Develop Your Central Idea

What do you want your audience to

  • Know
  • Feel
  • Believe
  • Do

What do you want your audience to know?

What thought, idea, or overall message do you want the audience to take away from your story?

E.g., when I share my story, I want the audience to know that no matter what obstacles one may face, recovery is both attainable and sustainable with the proper resources and support.

How do you want your audience to feel?

You may want the audience to feel empowered and connected, or you may want them to feel an urgent need to act.

What do you want your audience to believe?

E.g., we are in this together, and each person has a role to play in their own recovery journey or the journey of another person.

What do you want them to do?

Most importantly, your story can inspire others to take action.

For example, you may want them to continue to support those in active addiction, those seeking recovery, or those who are sustaining their recovery. Or you may want policymakers to make funding available for programs that support recovery.

These key elements will frame your message in a concise and powerful way.

An example

“I’m a person living in sustained recovery, which for me means:

  • I no longer have a problematic relationship with substances (or name specific substances, or change to mental health terms)
  • I’ve been able to create a better life for myself, my family and/or my community
  • Sustained recovery has given me new hope and stability
  • I’m speaking out (sharing this with you) so that others will have the opportunity to live a life in recovery.

This is an example of an elevator speech that has been widely used by the recovery community and family, friends, and allies. Faces & Voices of Recovery developed this messaging as part of its Our Stories Have Power messaging training. Tens of thousands of people have received this training over the past decade.

The primary goal is to eliminate negative public perceptions about mental health and substance use disorders. This script can be modified with language that is more appropriate for mental health, family members, or allies.

You’ll notice a few things.

First, using person-first language by saying “person in sustained recovery” shows respect for the individual as a person not labeled by their disease or illness and avoids stigmatizing terms like addict, alcoholic, or junkie.

Sustained recovery is explained by saying “I no longer have a problem with substances.” You could change that statement by saying “alcohol or drugs” or whatever language fits best for you.

Next, rather than focusing on active addiction or problems with substance use, this messaging shifts to what recovery has done for the person by saying, “I’ve been able to create a better life for me and my family,” and that “sustained recovery has given me new hope and stability.”

Lastly, it’s important to explain why you are sharing your story. Here is where you can add a call to action if you are asking the audience to do something. You can say, “I’m speaking out now so that others will have the opportunity to live a life in recovery.” Or you can say whatever your reason is for speaking out. Ultimately, we share our stories to have some impact on another person, and using this messaging helps us to be concise and clear while conveying a positive message.