Improve Your Grassroots Training with Storytelling

Even though he doesn’t consider himself a movie buff, Jordan Craig could never forget the storylines of every Pixar movie. Craig, Director of Grassroots at the American Farm Bureau, figured if he could never forget these Pixar movies, maybe there was a key to Pixar’s strategy of storytelling he could apply to his grassroots trainings.

Most of the Farm Bureau members telling these stories to legislators on Hill days or fly-ins are not advocacy experts, and it can be nerve-racking to go into a meeting with a legislator or a member of their staff. However, making storytelling a part of grassroots training and doing it in a way that is approachable to participants makes it easier for advocates to use their time effectively.

“They don’t do this every day, they don’t go to Capitol Hill, they’re not used to meeting with [legislators],” Craig said. “So even someone who’s done it four or five times can get a little nervous when you’re meeting with your senator or your representative.”

When conducting advocacy training, here’s three steps to a good story every advocate should learn:

Step One: Once Upon a Time

“Every Disney movie starts with ‘Once Upon A Time’,” Craig described.

This translates to an advocate’s story in that Craig encourages his advocates to start with the basics of what things are like on their farm on a day to day basis.

“You go in there and say this is my farm, this is who works there, this is my family,” Craig said. “Every day this is what we grow, this is how we impact the local community, this is how we impact the state, this is how this overall industry impacts the state in our community.”

Step Two: A Shift Occurs

The storyteller then shifts to describe a moment that caused circumstances to change. Take the introduction of Buzz Lightyear to Andy’s toy collection—it changes Woody’s standing within the group. In the case of advocacy, this could be the introduction of new legislation or lack thereof, causing a new norm.

This event causes a new chain reaction of events.

“It’s like every day this happens, then one day, this happened and then because of that, this happened, and then because of that, this happened,” Craig explained.

Step Three: The Happy (Or Not So Happy) Ending

After a series of events take place, eventually the story reaches a peak where an action leads to a happy ending. Despite Buzz Lightyear causing insecurities for Woody, after a series events they become friends and team up together when they rely on each other to escape Sid, leading to a happy ending.

In Craig’s case with his advocates, this happy ending is likely a hypothetical. If a member votes a certain way, then this happy ending will take place. Or conversely, if this change doesn’t happen, then the advocates explain the possible negative implications.

“[We tell them to say] this is why we need you to support or oppose this legislation because if it doesn’t happen, then I’m not going to be able to hire more employees or I’m not going to be able to invest in infrastructure, whatever it is,” Craig said.

Bottom Line:

“These are the stories, using that model, that we found kind of pulled at the heart and the minds of legislators,” Craig said. “That didn’t necessarily pull at them and say ‘I need to change my mind right away’, but it does help them remember the story.”

Since introducing this method to the Farm Bureau’s grassroots training, Craig and his team have seen results. In fact, after telling an effective story, one of the organization’s advocates got a call from his legislator’s office months after the original meeting as a staffer was looking for advice on how to approach a committee vote.

“It was probably seven or eight months later a staffer called him and said ‘Hey I remember you came to our office a couple months ago talking about the issue, the senator is going to vote on this in committee and we’d really like to get some feedback from you’,” Craig said. “And [the advocate] was able to call him back that morning and talk about what the impacts are and help craft the senator’s position all because he had used that concept to talk about an issue and that staffer remembered him.”See how the American Society of Anesthesiologists organizes its digital grassroots training in Quorum.

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