So much of turning a moment into a movement depends on communication and the art of persuasion. Communication is an essential skill, one you’ll hone your whole career. Whether you’re a seasoned communicator or someone looking to strengthen that muscle, everyone can learn to be a better communicator through practice and by being a perpetual student of the art of persuasion. Here is part of my #FirestarterFormula for leveraging communications for movement building.
Use your authentic voice.
People can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away, so be real. Be you, and only you. Or as my mother says, “Do you, boo.” Think about some of the public figures that stand out most, and I’ll bet the one thing they all have in common is authenticity. They stayed true to themselves: their voice, their personal style, etc. For me, Michelle Obama is a shining example of authenticity. She always keeps it real, from eschewing established fashion designers in order to support new creators to the issues she championed and the way she talks about Chicago. People love her for always bringing her authentic self to the table.
I used to get flak all the time about speaking too properly, but you know what, that’s part of what makes me who I am. I’m proud of my strong voice. People who know me know what sounds like me and what doesn’t, and I want my authentic voice and personality to come across in everything I do. If I tried to be something I’m not, that façade would come crashing down one day, and I think, ultimately, by letting your true self and voice come across in everything you do, you earn a whole lot of support.
Use the art of storytelling.
It’s called binge-watching for a reason. We’ve all been there, right? Unable to tear ourselves away from watching episode after episode of a show. What keeps us hooked? A great story. A main character we can identify with, no matter how flawed or how different their life is from ours, and a main problem (more often than not, a bunch of problems) that tests the main character’s mettle and brings the story to a climax. But the climax has to be good, right? The problem has to be framed in a way that clearly outlines what’s at stake for the character. That right there is the hook: a compelling problem that raises the stakes for a character the audience loves (or loves to hate, in some cases).
To turn moments into movements, we have to do the same thing. Tell the story of the issue, frame it as what we’re all collectively up against, and then invite people to do battle with you to save the day as the clock ticks down toward zero—that’s right, you also have to create a sense of urgency. How will your movement transform some aspect of society and how will it transform your supporters, and why must people act now? What do they risk by waiting?
Paint a clear vision.
Focus relentlessly on the future your movement will create. What does it look like? If you paint a clear, bold vision, people will want to go with you. They’ll be inspired by the promise of that future.
A strong vision is even more important for people who are on the fence about getting involved. What does the future look like if they don’t get involved? What risks do they run—does society run—if nothing changes? Inspire your audience to imagine a different and better future.
And no matter how many times you think you’ve talked about your vision for the future, I guarantee that you haven’t done it enough. Seize every opportunity you have to communicate it.
Know your audience.
Who do you want to reach? What does your audience look like? You need to understand them as much as possible, and that means doing your homework. Let’s say, for example, you want to reach Generation Z, the generation following millennials. Many of them are college-age now. What’s important to them? What motivates them and keeps them up at night? What do they want their future to look like? So much has already been written about them, and you want to read and listen to everything you can so you can tailor your message to this audience.
Likewise, if you’re speaking to a group of retirees, a group of urbanites, or a group of women from the suburbs, do your homework to find out what matters to them. The language I will use with my Junior League sisters is different from what I might use with the State Legislators that I lobby. If you haven’t done your homework to know your audience, then you risk your message falling flat.
You also need to understand the people who are resistant to your message. What’s important to them? Why are they resistant? And when speaking to a group of resistors, it’s critical to have in-depth knowledge of the counter-arguments they will raise. You don’t ever want to be caught by surprise, and you’ll want to have a witty response ready to go.
Want to learn more?
There are plenty of fabulous resources out there. Here are a few of my top picks.
Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols, by Nancy Duarte (2016)
Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations: Inspire Action, Engage the Audience, Sell Your Ideas (HBR Guide Series) by Nancy Duarte (2012)
Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results), by Rob Biesenbach (2018)
The Business of Story podcast, hosted by Park Howell
If you have a favorite communication resource, let me know by commenting below and I’ll add it to this list. In the meantime, hone your vision and tell your story, #MovementMakerTribe. I am headed to the city of Arlington later this month to deliver my keynote, “Lead to Inspire Change.” Follow me on Instagram or Facebook to see my journey.
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