Sharing personal stories brings people in.
Personal stories carry acts of advocacy beyond facts and figures to reveal the real and meaningful ways that policies and laws affect individuals. Personal anecdotes or telling details cling to our memories in ways that a standalone statistic cannot. That’s because stories invite your audiences to feel and think.
When it comes to advocacy, pairing your personal story with a policy “ask” (such as requesting a cap on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D) brings what sometimes seems like wonky political issues and concepts to real life. This remains true whether you meet your elected official in person, speak to a legislative assistant on the phone, write an email, or craft a social media post.
Regardless of format or medium, this toolkit breaks down the key elements of telling effective stories with purpose.
While it might sound effortless in its final form, it takes time and thought to shape and share a compelling advocacy story. We encourage you to practice by writing a short story (1-2 pages) about your experience managing your disease. Then, try turning that story into a 90-word paragraph and a 30-second “elevator pitch” or mini speech. Practice telling your story to a loved one, friend, or even just the mirror. Enjoy the process, knowing how big of an impact your efforts will make.
Know your audience
Typically, your audience will be Congressional staff who are the gatekeepers to their bosses, the member of Congress. Do your homework before any form of outreach. You can study up on the member’s website by reading their bio and committee assignments.
Be sure to know their party affiliation and if they are sitting on a Committee with jurisdiction over, for example, the Medicare program. These committees are the Senate Finance Committee, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will also have an interest in Medicare policy but do not have jurisdiction.
Be selective with detail
Do you ever find yourself listening to a friend or loved one tell a story that goes on and on, without a clear point or end? While therapeutic, venting belongs in your social life; not in advocacy or public settings.
It is common to get bogged down by the sheer amount of information you might wish to share in your advocacy story. That’s why you must be selective with respect to the details you choose to share.
The best details are usually ones that someone can easily visualize: like sharing that you have to take 13 pills every day to manage your disease—or that you had to dip into hard-earned savings to pay nearly $2,000 in out-of-pocket costs in January at the pharmacy counter, just so that you could start treatment.
Use emotion judiciously
It is understandable if talking about your disease or health brings up unguarded emotions. While emotions can compel people to act, they shouldn’t overwhelm. Otherwise, your audience will be distracted by whether or not to comfort you, and not take away the point of your story.
This is another reason why practicing what you disclose—and how—is an essential step in crafting an effective advocacy story. Aim to use emotion to help your audience empathize or sympathize with you in order to move them to act on your policy request.
What would change mean for you?
Every advocacy effort has an “ask” or desired outcome. One way to help your elected officials relate to or remember your request is to describe how your life would be different if the proposed policy change or law was in place.
How would your life improve if there was an annual limit to out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D? What if the costs were evenly distributed throughout the year—so you wouldn’t have to pay extraordinary sums every January?
Make your ask
Every advocacy campaign boils down to an “ask.” Essentially, an ask is the actual policy, reform, or change you are requesting to alleviate your primary concern. The best emails, social media posts, and phone calls to Congress are concise and clearly identify the issue and your preferred policy changes.
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