10 Essential Communication Tips for Kenyan Women Seeking Political Office
In the East African region with the exception of Rwanda, women are often underrepresented in leadership positions and globally in 2015 women held only 22 percent of national parliamentary positions. Some of the factors leading to this underrepresentation of women in the political process include social-cultural barriers, inadequate training, and limited access to resources among others.
Many Profit and Non-profit Organisations are working to raise the level of women representation in political processes in Africa, with many running campaign camps, capacity building workshops or consulting programs and with a recognition that many variables determine the outcome of a successful election campaign, many of these programs acknowledge the fact that effective communication by candidates is central to a successful campaign and have designed robust communication programs targeted for women candidates.
Drawing from my experience in training and consulting for both female and male political candidates, I know that women in the theatre of political campaigns face greater scrutiny in ways their male counterparts do not and it is of the essence to ensure that their communication efforts are beyond reproach for success and these are some thoughts to aid women candidates as the country enters the final phase of its five year electoral cycle.
1. Select the “Correct Race” to Run.
Every politician embarks on a campaign with the belief that they will win an election. Confidence is a plus in running an electoral campaign, but it is not enough to assure victory. Many “right” aspirants lose an election because of running the wrong race. The process of winning an election starts by selecting the “Correct” race to run. Selecting the correct race by a potential candidate begins when they analyse their own profile vis a vis the electorates, study the Socio-cultural dynamics, their own plus the electorates political party affiliation, the geographical boundaries and whether the incumbent holder of an office is vulnerable and the voters are hospitable to their candidacy and whether based on their experiences, knowledge and expertise they can be a better alternative.
Democracy and Politics is become increasingly expensive and selecting the correct race will also assist a candidate to determine how much money they need to raise in order to be competitive. We have developed an elaborate Toolkit to assist in this process, which any potential aspirant can deploy for the process.
2.Translate your Vision into Concrete Policy Propositions.
The maxim that guides this process is the all time truth that “All Politics is Local.” In the practice of our democracy an individual becomes an aspirant once they formally announce their interest and transform into a candidate upon winning their political party’s nomination. This process must go hand in hand with the transformation of Vision into Concrete Policy Propositions, which are easy to communicate to the electorate.
Ultimately it involves aligning a candidate’s vision with the needs of the electorate and the ideals and agenda of the political party they ascribe to all the while retaining that “Local” perspective.
Women candidates must draft strong substantive policy proposals, which will clearly demonstrate their Credibility/Competence for the job and enhance the seriousness of their candidacy. Unfortunately in our context voters expect much more from women candidates than their male opponents to consider them qualified to vie for various positions and a higher degree of substance in their propositions will help with voters.
3.Voter/ Electorate Analysis.
Analyzing and understanding your audience in this case the electorate precedes effective communication. By analysing and understanding voter Demographics, Interests, Attitudes, Values, Expectations, Needs, and the electoral environment, a candidate then uses this data to frame their Policy Agenda and communicate the same to the electorate seeking to persuade them that they are best placed to represent their hopes and aspirations.
The aim of this process is “Targeted Reach” which basically means designing an appropriate campaign Policy and presenting it to the right segment of the electorate.
Practically each candidate must know the numbers in each electoral zone. They must seek to get access to the updated voter registry in their electoral zone or any other databases which will assist in generating targeted reach. There are organisations, that have some of this information, and they can be courted for the data. While conducting Voter Analysis, the candidate must strive to know the “Reliable Voters” those who show up every election to vote without fail, and the “Swing Voters”plus where they live and which Policy Propositions appeal to them.
4. Develop a Political Communication Strategy.
A Political Communication Strategy is designed to help a candidate communicate effectively and hopefully win an election. It is at the very core of a Political Candidate’s marketing process and in the upcoming Kenyan elections in 2017, every woman candidate must have a Communications Strategy whose complexity will be determined by the context and dynamics of the office they seek.
The electoral environment in 2017 has really evolved and every
candidate must strive to deploy an “Evidence based” campaign
communication strategy. This means ingraining a structure for collecting
and interpreting data coming from Polls, Surveys and qualitative
research even as they deploy various channels and mediums to communicate
A Political Communication Strategy is segmented as follows:
- Detail Clear Goals and Objectives.
- Voter Segmentation and Policy Messages for each segment.
- Tactical Aspects of Implementing the Strategy.
- Channels, Mediums, Techniques and Tools of engaging with the electorate. In 2017 candidates must plan for an effective digital communication strategy on Social media, mobile phones and the web.
- A Vivid Action Plan with definite
- Contingency Arrangements (
- Crisis and Propaganda Management Outlay. Women candidates face
- Monitoring and Evaluation Approach
All women candidates must remember that they enter the political fray within a context in which they will be fighting gender-based prejudice and they must incorporate messages in their communication strategy, which address these prejudices.
