Tag Archives: George Lakoff

From pedantry to palatable power: Yay Toastmasters!

Pedantry: n. a stodgy, unimaginative, and often ostentatiously learned presentation

Palatable: adj. easy to swallow

Power: n. the ability to act or produce an effect

Last night I came in second in our Toastmasters Club speech contest. I was actually happier than if I’d won first because it was such a triumph for the woman who won.

We started our club right after Bush won re-election in 2004 with the goal of training progressives (mainly Democrats) like ourselves to become more effective at talking publicly about our progressive values.  We were fed up with Rovian framing and wanted to put George Lakoff’s communication principles into action.

Our messages were often serious, and we practiced pontificating for our causes. You can’t participate regularly in a Toastmasters Club and not become significantly more skillful at expressing yourself, and we’ve all done that.

We’ve also become more skillful at delivering a serious message in a light-hearted manner, which is often more effective because it’s palatable.

Last night’s winner – a master composter and environmental activist – reworked a speech she’d given at least a year earlier. It was about vacationing in Hawaii and finding it hard to relax because she couldn’t compost or recycle the waste her group was generating.

The original speech had funny moments but she couldn’t break herself away from trying to educate and convert us.

Last night she cut out all the preachy stuff and turned it into a battle between her “on-it” environmentalist self and her vacationing ‘”what-the-hell” self.  She had an appropriate hat and posture for each self.

By exaggerating both her goody-two-shoes side and her hedonistic irresponsible side she not only made the speech very funny, but her message became much more powerful. We could all identify with that eternal struggle–wanting to do the right thing, but finding the comfort of doing nothing so much easier.

I had worked with the speaker on the original speech, but at that time she was still too serious to allow the story to take off .  This time, with the benefit of time, distance and more experience, she was able to see the script freshly – axing the excess, adding theatrics and comical images.

She goes on to the Area Contest next Friday and we’ll all be there to root for her.

Pooped and plumb tuckered: how I got where I am today

Pooped: n. tired, worn out, wasted, an empty shell

I feel like I’ve been holding up the entire country for the past few years.

I first became hyperactively involved in Democratic politics after Kerry’s 2004 defeat. The Current Occupant’s re-election had thrown me into despair.  WHAT had become of my country? Were we THAT stupid? THAT blind? HOW could anyone, even someone with shit for brains, vote for that smirking frat-boy?

On Inauguration Day (January 20, 2005) I dressed in black and attended a wake for democracy at our downtown park. I hadn’t been to a demonstration in decades, but I need to be with other grievers.

At the wake I met a couple of women who, like me, had just read linguist George Lakoff’s seminal book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, about how the right-wing had mastered the metaphorical values language that underpinned the conservative argument (and demonized progressives).

Lakoff made it very clear how Democrats had been framed into a corner by the likes of Frank Luntz and Karl Rove. But he also offered a vision of how we should frame our own progressive values so they spoke more directly to the public’s heart than those wordy policy statements we so love.

The concepts were simple: conservatives hold Strong Father (authoritarian) values, and progressives hold values of the Nurturant Parent (mother?).  We worked hard, but it was much harder than we expected to articulate these new concepts in words that expressed our progressive values. So we put together a series of community workshops at the Unitarian church and we invited activists from all over town to come practice with us.

For six weeks, SEVENTY of us (in Vancouver!) struggled to master this new language. And when that was done, 25 of us formed a new Toastmasters club called Progressive Voices where we could practice speaking our values. Several of our members have since gone on to elected office! We helped a similar club form in PortlandThank you George Lakoff for getting us going.

Meanwhile I began following the plethora of Republican misdeeds and the rise of more progressive Democrats on the internet.  I became addicted to DailyKos, the blogchild (blogmonster?) of Markos Moulitsas and the hundreds (actually thousands) of brilliant and well-informed writers who post there. (The site got 3 million pageviews a day leading up to the election, and 9 million on election day!)

Markos is a hero to millions of us who follow progressive politics online. He should be a national hero – because he created the space for people like me to get together, learn about the issues, and put our shoulders to the wheel to actually get good Democrats elected. His first book, Crashing the Gate, and his new book, Taking on the System, laid out why our party was so stuck and what we could do about it. Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy was part of this.

Volunteers from DailyKos organized the first political bloggers convention, YearlyKos, in 2006 – which was attended by a thousand of us in Las Vegas – we participated in panel discussions and heard from Democratic luminaries like Barbara Boxer, Bill Richardson, Mark Warner, Howard Dean. In 2007 we met in Chicago and heard from all the Democratic presidential contenders and many state candidates and electeds as well. That’s when I decided for sure that Obama was The Man and Hillary was not The Woman. And I was charmed by Joe Biden.

Thank you, Markos, from the bottom of my heart.  Thank you Dr. Dean. Together, YES WE DID.

I’ve been a local Dem precinct officer since 2005, dutifully walking my neighborhood and handing out literature. I don’t really love this part, but I do it. (It’s much better when you do it with a partner.)

And now we’ve won – President Obama, Gov. Gregoire, many locals. On the one hand I’m thrilled. On the other I feel like an empty shell right now. I paw listlessly at the papers on my desk, hop from website to website, and wonder how I’ll fill the hours I spent each day holding up the entire US political system with the power of my mind. I know there are thousands of other in my wasted condition*.

I’ve already taken long naps. Maybe I’ll start by walking the dog.  I could rake some leaves.

New project: Training my new kitty, Gobama, to use the toilet instead of a litter box? Tune in tomorrow.

* Update: The Onion is on it! Hilarious! Obsessive Obama supporters see how empty their lives have become.


Public Speaking – a Progressive’s parable

Public speaking: the art or process of making speeches before an audience.

Progressive: one that is interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities, one believing in moderate political change and improvement in the common good thru governmental action

Parable: a simple story illustrating a moral or religious lesson.

Toastmasters: a non-profit educational organization that has been teaching public speaking and leadership skills since 1924, with 11,500 clubs in 92 countries. Toast is not involved. Nor is toasting, though I could get into that!

Once upon a time there were a few people in my community who were so upset about the election, and re-election (inconceivable!) of the Current Occupant of the Oval Office that we decided something had to be done. We believed that our own people had had their asses handed to them on a platter because the Republicans had figured out how to talk to voters much more effectively than we did.

(We strongly suspected it was all a pack of lies concocted by Orwellian geniuses like Karl Rove and Frank Luntz, but still, the voters fell for it.).

We had read a book by linguist George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant, which for the first time explained what had happened, and what progressives like us had to do to get back in the game (and it did NOT involve lying or Orwellian machinations).

We got together about 50 like-minded souls and explored these new ideas in a series of workshops. But we still didn’t feel confident at speaking out.

So 25 of us created a new Toastmasters club where we could practice public speaking about such touchy subjects as politics and moral values (from a progressive perspective) on a weekly basis.

Our club just celebrated its 3rd anniversary, and we’ve learned how to speak effectively about difficult topics. We’ve graduated many competent communicators, gotten members elected to public office, made deep friendships. Now we’re floundering a bit – a victim of our success, even.

Suddenly the worm has turned. Republicans are on the run everywhere! It’s not just that progressives all across the country are better at communicating what we stand for; it’s that the conservative agenda imploded because it was ill-conceived to begin with and Americans are finally realizing it.

The fight to restore our democracy and save the planet has just begun, though. We need fresh foot soldiers to carry the message, share action plans, and make sure the good guys get elected.

If you’d like to be able to communicate your values more effectively in this crucial election season, consider joining a Toastmasters club near you.