This Is Why You Need a Powerful Stump Speech (for beginners)
Updated: Apr 20
Back in the olden days, political candidates would travel from area to area to campaign. When they arrived in a town, they would try to gather a crowd. Then, they would stand up on a stump to be a little easier to see by the assembled folks. And they would give a speech about why they should be elected to the office for which they were running. The speech might be catered to the specific concerns of the town the candidate was in, but the bulk of it didn’t change. One speech for the masses, shared time and time again from various stumps.
This is the origin of the phrase “stump speech.”
Depending on what office you’re running for, you may or may not be required to give speeches. More likely than not, you’ll have brief opportunities to tell groups of voters why you’re running for office and why they should vote for you. When given these opportunities, you can’t stammer. You’ve got to know what to say so that you can be as clear and as compelling as possible.
When I ran for Congress, I wrote my “stump speech” near the beginning of the process. I refined it a bit with feedback from trusted friends. And then, I used it. Over and over again. During my campaign, I did scores of house parties, where anywhere from 10-25 would gather to hear me speak and ask questions. By the end of the campaign, both my campaign manager and my partner just about how my stump speech memorized they had heard it so many times. Because I was comfortable with it, I didn’t need notes. I could just talk to the assembled people. They had no idea that the house party the previous night had heard the exact same message.
Here are the keys to writing a powerful stump speech:
Politics is all about name recognition. Say your name and the office you’re running for at the beginning of your stump speech, even if you’ve been introduced. The repetition won’t hurt. “Hi, I’m Robb Ryerse, and I’m running to represent you in Washington DC as your next Congressman.” Make sure you speak slowly and clearly, especially if your name is unusual like mine is.
Answer the Question - Why Am I Running for Office?
Now, tell a story that ties into your motivation for running for office. It might be a challenge someone in your family has had that you now want to address as an elected official. It may be sometime personal from your own background. Let people know why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you don’t, they may fill in the gap that you are just some kind of narcissist. Let them in to your heart and soul.
Answer the Question - Why Should People Support You?
After you’ve given them a sense of who you are, let them know why they should support you. I would recommend speaking in broad terms here, and not listing a bunch of policy positions. For instance, I would say something like “I am running for Congress because I take seriously that the job title is ‘Representative.’ I think we need someone in Washington who will actually represent us ...” Then I would mention just a couple of the big issues I was running on, knowing that if an issue really matters to one of the people listening, they will likely ask about it during the Q&A.
Answer the Question - What Can Supporters Do Right Now to Help?
The obvious thing you want people to do is vote for you! Ask them for their vote. But ask for more than that. Explain that you also need their help. Explain how they can donate to your campaign and what you’ll use the money to do. Explain how they can volunteer to help your campaign. Have sign-up sheets, a way to collect donations, and signs for people to take.
Pro tip - Whenever I did a house party, I made sure I had a campaign volunteer with me who would handle getting people to sign up, donate, and take merchandise so that I could focus on chatting one-on-one with people after the party was over.
A few other notes about stump speeches:
Length - It’s easier to speak longer than it is to speak shorter, so make sure you’re stump speech is about 5-8 minutes long.
Stories - Tell a good anecdote or two. Be prepared so you don’t ramble with too many details. Make sure the anecdotes serve the main points you’re talking about.
Your Opponent - Don’t make your stump speech about your opponent. Inspire people with your own story and vision. Mention your opponent when it can draw contrasts to yourself. You want people to feel good about you more than you want them to feel bad about your opponent.
If you’d like me to evaluate your stump speech and give you some helpful feedback, I’d be more than happy to do so. Just email me your speech, or better yet, send me a video of you giving your speech, and I’ll reply. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most people hate speaking in public, but it’s not that bad if you’re prepared. If you’re nervous about this and everything else, I understand. That’s why I’ve put together an online course that will walk you through, step-by-step, how to run for office. It is going to launch soon. When it does, you’ll want to be the first to know.
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