Finally all candidate must always remember that despite a brilliant Communication strategy; “Communication” is not always the answer to flawed Policy’s and candidacies.
5.Refine your Campaign Speech.
A candidate’s campaign speech is a fusion of their Policy Agenda, Electorate Analysis and Party Manifesto delivered masterfully. Rhetoric is a major aspect of campaign communication and throughout history humans have witnessed the power great oratory skills can afford a candidate for political office. The campaign speech is the avenue through which a candidate will persuade voters to turn out for them.
There are numerous studies focused on the differences between how men and women communicate and l will highlight one that bears great significance on the political arena; that Men don’t have a problem broadcasting their achievements and framing them as individual driven success while women shy away from talking up their individual achievements and ascribe teamwork to their success. While this aspect will work well for women in other contexts, within the political arena, it can be a handicap. Women candidates must learn to “Talk up” their individual achievements and use them to increase their Competence and Credibility for the office they seek.
The Aspects to consider while refining a campaign speech are:
- Credibility; the speech must position the candidate as most credible to assume an office. Women candidates must balance between showing Compassion and Competence in their speeches.
- Knowledge; the candidate must express a great depth of knowledge on issues affecting the electorate and offer clear solutions.
- Goodwill; The Campaign speech must create the perception that the candidate has the electorate’s best interests at heart. Relatability is key in gaining goodwill and women aspirants should not shy away from talking about their social experiences/roles as leaders, mothers, sisters, wives etc. Men in our context can get away with no mention of these social roles, but women are judged to a higher standard.
- Authenticity; A candidate must come across as authentic in order to connect with the electorate. This will mean crafting a narrative that is factual, and ensuring that when they deliver the speech their Verbal and Non-Verbal aspects are in congruence.
- Passion; An Audience must see the “fire from the belly”;But while striving for a passionate speech delivery women must make sure to control the pitch of their voices while on the stump and avoid sounding shrill.
- Likeability; Audiences like those who mirror them and candidates must try to do this. Some studies showed that voters will vote for a man they do not like but think is qualified, but will not vote for a woman they do not like. Seems women candidates must work extra hard to improve the likeability factor.
- Great Delivery; Candidates must muster the elements of great delivery which is showing great ability in the Visual, Vocal and Verbal aspects.
- Trust; Use their words to build trust for themselves and their campaign.
6. Learn to Debate for TV.
Some of the races women will be running this year will involve actively debating an opponent and at times even on live Television. I could point out that a good study for women in the art of political debating in Kenya could be to review Former Presidential aspirant Martha Karua or Gender Activist Daisy Amdany’s past TV debates especially when pitted against male debaters.
The constitutional gender balance requirement will mean more women
will run for political seats and we will see many rookie candidates on
television debating their male opponents.
These are the aspects to consider for political Tv debates;
- Realise that for political TV debates the, targeted audience is emotional, not very rational and cannot follow through much empirical reasoning. The ultimate strategy of winning a television debate that hopefully can translate into votes will be to make emotional connections with the electorate.
- Avoid getting into the details of your Policy Agenda but instead paint broad strokes to save on time and while at it point the viewers to some of your campaign channels through which they can get more information regarding your policy details.
- The Majority of TV audiences cannot follow any explanation through more than three levels of abstraction, keep it simple. Use personal anecdotes involving real people you have met as you campaigned to help you simplify Policy explanations.
- Master the techniques for strategic intervention; in a debate you don’t have to await the moderator to pick on you, but you can use certain connectors to allow you interject politely without coming across as arrogant. Always remember the double standards voters’ hold regarding women candidates, when interjecting; you are under more scrutiny.
- Learn to handle a challengers personal attacks, a rule to managing this is to always have a record of your challengers reported blunders. When a challenger attacks you personally and they notice you have a dossier on them, they may back off from further attacks. Women should expect personal attacks and must realize that those attacks may negatively affect their campaign more than that of their male opponents and that is why they must have a strategy of dealing with those attacks prior to a debate.
- Use the “Triples” technique of speaking during the debate. It means limit your explanation to 3 points only and nothing more. (Example, “I have three ways l will address this issue, the first, second and third is….”)
- Use the Verbal and Non-Verbal aspects of your delivery to demonstrate Authority, Relatability, Competence and Inspiration.
7. Work on your Voice.
Does our culture in Kenya inbreed animosity and bias towards women who seek elective positions of power? In my experience of working with candidates, l believe it does. One aspect I have noticed people disparage is the “Voice” of these female leaders. Terms like Shrill, Angry, shrieking voice plus their appearance get picked apart even before their Policy Proposals do.
