How to answer the “Why are you running?” question

Answer the question, Why are you running?

As a new candidate, the question you’ll get most often is, “Why are you running?”

This is your moment—your chance to make a great first impression to voters. That’s why you need to prepare.

When you don’t prepare, you sound like Joe McMenamin, a Springfield, IL Democrat, when he answered this question.

You probably didn’t watch the whole video. I can’t blame you. It’s painfully long…even after I sped up the clip from the original 7 minutes.

Joe McMenamin didn’t have a bad start. He knows this question is coming and leads off with the headlines confirming the problems. He hooked me in, but then it all fell apart. He was longwinded, all those papers were a distraction and he got lost in the weeds.

Imagine if the voters you meet are as bored with you as you were with Joe McMenamin …

That’s why you need an excellent “Why I’m Running” speech.

How to develop your “Why I’m Running” speech

There are two things you must remember about voters as you develop this critical response:

  1. They don’t care about you, they care about themselves
  2. If they don’t like you, they won’t vote for you. Most voters just want to know if you’re nice enough and if they can trust you. Policies are not nearly as important as personality.

Here’s the challenge… How do you connect with voters who really don’t care about you but want to make a judgment if they like you?

An easy way is with a framework used by advertising copywriters for decades. It’s called the AIDA formula.

AIDA is an acronym for the four steps to a successful pitch: AttentionInterestDesireAction. It may sound simple, but this simple formula has sold millions of products.

When developing your speech, break it down into these four sequential parts.

Capture your audience right away. Remember, voters don’t really care about you­–they care about themselves. Speak directly to them. This portion of your speech should be just long enough to make your point and make the audience pay attention. A short horror story, a shocking stat or a sensational headline are good tactics. Whatever you do, make sure it’s relevant to the real reason you’re running.
In the video clip Joe McMenamin begins doing this with the first set of newspaper quotes; he just didn’t know when to move on.
Now that you’ve grabbed their attention, keep their interest by sharing relevant facts that back up what you just said. This is where you introduce yourself and briefly highlight your bio (no more than 15 seconds). Mention one or two things about you that connect you to the voters.
Once interested, you want to peak listeners desire to vote for you. Explain why your original attention grabber doesn’t have to be that way, and give them specific reasons why you’re the candidate to make those changes.
Have a solid close with a strong call to action. If it’s a large group of voters, repeat the office you’re running for and the day of the election when asking for their vote. For GOP groups, close with an ask for a specific task like donating or signing up to volunteer.

Would this AIDA formula help the longwinded Joe McMenamin? Buried in the clutter he has a theme for his candidacy. What would AIDA do?

Notice how much more engaging he is as a candidate? A clear call to action could further improve his speech. It’s not perfect but it’s dramatically stronger than the original.

Create a great “Why I’m running” speech.

Write your own version. Block off 60 minutes and write out the words “Attention”, “Interest”, “Desire”, and “Action”. Under each word write a few sentences using the tips we discussed above.

This is your first draft and it will be way too long. That’s okay. You want to get your ideas out and on the paper. Once you exhaust the reasons your running, edit back to highlight your best work. As you edit, read out loud each line to see if it’s how you would naturally say it.

Try out your 2nd or 3rd draft on a friend, spouse or relative. Get feedback and make corrections. Leave it for a day and then go back to it and edit it again. Practice your final version multiple times until you know it cold.

Now you’re ready. Go out and feel confident that voters will know exactly why you’re running for office.

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About the Author

Trevor Bragdon

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Hi, I’m the founder of EquipGOP. Every election cycle I meet smart, hardworking Republicans who are running for the first time but don’t know where to start. EquipGOP's goal is to help these local Republican candidates learn tactics and strategies they need to win on Election Day.