How to Improve Your Democratic Campaign Trainings - NDTC

Effective campaign trainings set Democrats up for success.

Gabriella Cascone knows this, that’s why she served as the National Training Director for the Biden-Harris Victory 2020 Coordinated Campaign.

NDTC’s very own Collyn Warner, Director of Live Training, interviewed Gabriella to get her thoughts on how you can implement a training program on your campaign.

Collyn Warner: Hi everybody!

Today, I get to chat with Gabriella Cascone. Gabriella, Welcome! Can you share a little bit about yourself?

Introducing Gabriella Cascone

Gabriella Cascone: Hi! I’m Gabriella Cascone. I’m the National Training Director at the 2020 Victory Coordinated Campaigns for Biden for President, as well as all of our Democrats down the ballot. I use she, her, and hers pronouns, as well.

From Organizing to Training

Collyn Warner: How did you get involved with training and Democratic politics?

Gabriella Cascone: I cut my teeth in organizing. Originally, when I was a freshman in college, I got involved with my local Planned Parenthood group. A few years later, I worked in organizing at two different Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York. 

Later, I got my first taste of electoral politics when I went to work for the late Senator Kay Hagan in her 2014 campaign in North Carolina. Through those experiences, I knew that great training programs are key components to building any successful organization, particularly in electoral politics. 

I believe this because training creates a really important context for the work, which drives buy-in for staff and volunteers. And, it shows our staff and volunteers that we value them and their development by taking the time to invest in them. 

So, I started taking on some training tasks for my region as an organizer in the 2015 Iowa Caucus for Hillary Clinton. Later on, I pitched to my boss to hire me as the North Carolina Training Director. That was four years ago. And, I’ve been working in training ever since.

On The Battleground

Collyn Warner: That’s a whole lot of training! With that, what does your current work with the Biden-Harris Victory 2020 Coordinated Campaign look like with regard to training?

Gabriella Cascone: I joined the Biden for President team back in the primary. We were a team of scrappy and hungry folks in May of 2019. We started getting our organizing efforts off the ground back in May. 

Since then, I’ve been the National Training Director running the national training program to support the work of our states. These included specifically our organizing staff in the first four states in the primary—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

I took a few detours to Iowa, Nevada, Mississippi, and Tennessee, which was lots of fun. In addition, I supported our organizing work in Super Tuesday states, as we transitioned to a remote workforce. 

Since securing the nomination, we created a coordinated campaign with all our states. I’ve built a training program in each of the 17 battleground states and supported our coordinated campaign partners. 

On top of that, my team has purview over the training program for the national distributed organizing team. And, they are responsible for engaging folks across all 50 states with a focus on those border and expansion states.


Building Full-Scale Training Programs

Collyn Warner:. How do you approach training? What is your training philosophy that you’ve developed over the years?

Gabriella Cascone: That’s a big question. So I’ll try and keep it concise. 

First and foremost, I like to think about training as a full-scale program. 

Relevancy is Key

For example, if your training program supports an organizing program like mine, it can only be as successful as it is relevant.

It’s really important to stay relevant to the ongoing learning needs of your staff and volunteers. That means considering both dynamics of the training audience, as well as the ecosystem of campaign trainings you’re delivering over time.

That’s key to understanding how your folks are going to develop. 

Creating Leaders in Management

I’m also really passionate about, and always trying to find ways to serve the needs of mid-level managers. Part of that comes from the idea that we often teach the skills to do the work. We forget to teach how to be an effective and empathetic manager.

Of course, you additionally have to build multiple modes of engagement from discussion questions to break out videos. Being intentional about your facilitation practices is important for communicating with your audience. Especially in a virtual world, you need to be present with your learners. That’s what makes a great training.

Great Content Tells a Story

When thinking about content, making it easily digestible is key to ensuring folks feel it’s accessible and relevant. 

So, I start from the beginning with really great writing. This way, you can clearly define what your training’s desired outcomes are. I think that is essential to telling the story of your work to your audience and driving the narrative.

NDTC Produces Agents of Change 

Collyn Warner: Thinking about different audiences or approaches and goals, the National Democratic Training Committee trains candidates, staff, and local leaders all over the country for free. And, we have an amazing trainer community that helps us train many people at scale. 

