In 2004, Barack Obama came skidding into the spotlight. He went from an obscure junior senator from Illinois to a leading party force and presidential hopeful, practically overnight. This intense shift followed his famous 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote speech. The narrative-rich speech captured the audience and motivated viewers around the country. Four and a half years later, Obama stood on the steps of the Capital Building and was sworn in as the Commander-in-Chief, and to many the Storyteller-in-Chief. However, over the course of his first term that role has changed. In July, President Obama was asked about the biggest mistake of his first term, and he had one simple answer: failed story telling.
“…the mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.” – Preside Barack Obama, July 2012
Over the past few days presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has been capitalizing on that misstep and using the power of narrative to his full advantage.
During a recent swing through Florida, Romney showcased a new tone and speech style that pulled at listeners’ heart strings, rather than their purse strings. He shared story after story about individuals he’s met and helped along the campaign trail. He spoke about David Oparowski, a 14-year-old Massachusetts boy that was terminally ill with Leukemia, and the will he drafted for him. He shared a story about Billy Hulse, a businessman that was involved in an accident that paralyzed him from the neck down, and the final words the two shared. He also told the audience about Jane Horton, a woman from Oklahoma that lost her husband in Afghanistan, and her poignant response to protesters at her husband’s funeral.
So what lessons can PR Pros learn from this?! Regardless of the arena, the keys to a successful narrative are the same:
1. Specifics – the names and back stories Romney provided are what the audience connected with and remembered. The vivid detail is what transforms any message from another sales pitch to a memorable, relevant point.
2. CliffsNotes – as in all things, balance is key. The best stories are succinct, making them easy to remember and to share. Romney struck this balance with ease sharing these personal vignettes without losing the emotion and power behind the message.
3. Personal context – Each of the stories was powerful because of its relevance and meaning to each and every audience member. Regardless of the group, everyone has been, or knows someone who has been, impacted by cancer or war. The ability to identify these universally powerful topics and connect them to a given audience can be the golden ticket to marketing success.
Stories in action: How is your company leveraging narratives to create a more meaningful and relevant sales message?