Your Campaign Message: Understanding the Personal Narrative
by National Democratic Training Committee, @traindems

We live our lives in stories. If you think about it, even the tiniest details, the small mundane events, all count as stories.

When you run for office, you not only have to focus on the issues and community — you have to showcase yourself. It’s important to make sure voters see you as the candidate and person that you are. You do this by weaving in your personal experiences into your campaign message.

This is your personal narrative.

In this three-part series, we’ll break down the anatomy of a personal narrative, why articulating it effectively is instrumental to your campaign message, and how you can craft your stories in a way that resonates with your audience.

But before we get into what a personal narrative is, let’s go over the campaign message.

The Campaign Message

At NDTC, we use 6 parameters to define what a campaign message is:

* The core of your candidacy

* Who you are and why you’re running

* The experiences that qualify you

* The issues that are most important to your voters

* A direct appeal to your persuasion universe (aka the number of voters you need to convince to vote for you in order to win the election)

* What sets you apart from the other candidates

That’s a lot. If you want to dive into this concept, I’d highly recommend checking out our online course about Crafting Your Message — we walk you through creating the core message of your candidacy and address each of these 6 parameters in more depth.

This series will focus mostly on #3: the experiences that qualify you. And how to weave in your personal narrative in an effective way.

The Experiences That Qualify You

You want to start by asking yourself these broad questions:

* What experiences do I have that are useful and memorable?

* What experiences do I have that are specific to me and relatable so that my audience sees themselves in my story?

Don’t worry: we’ll get into more specific questions as we explore the different kinds of personal narratives. This is just a starting point to get the ideas flowing.

Personal Narratives: An Introduction

I started this article stressing the importance of stories as part of your campaign message.

Storytelling is how political candidates connect with the electorate — without authentic stories which show why you care about an issue and why that issue matters to your community, your audience will find you distant and therefore have no reason to vote for you.

I want to make something clear right off the bat: storytelling is not speechmaking.

A speech can be a version of storytelling, but it’s a much more restricted form of storytelling. With a speech, you’re alone on a stage speaking at a crowd of people about a specific subject.

Storytelling, in contrast, is used in many different contexts with many different people.  You tell stories to your partner, your friends, your family; you tell stories in bars, at political rallies, at PTA meetings.

Storytelling can be used in private and public settings where your audience can interact with your story. It’s organic, dynamic, and personal.

Still confused about the difference? Consider how TED talks have gained popularity in recent years.

TED talks are a relatively new phenomenon. Their growing popularity not only has to do with the subjects the speakers focus on, but also the way in which they present their content.

TED talk speakers often use their own personal narratives as a way to educate their audiences in ways that speeches often fail to. For a perfect example of a personal narrative being used in this setting, check out Luvvie Ajayi’s inspiring TED talk called “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Who Are You?

The personal narrative is the story of who you are in your campaign message.

Through your story, you can show people your background, why you’re passionate about your work, and why you’re the best person for the job.

Personal narratives resonate with people because you show why you care instead of telling them that you care. Think about it: would you trust the candidate who tells a story about a time when they helped their community or the candidate who says they care about their community but has no evidence to show for it?

People should be able to see from your narrative that you care.

Keep Maya Angelou’s wise words in mind: people remember how you make them feel, not the specific words that you say. It’s extremely difficult to get your audience to memorize a bunch of words — instead, aim to leave them with a specific feeling.

Why We Tell Stories

Before we dive into this content, I want to introduce Marshall Ganz as the brain behind these ideas, research, and workshops.

As an influential social movement activist, Ganz developed the school of thought around storytelling and its role in social movements. So, why do we tell stories? Here are a few key reasons:

* Connect with others, motivate each other, and create a community.

* Be a leader in adversity.

* Show our qualifications for the position we are in or seeking.

* Have our audience relate to us and therefore feel invested in our success.

Stories are multidimensional: not only do they explain where we’ve been, but they also can explain where we currently are and where we wish to go. They showcase our leadership abilities and allow us to be vulnerable in a way that helps grow stronger through forming connections with our audiences.

The Call To Action

Most often, the most compelling stories consist of why you’re doing something and what makes people commit to your cause. Stories are important in motivating others to action because we feel emotions through storytelling.

However, this is only possible if you include a call to action in your campaign message: without a specific ask within your story, your whole narrative will have been for naught.

You need ask people to do something for you in order for your story to have a real effect. In the context of political campaigns, this can mean asking your audience to vote for you, volunteer for your campaign, and contribute to your campaign.

Different Components of the Personal Narrative

That being said, there are a few different components of a personal narrative. Each has a different structure and use.

The story of:

* Self: invites others to be in a relationship with you; a call to leadership.

* Us: invites others to join your community; conveys shared values and experiences.

* Now: invites others to take action now; it explains why action now matters.

Which one should you use? This will ultimately depend on the context of your story. Be cognizant of your setting and your audience.

You always want to tailor your content to your audience. You should also be aware of what kind of call to action you’ll end your story on — it’ll have an effect on how you decide to frame your narrative.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Don’t worry, that’s normal. Personal narratives are a complex subject.  Because personal narratives are a bit complicated, we wanted to just introduce you to the topic today.

We have two more blogs coming your way that dive into the stories of self, us, and now, as well as story structure.

In order to prepare for the next parts of the series take some time to consider your own personal narrative. Reflect on your own experiences.

Think about what challenges you’ve faced in your life thus far:

* Why was it a challenge for you?

* How did you overcome it?

* What is it about your story that’s so inspiring to you?

* How can you use your story to inspire others?

Stay tuned for the additions to this series! In the meantime, if you want to get started on creating a compelling campaign message, check out the NDTC Crafting Your Message online course.