Most stump speeches, especially at the local level, follow a formula. It goes something like this: “I’m John Smith. I grew up right here in town. I have a beautiful wife, kids and a golden lab. I went to a local high school, and then on to state university. Now, I work for a big local company, volunteer and attend church.” Eyes glaze over from there.
Candidates who give this type of stump speech have good intentions. They want to connect with voters. They want voters to believe they share their values and will represent them because “they are one of us.”
Yet the major issue with the resume stump speech is that it bores a candidate’s audience and lacks any memorable emotional effect. The candidate’s audience tunes him or her out in the end.
Rather than give a resume stump speech, candidates should instead tell their origin story. This is the story that epic movies tell about their hero in the first part of the film. It’s the story that answers questions like, who is this person? What’s their motivation? If candidates’ stump speeches can answer those kinds of questions then their voters will be more likely to form emotional and memorable connections with their campaign.
Candidates should follow a few basic principles when crafting their origin story. First, they should identify some emotional event that led them to pursue a career in public service. This could a candidate’s upbringing or a defining moment that told him or her, “This is what I was meant to do.” Next, candidates should tie the emotional core of their origin story into their campaign’s overall message.
For example, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, both use their origin stories to get their messages out to their voters.
In Nikki Haley’s 2012 RNC address, she tied the lessons of hard work she learned from her parents’ small business success to the overall success of businesses in South Carolina.
“I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every single day how blessed we were to live in this country,” she said. “They loved the fact that only in America, we could be as successful as we wanted to be and nothing would stand in our way. My parents started a business out of the living room of our home and, 30-plus years later, it was a multimillion dollar company.”
Eric Garcetti, in his 2013 campaign kickoff speech, uses the nostalgia of growing up to evoke a “better time”—one that he promises that his candidacy would deliver:
“I’m a fourth generation Angelino. Someone who grew up, feeling safe, biking on the streets of the San Fernando Valley. Someone who played Encino Little League. Someone who piled into the Chevy station wagon on the weekends; you know the kind with the wood paneling on the side to grab a chili burger at Tommy’s with my parents and my sister,” he said. “It was a simple kind of life, but it was the kind of life that we all dream of. Today, many of us fear that this life is slipping away from our city.”
Each origin story above goes beyond the biographical facts of the candidate’s life. Instead, both stories ties those facts into an emotional and values-based reason to vote for the candidate. While voters sometimes take the policy positions and qualifications of a candidate into account, they also decide based on the emotional connection they have with a candidate.
When candidates tell their origin stories, rather than list off their resumes, they’re one step closer to forging those critical emotional connections with their supporters.
Eddie Rice is a freelance speech writer with more than eight years of experience. He’s written for for CEOs, college presidents, government officials, political candidates, and keynote speakers.