach over and adjust the height of the stand. Set it so you can comfortably speak into the balloon without having to lean in or bend over. Be sure the mic and/or stand does not block your face. If you are having problems kicking the stand or you feel yourself leaning forward, ask for a “boom” stand. A boom extends horizontally away from the base to get the mic closer to you.
If you are at a podium with a little bendable stick mic, make sure it is pointed at your mouth and not somewhere else. If you are short, you may need a box to stand on; if you are tall, you may need to raise the mic or even the podium if that is possible. You’ll want to avoid touching the mic or pounding on the podium with your fists to make a point. Podiums are notorious for making big booming sounds that you might not hear, but your audience will. Again, distracting sounds are annoying and draw audience attention away from your message.
Be aware that you may not be able to hear yourself very well because the loudspeakers will be out in front of the mics and pointed at the audience. If it’s a problem, ask if stage monitors are available and make sure they are positioned so you can hear yourself and any interviewer or opponent. Ask to do a monitor check so you can be sure you can hear everyone. Understand that what you hear and what the audience hears will be completely different. This is why practicing your mic skills is so important.
Have your friend in the audience listen as you speak and flag you at sound check and during the speech so you’ll know if you are slacking in your mic skills. Thumbs up means “be louder”, thumbs down, softer. Two hands coming closer together means get closer to the mic (and vice versa). Have your helper speak to the tech if you are consistently too loud or soft.
If you remember nothing else remember these four things:
- Remain calm and comfortable.
- Speak normally, inside the balloon.
- Minimize distracting sounds that draw audience attention from your message.
- Microphones are always live!
So few people know how to use a mic that chances are you may be the only speaker at the venue who does. Remember -the candidate that can be heard gets listened to!
- First off it’s a disaster; call it that.
- Trump’s meeting with Putin should be called a secret meeting. “Secret” evokes frames of hiding, fear of being caught and collusion. We must “demand to know what was said”.
- Trump’s meeting with NATO has” made America weak” and is “weakening democracy around the world”.
- Never mention his walk backs. They are evasions meant to distract. Don’t acknowledge the walk back on “would/wouldn’t” and speak as if he never walked back anything.Time spent talking about his walk backs on any issue just keeps those brain cells lit up in people’s brains.
- Talk about the larger picture: Say: “In one week Trump dismissed our 70 year relationship with our allies”, “weakened Europe”, “weakened NATO”, “weakened democracy” and “strengthened Vladimir Putin and Russia” and made the world “more dangerous”.
- Never say “The President has to stop acting like ___ and start_____”. A narcissist will not change their behavior because others tell them to or because facts prove them wrong. Our messaging should never suggest this possibility. “America is stuck with this dangerous man until or unless Republicans in Congress act.”
- Do not say “Congress must do it’s duty” or “Congress has failed”. Replace “Congress” with “Republicans in Congress”. Republicans created the conditions that allowed an autocrat to become President, enabled him to do what he has done and chosen to defend him; Democrats have not. Don’t include them by using the word Congress.
- Trump should always be referred to as the Republican President. As people turn from him they also need to turn from Republicans or we’ll be right back here in the future. Republicans created the conditions that opened the door to an autocrat, they defend him, they own him, they must pay for him in November.
Trump’s Family Separation Policy:
© 2018 Connections Lab (non commercial use with attribution)
George F. Greene
George at Connectionslab dot org
© 2018 Connections Lab
(non commercial use with attribution)
George F. Greene
George at Connectionslab dot org
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