You might think that a longtime political strategist who has worked for several presidential campaigns might be an odd choice for a keynote speaker at a gathering of nearly 900 cycling advocates. But his opening line summed it up:
“Normally I am speaking to hacks, policy wonks and political operatives. But tonight I get to speak to my people. This is great!”
Mark McKinnon is Global Vice-Chairman of Hill & Knowlton Strategies, an international communications consultancy, and the president of Maverick Media. He is a co-founder of No Labels and also is on the board of advisors of Americans Elect. He has worked for causes, companies and candidates, including former President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Congressman Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong and Bono of U2. He's also an avid cyclist who has traveled the world on his bike. McKinnon has broken his collarbone three times while riding technical singletrack.
McKinnon’s keynote was all about messaging, which was very timely for a group about to descend upon Capitol Hill for nearly 400 meetings with elected officials and federal agency leaders. His message also resonated with chapters and clubs that play politics on a daily basis. Mountain bike advocates are always trying to get some point across — whether it’s a trail system we want built or help we need from our local members.
“No matter how much special interest money there is, when you show these kinds of numbers, people notice and listen,” said McKinnon’, pointing to how the large showing at the NBS will influence political leaders.
He broke down the important elements of getting your point across — how to tell your story and make the right ask for what you want. But one of the most important things he reminded us of was that it’s not just important to get your message right when there’s a problem or a need or a want: messaging always matters.
Mark reminded us that even when victory seems imminent, we need to continue to push our message and remind our supporters why they still need to come out and vote, stand up and speak, advocate locally and nationally, write letters, build trails and otherwise stay involved and not rest on their laurels. Because even when victory seems imminent, or several good things have happened, if too many people back down, victory could slip away.
To keep it simple (and because you probably missed his hilarious reel of poorly executed political ads and bloopers), I’ll break down what Mark suggested:
- Storytelling. Telling your story or making your ask is all about expressing who you are and why you’re around. Whatever you say, it must be clear, compelling and have a narrative. People respond to stories.
- Streamline. We are competing against so much information that whatever we need to say, we have to keep it short. However complicated your message is, you need to find a way to pitch it in brief terms that your audience will grasp.
- Humanize. Numbers are important, but so are emotional stories that will stick in a person’s head and resonate with their core.
- Authenticize. Many people are getting cynical and will sniff you out if you aren’t sincere or showing passion.
- Relevancy. Why is your message important to whom you are talking to? Why is your message to people who don’t ride bikes? Why do your core supporters need to be involved, even if it seems like a winning situation?
- Repetition, Consistency and Discipline. If you have a chapter or club, make sure that you know who is doing the talking and that all of them are saying the same thing and not stepping on each other. Partner with local organizations when you can so that you’re not all speaking with the same land manager or city council member about the same thing but with disparate messages.
- Prepartion. Do your homework. You will be asked questions. You will have to go off message. Be ready by doing your research beforehand. Anticipate the questions that your audience will ask.
Long story short, whether meeting with a land manager or city council, whether advertising an important campaign that you need your chapter or club members to get involved with, having a strong, clear, consistent story that is told in a way the intended audience can not only understand, but be inspired by, is incredibly important.