People vote for politicians based on the emotions they generate not the intellectual merits of their policies.1 And emotion is generated by the stories we are told and the stories we tell ourselves. We watch the candidates and observe what they do and tell ourselves a story about the type of person they are and what they stand for. The Rudd campaign understood this fact.
Kevin Rudd’s campaign was effective in telling three types of stories which helped to create positive emotions towards him and the ALP. These three types of stories are: Who am I? Why am I here? and My vision story.2
Kevin Rudd’s first television commercials contained his ‘Who am I?’ story. We learned how Kevin grew up in outback Queensland, how his parents didn’t even get a high school education and how he enjoyed going back to his home town and talking with the residents about what they wanted for the future. For many people in the electorate Kevin was just like us.
Kevin’s ‘Why am I here?’ stories revolved around his focus areas of an education revolution, being a economic conservative, getting rid of work choices, ratifying the Kyoto protocol, and providing new leadership. And in talking about these focus areas Rudd set out his vision for the future–his vision story.
Rudd’s campaign mastered the master narratives required to create the right emotions in the electorate. Interesting, however, both Rudd and Howard avoided recounting anecdotes of specific events and encounters as a way to illustrate what the candidates really value. I have been told by one political insider that both Rudd and Howard are worried the media will crucify them for using anecdotes as a mere trick to spin a particular message.
But we saw on election night how storytelling can be done with authenticity and impact when Maxine McKew gave a short speech on the news that she look like winning the seat of Bennelong. Maxine started by saying some general statements about the contest for Bennelong being on a knife edge, and how the seat will never be taken for granted again. Then she moved into storytelling mode, first remembering how she was at this town hall only a few months before and then recalling the many interviews she had done over the years and that some of the very special people she has ever met were actually in Bennelong, and this is where the mood changed as Maxine told three anecdotes.
I’m thinking of the 90-year old Sister Louise who’s at St Catherines who I met just a couple of weeks ago. She’s blind. But the day I talked to her she said, “Nobody is blind in heaven.”
And I’m thinking of 6 year old Emily at Denniston East. She told me that she told her parents to vote for Kevin Rudd because Kevin Rudd would be a great Prime Minister for children. And you know, … we need a great Prime Minister for children.
And I’m thinking as well of a boy called Ali who only recently completed his HSC exams, who—maybe Ali you are here tonight—who a few years ago was in a Pakistani refugee camp waiting for passage out, and Ali has found a safe home, and a welcome here in Australia …
I’m sure many people felt goosebumps at the end of this speech–emotions were created.
We help leaders tell these types of stories, first by helping leaders learn how to find their stories (of course Maxine is an expert at this but we all can do it), then help them learn how to tell these stories and ensure at all times there is authenticity in what you say.
1. Westen, Drew. The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. New York: PublicAffairs, 2007.
2. Simmons, Annette. The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling. Revised edition ed. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: