I’m in Washington, DC at Campaigns & Elections’ annual “Art of Political Campaigning” conference and will be speaking on “Winning Nonpartisan Local, State and Judicial Elections” later this afternoon. And one of the points I’ll stress is for candidates to stop talking about themselves and start talking about the voters, regardless of what office they’re running for.
Time after time I listen to “stump” speeches or read candidate emails/blog posts…and they’re all about the candidate. I did this. I did that. I believe this. I’m going to do that. I. I. I. I. I.
Just converting the message from “I”-focused to “you”-focused would be a dramatic improvement. But another way to make your message both more effective and more memorable is to…tell a story.
Storytelling is an ingrained, accepted and welcome form of communication; one we learned as a child and carried with us into adulthood. It can also be very powerful in conveying a political message in a non-political manner.
Case in point: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We know it today as a beloved holiday story. But what I didn’t know, and I’m guessing you didn’t either, is the story was written as a way to effect political change during the Industrial Revolution in England, as explained below in a column by Katya Andresen.
If you want your message to sink in and be remembered, don’t give a political speech or write a policy paper. Tell a story.
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Inspiration from Charles Dickens
By Katya Andresen
My father has read every word that Charles Dickens ever wrote. Growing up, we had a matching set of volume upon volume of Dickens’ work lining our shelves, and I grew up having his books read aloud. My father loved what Dickens revealed about people, human nature and society.
The anniversary of Charles Dickens’ death is coming up on June 9, and in honor of this extraordinary storyteller I wanted to share the following story about his writing.
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol after reading the Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, an 1843 parliamentary report on the effects of the Industrial Revolution on poor children. He had intended to write a political pamphlet in an attempt to convince British employers of the need for social and educational reform but decided he would have more influence if he were instead to write a Christmas story.*
He was right. Take it from Mr. Dickens: A story has power a pamphlet lacks.
Did you know that Dickens pioneered the serial? He published his stories in installments and used reader reactions as feedback that shaped his tale. So he wasn’t just a great storyteller—he was a clever marketer. And all for a cause. He brought attention to the poor and the suffering in a way that few can match.
The moral of this post is to take a page from Dickens. Don’t set out to write a pamphlet. Tell a story instead. And don’t tell your story in a vacuum. Listen to what the audience says and let it shape how you tell your story over time. You will make a bigger difference. And that’s what we are all here for. As Dickens said, “A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.”
He also said, “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”
Who could help but be inspired by that? Time is short, so let’s get started.
* The source of the information on A Christmas Carol is John Cacioppo and Louise Hawkley’s article “Designed for Social Influence in the book “Six Degrees of Social Influence”
(Katya Andresen publishes the Non-Profit Marketing Blog and is the author of “Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes”)