When dealing with political messaging, especially on social media, it’s all about repetitions, and accuracy.
I bet this has happened to just about everyone. You’re singing along to a song that you’ve known for years, and all of a sudden you hear the lyrics more clearly than before, and you realize you’ve been singing it wrong for your whole life. For me it tends to happen with ‘70s songs that I originally heard at bedtime on my old radio, an ancient device with dials and static and no stereo sound. I discovered that there was no bathroom on the right, I wasn’t ringing in the ears, and no one was kicking the Dancing Queen.
It always embarrassed me to no end, getting the lyrics wrong, especially since I loved to sing. I’d be belting out ‘Somebody’s Knockin’ and get to ‘He must have stabbed my telephone line…’ and my friend, who was a little older and wiser and apparently possessed of much higher fidelity stereo equipment, would burst out laughing and try to explain to me that he ‘tapped’ her telephone line, because jeeze, who’d be stabbing telephone lines, you moron? (Side note, there are some great archives of misheard lyrics around if you need a good laugh.)
I could have messed up those lyrics for any number of reasons. That radio really did have sensitive dials, and the sound quality was atrocious. I could have neglected to clean out my ears a lot as a child, and adversely affected my hearing. I might have heard someone else sing the lyrics incorrectly, and learned them wrong from the beginning. Perhaps I was only half-listening to the music most of the time, instead of listening to learn. Or it could be that there were a preponderance of mushy-mouthed singers and a complete lack of internet lyrics sites. (Yes, kids, in the Olden Days we had to BUY the albums to get the lyrics in the liner notes, or buy magazines with the latest song lyrics. Life was hard.)
Regardless of the reason, the result was that I was unable to perform the song accurately. It was often hard to unlearn the wrong lyrics, too. That usually took a lot of retraining, and thoughtful attention to the lyrics. I’d have to listen to the song over and over, trying to sing the right words into my brain. Even so, I still have trouble sometimes, as the old incorrect lyrics sneak back in to my memory.
As a kid singing to myself into my hairbrush, the stakes were low if I got the lyrics wrong. But if I were singing in front of an audience as an adult, the cost of getting the song wrong would be much, much higher.
In the same way, getting your message and your issues received by the people you talk to can be a challenge in your activism. The stakes ARE higher, and there are a lot of things that can interfere with you. You might feel very confident in your understanding of the issues, but be completely wrong or misinformed. Or you might have a clear and commanding knowledge of an issue, but something else has gotten in the way of folks accurately hearing you and understanding your message. If you’re sincerely devoted to advancing a particular cause or issue, you owe it to yourself and your cause to do whatever you can to minimize interference with your message.
There are ways to train to become a better messenger, and to retrain yourself out of bad habits. At the gym, you repeat exercises over and over, isolating particular muscles and working to improve them. Your messaging routine should work the same way. Practice these suggestions often, and repeatedly, to improve those messaging muscles:
- Make sure you are right – Use your information feeds you developed in training your core to become as well-informed as possible, and keep learning about your issues and updating your notes. Nothing undermines your efforts and your credibility like passing along bad or outdated information.
- Use multiple sources – Vet your sources and your stories, and be sure to develop multiple sources whenever possible, especially in the era of ‘fake news’.
- Invite feedback – If your goal is to convince other people (and if it isn’t, I’m not sure what exactly you’re doing in activism), you should learn about the people you’re trying to convince. How do they see you? What do they think of your ideas? HOW did they come to believe the way they do? Asking people questions about their views not only gives you more information about how to approach them or how to adjust your delivery; it also demonstrates you are interested in hearing their thoughts, not merely expressing your own.
- Reduce your own noise – Are you coming across to people as combative? Do you spend more time trying to prove that other people are wrong than trying to persuade them your views are right? Apply the feedback you received from talking to others. Make a list of people you find persuasive, compare your own efforts, and then try adjusting your delivery.
- Check for outside interference – There is always something trying to distract the people you want to reach. It might be family concerns, fun things on the internet, or serious life events. But there is also the possibility that other forces are trying to distort or misrepresent your message. Be on the lookout for incorrect media reports, counter-campaigns from the opposition, and reputation attacks. When you spot them, have a plan for countering them. It’s much easier to respond to misinformation if you know exactly what incorrect impression is being pushed.
As I said, the stakes are a lot higher when it comes to issue advocacy than with song lyrics. It’s much more important to get your messaging right, get it clear, and minimize the ‘noise’ that could interfere with it. If you want to make progress on your issues, it’s probably one of the most important steps in developing yourself as an advocate. Train yourself to be a better messenger, and you’ll have a far better chance at advancing your issues.