A lot of people have been asking me about messaging lately. I don’t mean at work — that’s nothing new. I’m talking about people who want to know how to have conversations with the people in their lives about politics and issues they care about.
Most of these people are Democrats who are frustrated by trying to respond to right-wing talking points. Although I’m not a fan of talking points as a replacement for meaningful communication, they have their place. But talking points should be an appetizer, not a main course.
That said, the reality is that we live in a world where talking points are a steady diet for many people — politicians, pundits, reporters and citizens. People swallow these morsels and think it’s the whole truth.
Of course, it’s not.
To be fair, I know many Republicans who want to have meaningful, rational conversations about the issues. I’m dating one of them, and I promise there are others. When you get to have a civilized debate with one, make the most of it.
But when that’s not the case, how can smart, motivated Democrats articulate complex issues in a world of oversimplification? How can they be heard above the din of shouting and nasty rhetoric that is so often hurled at them by people who don’t share their views?
Whether the conversation is over the dinner table, over the phone or on social media, here’s a three-step strategy for personal messaging.
1. Know Your Stuff
Many Democrats do this already, but it bears repeating. Be as well-informed as possible — and make sure your knowledge is well-rounded. Don’t just listen to the reporters you agree with and don’t just follow people on Twitter who share your views. Get your news from a variety of sources and know the key facts. For those who are eager to support the President, there’s some excellent information to be found here and here. As credible as those resources are, think for yourself. Read, watch and listen to everything you can. I know it’s time-consuming, but the more you know, the better you can concisely convey your thoughts with confidence. Facts are facts. Yes, people will give you their own set of facts — and be willing to accept that, sometimes, they may have a point. Find out where you went wrong or learn from the experience. But if you’ve done your homework, chances are much higher that you’ll be speaking the truth.
2. Keep Your Cool
A shouting match never ends well. You only succeed in alienating people. In fact, many GOP pundits are starting to turn voters off with their nasty rhetoric. Go ahead and let them. Every day, I try to live by the words of Leo McGarry: “We’re going to raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.” Plus, nothing stops bullies faster than seeing their tactics aren’t upsetting you. Take away their overblown sense of superiority and you’ve already made a powerful point. You don’t have to shout to be heard. Plus, you might actually get them to have a rational conversation. If not, at least you tried.
3. Make It Personal
Find a way to humanize the point you’re making. For example, the President wants to put more teachers, cops and firefighters back to work. Mitt Romney thinks we need fewer teachers, cops and firefighters. Start with facts: The President wants to create jobs, Romney wants to take away jobs. Romney said that by hiring less public sector workers he plans to put more Americans back to work. But he has yet to say how he’d do that. In fact, I have yet to hear him say specifically how he’d create any jobs. After you state the facts, personalize it. Tell the story of your brother the firefighter who lost his job or your friend the teacher who is frustrated by how large her class size has grown, making it nearly impossible to give students the individual attention they need and deserve. If the story is one of your own, so much the better. But even a hypothetical story can underscore your point.
Making it personal is key.You start with the facts and then take them out of the abstract and place them squarely in people’s real lives. The mother who can’t take her child to the doctor because they don’t have health insurance. The recent college graduate so buried in student debt that he has to work three jobs to make ends meet and pay off his loan. Think about it: The plight of a multi-millionaire or corporation having to pay higher taxes, or a factory having to install safety equipment because of regulations will never be as compelling as the family who pays their mortgage on time but still can’t afford to stay in their home, or the man who died because his workplace wasn’t safe.
While many Republicans spend their time pointing fingers and hurling insults, let’s stay focused on the messages that matter. Let’s do a better job of communicating than the other guys do. Let’s have conversations every day that help raise the level, that help amplify the President’s accomplishments and clearly outlined proposals for moving this country forward.
Chances are, we can’t outspend the other side. But I am confident we can outsmart them.