Wednesday, March 15, 2017

4 communications lessons you can learn from anti-Trump protesters

Here in Washington, DC, not a day has gone by since the inauguration without at least one--and sometimes several--protests of the new administration. This isn't entirely new: Washington, as long as I've lived here, has been the place where the people come to air their grievances, so much so that locals turn to the Washington Post on Saturdays to find the routine reports that tell us which streets are closed over the weekend for which protests, and how big they are likely to be. And new data from Pew shows that Americans--across political lines--strongly support the right of the people to protest.

That steady pace of protests is magnified now, with more frequent and larger protests happening every day. The signs are getting more creative, too. And as the protests gather steam, there are some good reminders for professional communicators in their methods. Here are just four lessons you can learn from the marches and protests:
  1. Brevity matters: That long quote, or stirring paragraph, or speech fragment that inspired you to march is much harder to read, photograph, or broadcast than, say, "Now you've pissed off Grandma," one of my favorite signs held by a senior citizen during the Women's March. A protest sign is not even as long as a headline--or shouldn't be. It's a great time to practice your editing skills.
  2. Humor is essential: That "Grandma" sign also wins because it's a spot of humor in a sea of outrage. Humor allies you with others in your audience, and can be a sly psychological counter to dreadful policies. Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, writing about how shared laughter helps your cause, noted, "A voter laughing is half yours, and just received a line he can repeat next weekend over a beer at the barbecue or online at Starbucks. Here is a fact of American politics: If you make us laugh we spread your line for free," as I am doing here.
  3. Be visible and legible: Most of the protests began in January, right after the inauguration--a time of less than 12 hours of daylight each day, in Washington, DC. So lighted signs, one person holding up each letter of a word, have become useful for extending protests during late-night U.S. Senate deliberations, as in the photo at the top. Brevity counts here, too.
  4. Use broadcast-quality messaging: You don't need a network anchor to hold your sign for this to be achieved, but you do need messaging that can be shown and repeated on air, whether radio or television. To wit: Keep the curse words off your protest sign or your interview comments. Many a university press officer I know can tell that a campus protest won't wind up on the local TV news when they see signs loaded with obscenities. (Protesters, listen up.) Air your frustration in other ways, and make your messages shareable.
(Pruitt protest photo by League of Conservation Voters. Grandma protest photo: Creative Commons licensed photo by Kristy)

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