It’s one of the hardest lessons to teach candidates, especially Republican and conservative candidates who are accustomed to sticking with facts, figures and statistics to explain the rationale for their campaigns. That is the lesson of the power of…story-telling.
Especially story-telling sprinkled with a little humor. Remember, people would rather be happy than sad or angry…and few in the audience will remember what you said so much as how you made them feel.
And if you have any doubt as to the power and effectiveness of stories to convey a candidate’s message and move people to their side, I have two words for you: Ronald Reagan.
“If Hollywood taught Mr. Reagan anything, it was the value of a good story — and a good punch line,” wrote Lloyd de Vries of CBS Evening News in 2007. “His stories often had a horse-and-buggy feel to them: anecdotes about farmers, preachers, small-town America. But the payoff usually carried a political wallop.”
“The literal-minded were forever troubled by his tendency to sometimes confuse life with the movies,” de Vries continued. “But (Reagan) understood, like very few leaders before or since, the power of myth and storytelling.”
A couple of examples from vintage Ronald Reagan:
“Former Congressman Prentiss Walker dropped in on a farm and introduced himself as a Republican candidate. And as he tells it, the farmer’s eyes lit up, and then he said, ‘Wait ’til I get my wife. We’ve never seen a Republican before.’ And a few minutes later he was back with his wife, and they asked Prentiss if he would give them a speech.
“Well, he looked around for a kind of a podium, something to stand on, and then the only thing available was a pile of that stuff that the late Mrs. Truman said it had taken her 35 years to get Harry to call ‘fertilizer.’ So, he stepped up on that and made his speech.
“And apparently he won them over. And they told him it was the first time they’d ever heard a Republican. And he says, ‘That’s okay. That’s the first time I’ve ever given a speech from a Democratic platform.'”
Did the Gipper make a serious political point with that story? You betcha. Do you think he left the audience with a good feeling? You betcha squared.
Here’s another Reagan golden oldie story:
“It is said that Castro was making a speech to a large assembly. And he was going on at great length and then a voice out in the crowd said, ‘peanuts, popcorn, crackerjacks.’ and he went on speaking and again the voice said, ‘peanuts, popcorn, crackerjacks. And about the fourth time this happened, he stopped in his regular speech and he said, ‘the next time, I’m going to find out who that is and kick him all the way to Miami.’ And everybody in the crowd said, “peanuts, popcorn, crackerjacks.'”
Which reminds me of a separate lesson in fundraising: Be funny; raise more money.