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Resources | American Framing Steps | Speaking American (All Versions)

Speaking American (All Versions)

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A. NUTSHELL VERSION: Please scroll all the way down for the detailed version of steps 7-10.

STEP 1. Be clear about who
your specific audience is. Spell it out in detail for yourself.

STEP 2. Think about how your audience sees your issue now. If possible, ask them questions directly or do polling. Listen carefully to see what phrases, images, or metaphors they use.

STEP 3. Consider how your audience is feeling and reacting now re your issue. Be ready to acknowledge their feelings at the beginning of your message.

STEP 4. Decide to speak 'American' by using simple language, avoiding the following:

  • long, abstract, multisyllabic words (like 'mul-ti-syl-la-bic')
  • lots of reasons, facts, and statistics at the beginning of your communication
  • complex arguments and explanations at the beginning of your communication
  • historical analysis at the beginning of your communication
  • attacking America or Americans or the flag by name or implication.


STEP 5. The next step in speaking American is arranging your message as a story of potentially successful problem solving, using simple language. Recognize that mainstream Americans want answers to the following practical questions:

  • What's the problem?
  • What will work to solve it?
  • What should we do now?
  • What should we do next?
  • Who is 'we'?


STEP 6. Develop your own message so that it establishes rapport with every member of your audience. Include referring to 'seeing,' 'hearing,' and 'feeling' these problems and their solutions, so that people of all learning styles will feel included.

STEP 7. The next step in speaking American is picking out the 'American story' words, phrases, metaphors, and images (frames) appropriate for communicating your message. These American 'story' elements are the most common carriers of our core values in everyday political communication. For example, if you mention being 'on the move' in your message, you connect to a big piece of the American ideal of progress. See Some American Story Elements That Evoke Core Values and Some American Metaphor Categories, plus the other resources in the American Framing Tools section of this site.

STEP 8. Using the brainstorming method (see the Detailed Version of these steps for specific directions if you need them), express your message in sound bite form, combining it with the words, phrases, metaphors, and images you have picked out and listed in Step 7. See Examples for more results of this kind of process. For more on why this kind of process works, see Malcom Gladwell's Blink.

STEP 9. Check your newly framed messages against the MP Criteria for Successful Mainstream Sound Bite Framing and revise as needed.

STEP 10. External validation and ongoing process: test your creations in the field, either informally or if you have the funding for it, professionally, and set up an ongoing mainstreaming group in your organization to continually refresh and update your messaging and your sound bites.

See also Speaking American (Detailed Step by Step Version), Tips for Using Your Creations During A Conversation, Longer Example of American Framing, and Advanced American Mainstreaming.

B. HERE IS THE DETAILED VERSION OF STEPS 7 - 10:


STEP 7. The next step in speaking American is picking out the 'American story' words, phrases, metaphors, and images (frames) appropriate for communicating your message. These American 'story' elements are the most common carriers of our core values in everyday political communication. For example, if you mention being 'on the move' in your message, you connect to a big piece of the American ideal of progress. (See Longer Example of American Framing for a longer 'economic justice' example of selecting and combining appropriate American story elements.)

Detail of carrying out this step:

-Review Some American Story Elements That Evoke Core Values and Some American Metaphor Categories to find the American story language that will work best to convey your message.

-Pick out the words, phrases, images and metaphors that match your values, message, and audience, in an empowering way.

-Make a list of the best possibilities and post it where all workshop participants can see it. 

-You may also brainstorm your own additions to these 'elements' lists with considerable confidence, if everyone in your group agrees the new elements and language are genuinely mainstream, not just items you happen to like yourselves.

Further self- checking methods are also recommended later in this process. If you need more explanation about this process or the MP lists, see the next two paragraphs. Otherwise, go on to Step. 8.

Our MP lists of elements contain just enough examples of common 'American Vision' ideas, frames, sound bites and language to get you started. Though not all fit a liberal or progressive vision, a great many do. (For more on this topic, see Why 'Speak American?')

The method works because most adult Americans, including liberals and progressives, have an intuitive knowledge of our shared ideal American story. As the MP has verified in our own focus groups, we progressives all also recognize what specific words, phrases, metaphors or images evoke them, when reminded.

STEP 8. Using the brainstorming method
(see below for specific directions), express your message in sound bite form, combining it with the 'American Vision' words, phrases, metaphors, and images you have picked out and listed. See Examples for more results of this kind of process. Sound bites are the most powerful method of political communication today and the ultimate result of a very careful process of message preparation. Creating sound bites is also a good way to get the hang of expressing your own messages via American frames.

This method is based on the kind of 'fast and frugal' intuitive process Malcom Gladwell describes in Blink. Although at first it will feel like you are just following hunches, Gladwell reports that cognitive psychologists who have studied intuitive guessing find that it relies on 'a kind of giant computer (in our minds) that quickly and quietly processes a lot of data we need in order to keep functioning as human beings.' The process takes place outside of our conscious awareness, but when the results are tested for accuracy, they are effective far beyond chance. 

Use the extensively-tested brainstorming method for generating creative sound bites that combine your message with the appropriate American 'story' elements you have listed. (See Metaphor Brainstorming As A Technique in Metaphor and Social Change for more proof.)

Some examples of MP brainstorming results include items like the following: 'the clean air generation,' or 'Real patriots pay their fair share (of taxes),' or 'Keep space open space.' Some more examples of this kind of framing include: 'Government must be an honest referee when it comes to. . . .' or 'we need to renew the American promise of. . .' or 'We must meet the new challenges of the 21st century in new ways. . .' 

Allow complete freedom of expression, no matter how bad the suggestions are at first. Do not critique at all during the free brainstorming period. And do not despair‚Äîthe results will get better. 

Allow at least an hour for free brainstorming, using at least five sheets of
standard easel pad paper to note suggestions. Post them where all are visible at once. 

If working with a large group, select one person to write suggestions down on the pad, and another to facilitate the process of calling on people as they get ideas. As your group warms up, this process will accelerate. 

Allow people to make new sound bites by tweaking or playing on other suggestions that have already been made. (Note: This is not the same thing as critique.)

STEP 9. Check your newly framed messages against the MP Criteria for Successful Mainstream Sound Bite Framing and revise as needed. 

Review the criteria together, and then go very quickly over your sheets of suggestions, using the applause rating method of picking out and marking the ones with 'legs.' 

Allow more creative tweaking or combining at this stage too. 

Mark ones with some promise that still need more work NW. 

Get someone to transcribe the results and circulate them to the group for later use and further creative tweaking.

STEP 10. Test your creations in the field, either informally or if you have the funding for it, professionally.

See also Tips for Using Your Creations During A Conversation, Longer Example of American Framing, and Advanced American Mainstreaming.