Various studies in the field of human communication and politics show that the Voice pitch “Loudness” or “Lowness” of a voice influences perceptions of the speaker. Some of the studies found that audiences associated competence, leadership ability and intelligence with low voices and ascribed attributes such as fear, panic, stress to shrill, high-pitched voices, attributes that do not give advantage on the campaign trail.Women are naturally high pitched and men low pitched.
The voice pitch is determined by the Vocal-fold size, which is in turn influenced by the size of the larynx (Voice Box) in our throats. The larger the larynx, the longer, thicker the vocal cords and hence a lower pitch or voice. Women’s voice pitch is higher than men because males produce more testosterone, which enlarges the larynx hence the lower pitch. Due to the smaller larynx when women speak, their Vocal-fold produce faster vibrations that leads to a higher pitch. With Voice training, a female candidate can learn to lower their voice pitch to a certain degree. Leading Kenyan Voice Coach/trainer Jennifer Kanari, says it is possible for female aspirants to be trained to work their voices to sound more authoritative conveying that they are competent and ready to lead.
One of the women in political leadership who used the services of a voice coach to transform her initially light timbre voice into a lower authoritative tone was Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It is also suspected that the Former Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton used the services of a voice coach to work on projecting her as more authoritative. You can notice a clear difference in her use of Voice when she was First Lady of the State of Arkansas in the Eighties and when she was running for President in 2016.
8.Become a Story teller.
Great politicians have learnt to use stories to create human connections. Stories are as old as human existence and we originally communicated with each other through stories when writing and reading were not yet available. Hence Storytelling is hardwired into all of us, because this is how we see, interpret and explain the world.
Women can use the power of well told stories on the campaign trail to transform their Policy propositions into compelling narratives that have a special effect of capturing the attention of audiences and serving as a catalyst for meaningful conversations around their candidacies. The stories must not only be limited to Policy Propositions; they can also share stories of their personal connections to the voters, and the stories behind their quest for office as a way of building greater connection.
9. Embrace Assertive Communication.
Social Conditioning among many cultures in Kenya discourages women from assertively communicating; and instead socializes them into passive communicators, which can prove to be a handicap in the murky world of politics.
Assertive Communicators possesses the ability to communicate their thoughts, Policy’s, Opinions and emotions in a positive confident manner devoid of passiveness or aggressiveness. An aggressive communicator on the other hand aims to win at all costs by disregarding the opinion or feelings of others, deploying bullying verbal or non-verbal behaviour while being condescending. Due to social double standards, Male politicians generally get away with aggressive communication but voters don’t take it well when women candidates deploy aggressive communication.
Women candidates in the upcoming 2017 elections must break free from the shackles of social conditioning and transform themselves into Assertive communicators, which will increase the Goodwill with voters’ and add to the perception of competence while aiding their Persuasion. Assertive Communication will be key in building connection with voters across gender lines in a traditionally masculine field like Politics.
Let me highlight how advantageous Assertive communication is for women candidates by using the simple phrase “I”. Many women candidates will begin their statements with the term “We” generally ceding individual ownership of personal or policy achievements to a collective team/group. Their male opponents on the other hand will liberally use the term “I” to create ownership of personal or policy achievements, with the net effect of simultaneously raising their perception of competency to voters, while downplaying that of their female opponents.
By simply learning and embracing Assertive communication, women candidates may just tip the election.
10. Deploy a Strategic Media Outreach Campaign.
Every woman candidate must learn to use traditional and new media platforms to broadcast their Policy’s to voters. Depending on the Position and contexts they are running, a candidate will need to develop a sound media buying and strategic engagement plan.
The electoral cycle of 2017 is very different from what we have experienced before; the modern media cacophony heralds a promise and a challenge. Candidates now have multiple channels to pass their messages and platforms like social media have effectively cut out the gatekeepers in Traditional Media and allow the candidates to directly get to citizens, the only challenge will be contextualization of content to various audiences and managing opponent propaganda while also creating a real-time credible systems for receiving feedback.
One medium that will come in handy during the 2017 elections is the mobile phone. Data from the Communications Authority during the final quarter of 2016 reveals that Kenya now has over 90% mobile penetration and in the period April to June 2016, mobile subscriptions reached 39.7 Million. It effectively means that for the first time in the history of Kenya’s electoral process, it will be possible for candidates to use phones to reach voters easily. Every candidate needs to design a strategy of legally getting phone access to their targeted voters and straddling that fine balance between communicating and intruding on privacy.
Various Mediums will be used to mobilize voters to register and to turn out the vote on election day and women candidates must have an effective media outreach strategy.