Training Staff, Candidates and Volunteers

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By Christian Neuner

Practice makes perfect. This is certainly true for political engagement and successful election campaigns. Of course, a lot of the know-how comes from experience. But training courses for staff, candidates and volunteers are effective tools and important opportunities for the sound preparation of campaigns, and, in particular, ahead of decisive phases of election campaigns. It is at moments such as these, when the time to prepare has long passed, that everything must run smoothly and quickly fall into place.

For what objectives are trainings well suited?
– Collective brainstorming activities
– Development of strategies and concepts
– Sharing and exchange of knowledge and experience
– Preparation of concrete campaign situations
– Further development of participants’ personal competencies
– Team building and motivation

Examples of campaign preparation themes
– Strategy and campaign planning
– Time management and responsibilities
– Developing messages
– Volunteer work
– Fundraising measures
– Internal communication
– Media training
– Public speaking
– Personal communication at the campaign stall

It is generally advisable to call upon professional trainers, coaches or facilitators, who possess the skill set required to accompany or guide successful workshops. They have experience in the subject area, can encourage knowledge sharing and productive working relationships, and know how to best overcome and moderate sometimes difficult situations. External trainers have the added advantage of being able to see things from a fresh and objective perspective. This commonly leads to better results.

The Green European Foundation and GreenCampus (the training academy of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung in Germany) both have considerable experience organising and carrying out workshops of this type. GreenCampus has a far-reaching international network of trainers and experts. If you’re interested in a workshop or anything else that’s on offer, please just get in touch (contact details can be found via the above links).

Of course, not every workshop and not every personal coaching session has to be accompanied by paid external trainers. Own means and resources are often sufficient for the concrete preparation of campaign situations and for the exchange of knowledge.

Above all, it is important to establish and agree on a shared objective (for example, ‘after the workshop, we want to be better at convincing potential voters in the street’, or ‘I want to receive open and honest feedback on my speeches so that I can further improve my skills’). For workshops with a large number of participants, it’s usually a good idea to pick someone with experience (acquired at university or through other projects, for example) to moderate exchanges.

Below are three suggestions for smaller groups. These can be implemented as they stand, but could also be usefully complemented by contributions to the Best Practice section of the Campaign Handbook.

See also the best practice article:
Sharing your Message: Tips and Suggestions from the Île-de-France
Political Actions in the Streets of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

Exchange of knowledge for staff
Invite your own experts along. You will frequently find the important knowledge and experience you’re looking for in your immediate surroundings.

Example 1. You want to organise an election campaign in a city next year? Further south, in another city, your Green Party friends organised a series of exciting fundraising events through which they acquired a large part of their campaign funding. How did they manage this? What worked well or less well? Did they produce documents and lists that could prove helpful for your work?

Idea: invite those responsible for the fundraising actions in this other city to an internal evening event or reception of yours. Give them the chance to present their experiences and instruments, then consider which of these methods and approaches you could adopt.

Example 2. It has been decided that you need to organise your volunteers better. Because when they’re around, it’s not clear what they should do; and when you have too much on your plate, they’ve disappeared. You know of an environmental NGO that works a lot with volunteers. How does the NGO deal with volunteer management? What planning tools does it use? How are tasks distributed? How does it keep in touch with its volunteers, inform and motivate them? How are they thanked once the successful campaign is over?

Idea: Ask those responsible for volunteer management within the NGO to attend one of your smaller workshops. With their help, you can determine what objectives you should set yourself in your work with volunteers, how they can be better organised and their contribution made more efficient.

Personal speech coaches for candidates
As a candidate, it is a good idea to get hold of your own personal speech coach. Only with practice and feedback will you be able to improve.

Public speaking stars don’t just fall from the sky. The same rule, therefore, applies here also: practice, practice, practice. But not alone in front of a mirror. Do you know what effect you as a candidate have on others? When do people find what you say and how you say things to be convincing? A speech coach could help you develop. But not everyone can afford a professional adviser like Obama or Clinton.

Idea: Look for someone close to you, someone you trust. Ask him or her to accompany you to big and small events over the following weeks, and to pay particular attention to what you say (whether it is understandable, too long, etc.) and how you speak (too loud, too quiet, body language all wrong, etc.). The two of you can then discuss in detail his or her impressions and feedback. In this way, although it may prove somewhat hectic, you will improve more rapidly and become far more confident and convincing than if you were to simply speak to yourself in the mirror.

Volunteers: the basics
Volunteers need support, especially if they are not yet familiar with political work or everyday life on the campaign trail.

An election campaign means work. Convincing people on the street, at their front door, at the campaign stall. For untrained co-workers, it is unfortunately not always immediately obvious who they should speak to (is it worthwhile embarking on a long conversation or will this man in fact never vote Green?), how long a conversation should last (so that there’s enough time remaining for other conversations), how they should react to (often critical) questions, or who they should point to when more complex queries arise.

Idea: Once your election campaign message is clear and your flyers have been printed, get together and practice common campaign situations with the people who are going to be out on the streets campaigning by your side. Team up in groups of three, switch roles regularly, and spend around five minutes on each typical situation. One person is the campaigner looking to convince others that his party is the one to vote for, another plays a passer-by, while the third observes and provides feedback. The whole thing is usually fun and amusing, since people are generally quite happy to adopt other roles (an elderly grandmother one moment, a young father the next, then a banker on his lunch break) – much like an actor, but as part of a role-play. After a few rounds, the overall effect is that participants become more self-confident in their personal abilities and when communicating with other people. This is particularly important when the ultimate objective is to convince others of the merits of your own political programme.

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