By David Cho
New Organizing Project blogger
How do you engage people to support your cause?
It is easy to persuade someone to take an action when it doesn’t affect him or her. By nature, all humans desire pleasure and avoid pain. But that is not always true. There are people who knowingly accept pain in the short run to gain pleasure in the long run. For instance, people run on treadmills even though they exert all of their energy in the short run because they want to be healthy or fit in the long run. I lift weights at the gym almost to the point of passing out (almost happened a few times) because my goal is to bulk up like professional body builders.
Then, how do you persuade people to support you when it might cause them pain? Mind you, pain comes in many different forms: time loss, energy loss, and money loss. It’s not easy, but doable. Your job is to convince them that their actions will outweigh pleasure than pain. Arnold sure convinced me.
Here are my tips:
1 – Focus on the audience, not you. You must relate your cause to the audience. Before I go into any speech, I ask who my audience is. Are they students? Donors? Professors? I wonder how I could relate to my audience. My latest speech was at the AAPIP (Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy) convening in front of financial officers, donors, and giving circles. I reminded them about the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and how our immigration laws continue to marginalize undocumented Asian American students today. This particular act gave Chinese immigrants permanent alien statuses and excluded them from attaining U.S. citizenship. It also excluded Chinese “skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining” from entering the country for ten years with the penalty of imprisonment and deportation. My message to the audience was clear: just as the Chinese immigrants were once restricted in contributing to our society, thousands of undocumented Asian American students are currently in a similar dire situation.
2 – Ask why supporters should help you in the first place. Self-explanatory.
3 – Now, focus on you. Share your personal story. Everyone has a story to tell. Be engaging with passion.
Speak every word like you mean it because people can feel it. Statistics will always just be numbers. Your personal story will create an emotional attachment with your audience and persuade them to take action.
For more on storytelling, you can read about Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz on Why Stories Matter. His Story of Self, Us and Now storytelling model is also an effective method in stirring emotion, relating to people and calling them to collective action.