How Stacey Abrams’ speech uses the power of Storytelling
When former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams delivered the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, she used one powerful tool throughout her speech – storytelling.
In case you are not too familiar with Stacey Abrams, she is the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and after losing Georgia governor’s race by allegations of voter suppression, she devoted her efforts in improving this situation. Abrams formed an organization to register and empower voters, wrote a book about voter suppression, and co-produced a documentary, “All In: The Fight for Democracy.” In the 2020 election, her relentless efforts paid off.
Throughout her book and documentary, she uses the power of story, but her speech at the 2019 State of the Union address sums it all up.
Abrams’ One Big Message was clear throughout this speech:
“Together, we are coming for America, for a better America”.
She brings her personal story about her family; in particular her father’s story as a through line in her speech to strengthen her One Big Message.
Let me explain how strategically she did it based on “The 6C’s of Effective Storytelling”
In her opening, she introduces her parents:
- Librarian mother, who taught her to love learning.
- Shipyard worker father, who put in overtime and extra shifts; and they made sure we volunteered to help others.
Both parents emphasized family values, which were faith, service, education, and responsibility. These values led Stacey Abrams to serve the country she loves, with a strong belief that coming together beyond differences is crucial for the greater good of this country.
Her family went back and forth between lower middle class and working poor.
Since her family were poor, they only had one car, so sometimes her dad had to hitchhike and walk 30 miles home from the shipyards.
One rainy night, when her father didn’t come home, everyone in her family gets in the car and goes out looking for him – and eventually finds him making his way along the road, soaked and shivering in his shirtsleeves.
Mother asks if he’d left his coat at work. He explains he’d given it to a homeless man he’d met on the highway. That was his only jacket. Father turns to his family and says, “I knew when I left that man, he’d still be alone. But I could give him my coat, because I knew you were coming for me.”
This beautiful story is short, yet extremely impactful.
First, “Rainy night”, “soaking wet”, “shivering in shirtsleeves” give us vivid visual image and we can even feel and smell the cold rain.
Second, she uses a dialogue (“father says, “xxx”.). This makes her father come alive in the story, and these lines are enough to spotlight his personalities and values.
Third, this short story she tells in her opening introduces her family values that were handed down to her, and she strategically sets up a foundation for her One Big Message, “Together, we are coming for America, for a better America”, and contrasts with upcoming conflict.
Then, Stacey Abrams describes not one, not two, but countless conflicts America is facing.
Challenges with educational cost, gun safety measures, immigration plan, climate change, the Affordable Care Act… Layoffs are looming, plants are closing, wages are struggling to keep pace with the cost of living, and many hard-working Americans falling behind, living paycheck to paycheck.
Most importantly, voter suppression. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, Abrams stresses that we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.
Abrams is skilled in showing conflict. In order to emotionally connect with listeners, conflicts shouldn’t be shown in one shot. Stack up the conflict one after another and create the emotional escalation.
If you take the movie “Titanic” as an example, after the ship hits the iceberg, the conflict rises little by little, like the “Mall Escalator” lets you go up one flight, walk around the floor, then go up another flight.
If the ship sinks as soon as she hits the iceberg, the story ends right there. I call it the “Elevator Method”.
On the other hand, if the water only penetrates the lower deck and the ship doesn’t sink at all, the story never ends. I call it the “moving walkway method”.
Abrams is using the “Mall Escalator” method to effectively shake up the listener’s emotions.
Cure is the changemaker. It’s the climatic finish of the story. Cure could be a person, a thing, or an incident.
In Abrams’ case, she uses her father’s credo as Cure-together, we are coming for America, for a better America. When America shares this belief, “Change” will happen.
In many stories, the main character and their situation change for the better as a result of overcoming their conflicts.
In Abrams’ case, she describes the foreseeable “Change” – “better America”, if “America comes together”.
“Our power and strength as Americans live in our hard work and our belief in more. My family understood firsthand that while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible. But we do not succeed alone – in these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us. Our first responders will come for us.”
In closing, Abrams calls for action – exercise your voting rights. Stand for, and with one another, for stronger America together.
“Carryout”, or the takeaway message is this: “we will create a stronger America, TOGETHER”.
She brings back her family values and emphasizes that America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are – and when we do so, never wavering – the state of our union will always be strong.
Now you learned the analysis of Stacey Abrams’ speech based on my “6C’s of Effective Storytelling”, it’s your turn. Download the free e-book here, and start telling your story.