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Colleague of the Week: Lorraine Howell

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Lorraine Howell tells you how to tell it. She’s the Braver Angel who gives verbal wings to other Braver Angels so they can fly the organization’s message far and wide. Her work is especially valuable for the organization’s Ambassador program.

And her own experiences with Braver Angels hold an invaluable lesson for members who are thinking about stepping forward as volunteers but are anxious about how best they can contribute. Hold that thought: we’ll come back to it.

Lorraine, who leans Blue, is a communications pro. “I’m a recovering television producer,” she laughs. “I worked in broadcasting in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost 13 years.” Leaving that career and moving to Seattle, she started her own media-training firm, and developed a specialty in public speaking coaching. Central to her curriculum was the so-called “elevator speech” – that is, the snapshot of what must be communicated as quickly and clearly as possible. She’s written a book on the subject.

“Communication is like a muscle; you need to exercise it,” says Lorraine. “I get a lot of joy when I see that somebody gets it.” She notes that the disciplines involved in developing and delivering an elevator speech are very much aligned with what Braver Angels teaches in its Skills for Bridging the Divide workshop – in particular, the art of listening well and asking open-ended, agenda-free questions.

Instructing people in the of the elevator pitch isn’t how Lorraine started out with Braver Angels – or why. She joined the organization not long after reading David Brooks’ February 2018 column in the New York Times. “It was such a time of turmoil and feeling powerless. I was so tired of being angry and frightened,” she recalls.

As a Boomer who remembered marching in the streets in her youth, she knew she wanted to do something. The Times opinion piece showed her how she might do it. “I reached out to Braver Angels to find out what was happening in Washington state,” she says. Her first activity with the Western Washington Alliance was to be trained as a moderator, and subsequently she moderated several Skills for Bridging the Divide and Depolarizing Within workshops.

Not long after, her communications background made her a natural choice to become the newsletter publisher for the alliance. She helped launched the newsletter in 2018, filling it with news stories, event calendars, video clips, and a wealth of other interesting material for Braver Angels in the Seattle metro area.

But the newsletter called for prowess in more than communication. “It needs good project management – to get news contributions from around the state,” she says. “And it needs people who know their way around (mail-list software) Mailchimp and publishing software Action Network. Those skills are different from content development.”

Lorraine ran with the moderating and publishing roles for her first three-and-a-half years with Braver Angels; when Covid hit, she opted to become a Zoom event manager as the organization pivoted to online events. But her discomfort with technology made that job less than alluring, and she trained as an online moderator. Soon that role, too, became uncomfortable. “I still had so much stress about it,” she says.

And then she struck gold. Fully committed to the Western Washington alliance, Lorraine had been party to many conversations about how best to evangelize about Braver Angels in the region. She realized she could – and should – ask her colleagues if they would be interested in her elevator-speech ideas. So she did. And they were.

She piloted a session with members of the alliance. The word spread, and soon she was leading a similar program for Braver Angels’ National Field Organization team. And when the Ambassador program started up, she realized she had found her niche. “What better way for me to contribute than to help people speak about the organization,” she says. “I feel so much better connected to Braver Angels in that way.”

To our earlier point: members who step up as volunteers should know that there will be a fit for their expertise and interests somewhere in the organization. It may or may not materialize right away and it may take a few experiments and experiences to find it, but it is there. “I want to honor the fact that when Braver Angels was getting started, it didn’t have the bandwidth to use the skill I’m teaching,” says Lorraine.

As a member of the Communications team for the Western Washington Alliance, Lorraine has her hand in a few other projects – for instance, putting some of the organization’s online resources into lists of frequently asked questions, building a press kit for use by local media, and so on.

For the foreseeable future, though, Lorraine will be the one you’ll learn from if you want to know how to tell the Braver Angels story in the most succinct and persuasive way possible. You don’t need to wait for her to come to your town or organize a small group of people interested in learning the same skills. She can offer her elevator speech training anywhere now that fellow Braver Angel Marty Jones has helped her transfer it online.

“In a 90-minute Zoom workshop, I can give people the tools to tell our story in a clear and concise way, so that listeners say ‘Oh, tell me more about that!’ “ she says. “It’s also a way of thinking that can help you with job interviews, presentations, running meetings, and more.”

So if the Braver Angels in your area want to become better storytellers – or you have concerns about what not to say to local media or your local churches or community groups – please get in touch with Lorraine. She’s here to help at: lorrainesh@gmail.com.

The more Braver Angels who can capably, confidently communicate the organization’s key messages, the better we’ll all be able to help with the serious business of depolarizing America.

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