This is easier than you think.
Based on our experience of nearly 12 years convening politically diverse community conversations, we wanted to make some aspirational, big picture ideals we’d encourage you to strongly consider:
1. No stump speeches, pretty please! One thing many of us are prone to do when nervous is to ramble on about things we think are important. While speeches can be a fine and even beautiful thing in the right context, we’d encourage you to aim for something more in these precious few minutes you have with this audience: something more interactive than a talk. As best you can, try to limit your separate speaking portions to something very short (1-2 minutes, 3 max)—which naturally generates more back and forth.
2. Talking with your partner, rather than only at the audience. Our most effective speakers find a way to genuinely interact together in front of the audience…yes, we know, not always so easy when you have so many others watching! But the power of them getting to witness open, honest, respectful disagreement together (right alongside the affection and respect) cannot be overstated.
3. Showing more than telling. What this means is letting your audience see what you’re teaching them, rather than simply telling them via a list of principles or insights or ideas. You’re going to want to say a lot of words about big ideas…Try to remember, though: You are the message—not just your words!
4. Heart more than head. Although learning bigger ideas will always be important, the challenges we are facing in America center go deeper than heady ideas to the underlying distrust, suspicion, resentment, fear and anger that permeate so many interactions. Make your focus that:the heart of the matter, the deep emotional disconnect in our country – and how we’re going to transcend it together. Rather than only trying to “solve the problem” or seek solutions, we’re trying to create the relationships that can allow us to do both. So, go to it, good souls…persuade their hearts by your presentation, not just their heads!
5. Relax a little. It’s easy on stage to feel…well, on stage! Unless you’re a born thespian, that can make for overly canned, rehearsed, rigid performances. Lighten up a bit. You don’t have to say the perfect words. You just need to give them a taste—just a juicy glimpse—of real friendship amidst deep difference. So, more than anything, let yourself have a good time.
6. Lighten-things up. These conversations are often so deadly serious that it can feel like walking into a funeral. Don’t let that happen with yours! That doesn’t mean you have to be a comedian about it…but watch for moments to make people smile. In addition to helping the audience ease into a place of more openness, seeing you two laugh together is a sure sign that the affection you’re sharing is legitimate.
7. Stories, stories, stories. Along with your embodied, real-time example in front of them, we strongly encourage you both to share many glimpses of past experiences, moments and stories during the event. In addition to what it was like when you meant, consider commenting on funny ideas you originally had about each other, hard moments you had together (even maybe ‘the hardest’), changes you’ve noticed, things you’ve learned, etc. If you want to emphasize a larger principle or ideal, see if you can illustrate it through your relationship—keeping everything centered and grounded around real-life details.
8. Be a little vulnerable. If this kind of conversation has been scary for you, let them know. If there were disappointments along the way, or things you still really wrestle with in this kind of a politically diverse relationship, be honest about that too! By acknowledging and not hiding some of the messier aspects of this work (right along with the hope), your message will become even more believable and true to life for your audience.
9. Disagree, for real! Speakers at these kinds of events tend to think that the central emphasis should be common ground—to the point that people often tell us, “I wish we could see them disagree a little more!” Go there! Turn towards the hard stuff even if you’ve already worked through it before. That means also not pushing too hard for resolution of differences. Show how that whole agreeing to disagreeing thing can be a valuable learning experience. And embrace diversity of opinion as the creative force it really is!
10. Don’t be afraid to inspire. In this painful political period in America, people are looking for more than just steps or insights. They’re looking for hope…and healing! In whatever way you can, serve that up. Our experience is that everyone has something especially beautiful and powerful to offer. What’s yours?