Turn Your Issue into a Movement

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How do you upgrade a personal issue into a social movement? This is an evergreen question, though it’s especially relevant during this election season.

Arthur C. Brooks, in The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America, provides a formula that’s consistent with Presentation Excellence’s approach which has guided thousands of people to deliver persuasive, winnings: ADAP. (ADAP stands for Audience Driven (i.e., knowing and responding to your audience’s current positions and willingness to accept new information), Authentic Presentations (i.e., being true to your values so you maximize your personal power and generate trust and enthusiasm). It consists of four stepsâ€

  1. Launch a rebellion
  2. Declare majoritarian values
  3. Claim the moral high ground
  4. Unite people behind an agenda.

An example is MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Years ago, drunk driving was considered “no big dealâ€; when Candace Lightner’s 13 year old daughter was killed in 1980 while walking to a church carnival by a hit-and-run driver, the police failed to even mention that the driver was drunk. Upon learning that the driver not only was drunk, but was out on bail from another drunk driving hit-and-run and that this was his fourth offense in years, Candace decided to take action.

She researched the issue and discovered that alcohol was involved in nearly 60% of fatal car crashes. She and a friend, Sue LeBrun-Green started MADD as a rebellion against a social attitude that condoned dangerous activity while it was claiming lives. While many parental rebellions with good intentions, such as Tipper Gore’s Parents Must Resource Center (PMRC, focused on curbing sexually explicit and violent lyrics in music, die out, MADD didn’t fizzle because it followed the formula.

First, they declared majoritarian values: since every parent wants to protect children from danger, the focus was on Keeping Kids Safe. “When we don’t take this problem seriously, we are not keeping our kids safe. That is contrary to what all of us agree are our priorities.†Next, it focused its proposals on protecting innocent victims – which led to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, a bill that reduced a state’s share of federal highway dollars if it failed to raise the drinking age to 21. (Indeed, when state’s rights advocates tried to get President Reagan to oppose the bill, he responded that since it helps save kids’ lives – he will support it, and signed it into law.

In the years that followed, it adopted the moral high ground: Drunk driving kills kids. So it’s not just unfortunate, it’s morally wrong. So it focused on transforming America’s views on drunk driving: people who did it was personally immoral and should be licked up. It focused on getting states to increase penalties for driving under the influence – always on behalf of kids, as the majority of Americans would want. It successfully lobbied for a range of related issues (e.g., the enactment and enforcement of seat belt laws as well as getting communities to institute public sobriety checkpoints.) The country united behind its crusade: by 1994 MADD was the most popular charity in America; celebrities and politicians jostled to be public associated with it. It united the country around the new majoritarian view and produced enduring cultural change

As Zig Ziglar said “You can get anything you want as long as you give people what they want.†It’s true for all presenters– whether you’re seeking the support of investors, management or customers on an issue you care about, or seeking to convert a personal protect into a social movement. Use the ADAP formula: Know what the audience really wants and is prepared to accept, and be authentic in your proposal for why and how they should adopt your proposal – it will enable you to achieve the goal.

How have you tried to upgrade your issue into significant movement by the audience?  Share with us.