Posted by: John Stapleton
Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
I remember James Carville as the always-on political operative that managed Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Since the time he arrived on the national scene he has often been seen as controversial. As the opening speaker at the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations 2014 National Conference, he was anything but. One attendee even asked during the Q&A session, “Where is irascible James Carville, we have lovable James?”
I did not know what to expect from him as an opening speaker, but what we got was some sound advice in some great sound bites. And, of course, sound bites are one of the things he was famous for. Carville delivered some inspiration from the bible and his Daddy as well. It was one of the most entertaining keynotes I have seen.
Carville was wiry and full of energy, so much so that when he started to talk “Nawlins” fast it was sometimes hard to understand what he said. He must have seen the blank faces staring back at him because he would then repeat his message, this time a little slower, and the audience caught on and laughed.
Four hundred people attended the opening keynote, all community college communicators. His message to them was this, “you have a great story to tell, and for the good of the country you must tell it.” How do you tell a great story Carville style? Set-up, conflict, resolution. You keep it simple, relevant, and repetitive. If you are as good as James Carville, you can make it funny too.
As communicators we are sales people. According to him, almost everything is “sales” because the world just doesn’t work the way many administrative types want it to. It is not enough to say, “I have done the research and it tells me this is the right way to do it” and expect people to do it. The key is to turn your point into a simple story that anyone can understand and relate it to your audience. Then repeat it over and over again.
Every community college has stories of success, and to survive in this competitive world those stories need to be told to potential students and their parents, to potential faculty (Did you know that Carville taught at a community college in Northern Virginia?), and the politicians that have the power to financially support the community college system.
When asked about sound bites, Carville went on a riff about world peace and shared some facts, figures, and logic. He said, “if every man just treated his neighbor the way he wanted to be treated we would have world peace. How old is that message? 5,000 years? Every culture has a version of it. Now that is a sound bite.”
He acknowledged that while that sound bite has survived, obviously this is something that is easier said than done. Carville then discussed how important salesmanship is when trying to accomplish anything, least of all world peace. He said his Daddy’s advice was, “Never is a man so tall as when he is bent down kissing ass.” That got a lot of laughs, some a little uncomfortable, but a lot of head nodding.
In closing, James Carville’s message was that we all have great stories to tell. Take those stories, make them simple, make them relevant to your audience and repeat.
Rinse and repeat.
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