I surfed a wave of July 4 patriotism over to my two senators’ websites. I wanted to see how savvy they are about presenting their stories with videos. Legislators are constantly pitching us–each bill is like a startup enterprise, which will succeed or fail in the marketplace. And startups need stories to move them forward. An Independence Day post by Audrey Watters asks: Does Your Startup Have a Good Story? Do my senators’ proposals have good stories? Let’s find out.
Massachusetts is where I pahk my cah, so my senators (in order of seniority) are John Kerry and Scott Brown. In this Seeing Your Story video dissection, I’ll try to avoid politics and focus entirely on the storytelling aspects of their videos.
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Following protocol–after all, the guy has been in the Senate since 1985–let’s look at Senator Kerry’s homepage first. Today, there’s just one video in evidence. (I like it when webpages show the “Play” triangle smack in the middle of images, so you know they’re videos. Videos are usually more exciting than still pix, don’t you think?) Feel free to watch the video through, or just watch a bit before reading on.
Oops! … I may have to re-think my notion about videos being more exciting than still pictures. We’re seeing the senator right after a caucus on energy issues, and he even says how exciting the meeting was: “This was one of the most motivating, energized and even inspirational caucuses that I’ve been part of since I’ve been here in the Senate for 26 years.” But he’s absolutely expressionless. So which is the real story, the verbal tale of inspiration or the visual one of dullness?
For too long, given a total length of just 1:35, the senator speaks in generalities we’ve heard a thousand times: “moving forward,” “creating millions of jobs for America,” “reducing our dependency on foreign oil.” Only after more than a half minute (plenty of time to hit the Stop button) does he offer something specific: The proposed legislation is “based on the principle that the polluter pays for the pollution that they create.” And Kerry ends with words that, from the larynx of a gifted orator, could inspire: This legislation would “help Americans to be able to grab ahold of the future, and not leave it to China and India, Brazil, other countries that are moving much faster than we are.” But again, there’s no expression … reminding us of Storytelling Principle #76: Your story is more than your words. It’s also the expression on your face and the tone of your voice.
If this video were just one among a dozen on Senator Kerry’s homepage, its faults might be acceptable. After all, he’s delivering information on an important topic. But it’s not. It’s a solo act.
Clicking over to Senator Brown’s site, the first thing to hit me visually is that the senator’s portrait is set over a colorful shot of Fenway Park during a night game. Go Sox! Right below is a video headlined “Brown Offers Bill To Break Logjam On Funding For State Programs Without Raising Taxes Or Increasing National Debt.” Really? He’ll fund programs without raising taxes or raising the debt? Let’s see how …
Senator Brown’s proposal “uses unspent stimulus funds and cuts wasteful and unnecessary spending in other areas.” He speaks of $37 billion in stimulus money “just sitting in a Washington, D.C., slush fund.” Of course you can argue that that $37 billion would, if spent, increase the national debt. Or not. Those are debatable political contentions. Here we’re more interested in storytelling contentions.
The main difference between the two senators’ video offerings is that Brown and his handlers know how to tell a story that goes beyond the words. He changes his expression, alters his pacing, moves his hands–all of which give an impression of spontaneity and directness. You could say that the flags behind him and on his lapel, along with the red tie and the tony furniture, are Washington standup clichés. But they work. The words, expression and images make him seem … well … senatorial. Which is all they need to do, considering that Scott Brown was just a state senator until less than half a year ago.
The numbers say something, too. Maybe they speak louder than anything else. When I looked this morning, Senator Brown’s video had been viewed 2,586 times since June 28. Senator Kerry’s, which has been up longer, had been viewed a mere 46 times!