President Obama Is Why I'm In Television / by Jahan Sharif

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I set myself on the path toward television after working on President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012. Over my nine months on the ground in Florida, I spoke with hundreds of my neighbors, organizing my communities so that by Election Day, nothing would stop them from voting. When someone does something for their own reasons, they’re said to be intrinsically motivated. It’s what the best marketing campaigns do, and it was our goal. 

There are many ways to do it, but ultimately you're trying to align the story people tell themselves about themselves with the campaign’s message. President Obama did it by training thousands of organizers around the country on how to tell stories.

Here’s the basic formula for a persuasive conversation: 

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  1. Extract the other person’s personal story to understand their motivations

    1. “Why are you interested in supporting President Obama for reelection?”

  2. Relate your personal story

    1. “I’ve taken time off from school to organize for President Obama because he’s fighting for policies that will help people like me achieve our full potential, without neglecting others who are in different circumstances. 

  3. Connect my story to the message of the campaign

    1. “That’s why, while rescuing the economy, he made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which guaranteed equal pay for equal work the first act he signed as president; and used up all of his political capital to pass the Affordable Care Act in his first two years. And now, it’s because I have that security that I can think long term about my future without worrying if I’m compromising my health in the short term.”

  4. Connect their story to the campaign’s message

    1. “Did you ever have an experience where you had to make a bad short term decision because you felt you had no other choice?”

  5. Contrast Obama’s message with the opponent’s

    1. “Mitt Romney has a different vision for the future of this country that doesn’t prioritize us. He wants to...” 

  6. Establish the stakes

    1. “Our win is not guaranteed. We’re polling neck and neck in every battleground state. Every vote counts. Don’t believe me? Remember, George Bush won Florida in 2000 by 538 votes. There are no second chances. Either we win, or we lose. And we know what happens when we lose!”

  7. Close with the hard ask

    1. “That’s why it’s so important for you to be involved. Can you join us tomorrow to call your neighbors and encourage them to join the effort to reelect President Obama?

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Stories are the vehicles that ground big or abstract ideas, and enable the personal connection required to convert awareness into self belief and then into behavior. The campaign showed me how everything in our life comes down to the stories we choose to tell ourselves, and each other. Stories (and a lot of hard work, people, and money) elected my president.

Producing, it turns out, is the business of storytelling; and television is the most far-reaching medium. I am a television producer because President Obama helped me to connect those dots. And, ironically, he is also the reason why I plan to leave television.

More on that, next week.

Los Angeles, CA, USA
September 2019