What impact does NDTC’s work have with regard to training and democratic politics?

Gabriella Cascone: Well, first of all, thank you so much for the work you’re doing to ensure we build the bench from the local level all the way up. 

I was so excited when NDTC launched. I’ve been proud to be part of your training community. 

An organization that delivers great campaign trainings that are accessible and free to Democrats is imperative to building power at the local level. That’s where most of our policies have an opportunity to have the greatest impact on our everyday lives. 

So, I’ve been energized and inspired by the NDTC trainees when I’ve met them at live trainings over the past few years. We talk about what they’re excited about, what they want to do, and what kind of change they want to see in their community. 

That’s been really meaningful to see folks visualizing themselves as agents of change.

Making Imaginative and Effective Trainings

Collyn Warner: Thank you. And I’ve had  the opportunity to see you train with us before. Out of all of your training work, what is the most important thing you have discovered or learned while developing trainings?

Gabriella Cascone: Great campaign trainings require both time and space for imaginative ideation on content design and facilitation. It must maintain an effective project management process to ensure you’re able to meet the training goals for content delivery on deadline. 

I think starting out by asking yourself, what do you want to accomplish with the training? And then being able to name your desired outcomes in the beginning, allows you to point back to those desired outcomes later in the process. Along the way, as you’re developing content, you’ll narrow in on what’s really important to touch on in your training.

That’s why I mentioned earlier, it’s important to understand the full picture of what your training program will look like. What is the ecosystem of campaign trainings? You can think about that intentionally as you work through creating your content. 

I always try to stick to the three desired outcomes. Anything that doesn’t fit in one of those outcomes doesn’t belong in this training. Save it for later. 

Advice for Trainers: Be Present

Collyn Warner: What is one piece of advice you would give to folks who are learning to increase their training or facilitation skills?

Gabriella Cascone:  A few things come to mind right away. 

First of all, be present for your audience. This piece is important in building a genuine connection in the room, whether it’s virtual or in person.

Active Listening

Some specific tactics that I think you can use are active listening. 

Show you’re listening by calling back to something a participant shared or asked. Then, connect it back to something else you’re talking about later in your training. 

This shows you’re using those active listening tactics and that you’re present for their training experience. You can also do this by sharing specific examples. When you’re giving an anecdote, highlight the point you’re trying to make and emphasize a hands-on connection to your training content. 

Preparation Makes Progress

And, of course, last but not least, preparing for the training is important to bringing your full self. Knowing ahead of time when you’re going to ask for feedback or participant engagement will help you facilitate better.  Your folks will really feel like you are present for their learning experience.

Stay Confident. Own the Room. 

It’s not easy to get in front of a room whether you’re virtually there or in person. Talking yourself up and using positive self-talk will help you feel you can own your training. It furthermore helps you tap into and find your voice as a presenter. 

Everyone has a different style of facilitation. When someone can see and connect with you while you’re using your own voice, they will know you are showing up for them, so they should show up for you. 

Closing Words

Collyn Warner: That’s great advice for folks getting ready to increase their training and facilitation skills. 

Gabriella, thank you so much for your time today I’m so excited for people to learn more about you as well as what you’ve shared with us today. 

For more information on enhancing your campaign trainings, take a look at our mini-lesson on training volunteers! Learn how to set tone, expectations, and coordinate a successful training session. 

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Collyn Warner

Since 2008, Collyn Warner has spent most of her time working on political and issue-based campaigns, community organizing, and training. She started her work in these areas in red (and primarily rural) areas in the regional South. In addition to these efforts, Collyn previously worked on event coordination, communication efforts, and logistics at the International Monetary Fund, as well as membership development with Business Forward. She has worked in communications and outreach for the Campaign for Southern Equality, Neighbors for Equality (a grassroots LGBTQ rights group), Amnesty International, and higher education institutions.

Collyn completed her M.A. in English (Composition and Rhetoric) at The University of Alabama, where she was awarded funding to research the digital tools of community organizing across LGBTQ advocacy efforts in North Carolina, and she has presented on activist literacy, digital organizing, and grassroots initiatives at national conferences.