Announcing Coaching Certification from Living Proof Advocacy


Tim Cage and John Capecci, co-founders of Living Proof Advocacy™, are delighted to launch the Living Proof Advocacy Coaching Certification program. Developed and honed over nearly 20 years of working with thousands of advocates and hundreds of organizations, the Living Proof Advocacy methods, principles and tools are now available to coaches, trainers and instructors who want to help others tap the persuasive power of their personal stories. 

Coaching certification is ideal for

  • professional trainers who want added expertise in the area of story + advocacy
  • organizational staff who are responsible for mobilizing advocates

Certification is delivered in 2.5-day regional trainings led by Tim and/or John. The 2018 training is scheduled for November 16-18 in Minneapolis. Additional trainings may be offered to accommodate schedules and locations. Read more and contact us for details!

Sign Up for a 2018 Workshop

Telling Your Story to Make a Difference: Fundamentals

A two-day workshop offered three times in 2018 —

April 20-21, Minneapolis

July 27-28, Minneapolis

November 30-December 1, Minneapolis

These highly interactive and individualized workshops focus on personal storytelling for advocacy and are delivered through discussion, tips and tools, plus in-class exercises followed by immediate feedback and encouragement. Participants learn how to ind, focus, frame, craft and tell personal stories to become better advocates for the difference they want to make in their community and in the world.

For more information:



CALL: 612.512.1177

Why "Pointing to the Positive" Can be Tough

"Pointing to the positive" is one of The 5 Qualities of Well-Told Advocacy Story and it serves as one of the most important foundations of the Living Proof Advocacy approach. Sometimes, it's also one of the most difficult qualities for storytelling advocates to achieve ... for two perfectly understandable reasons:


1. Advocacy aims to solve a problem. Personal stories help make others aware of that problem and understand the severity of it. It's easy to let your storytelling focus primarily on the problem ... because that's what you want desperately to change and enlist others to help solve.

2. The personal stories that led you to advocacy often arise from places of anger, pain, even trauma and loss. Those experiences remain ever-present and likely are at the core of why you speak out. So, it's easy to let your storytelling dwell in the darkness.

But "pointing to the positive" doesn't mean denying the darkness or sugar-coating your experience; it means finding the balance between negative and positive ... and working to favor personal storytelling that demonstrates the positive change for which you're advocating. Why?

Because dwelling on the negative is human nature—not just for those of us telling stories, but for those of us receiving them. Studies have shown repeatedly that the brain is drawn to negative stories and it is often the negative that remains firmly in our memories. As an advocate, you want to move audiences to positive action, not leave them with only an understanding of the problem or the pain. An analysis of 60 health communication studies, for example, showed that stories focusing on loss were less likely to be effective than positive messages.

It's a tough balance to strike, most definitely. But "pointing to the positive" remains a critical quality of the well-told advocacy story, ensuring that you leave audiences with the hope that problems can be solved and the living proof that darkness truly can give way to light.

From Seclusion to Connection: Gayathri Ramprasad's Advocacy for Mental Health

“Pointing to the positive” is one of the five qualities of a well-told advocacy story we explore in Living Proof and in our advocacy workshops. Mental health advocate Gayathri Ramprasad recently provided a powerful example of this essential quality in her TEDx talk, “Be the Hope.”

Gayathri Ramprasad.jpg

Beginning in her late adolescence, Gayathri began to experience bouts of extreme anxiety and depression: “I could hardly eat, sleep or think straight. The only thing I could do was cry.” At the time, Gayathri was still living at home in Bangalore, India, in a traditional culture that had no concept of depression as an illness. Her parents insisted her agitation was all in her head.

The story she tells now as an advocate for mental health traces her thirty-year dual battle with depression and the associated stigma that constantly “tightened its noose around my neck.” As her story follows Gayathri into marriage, a move to the United States, and motherhood, there are many painful moments, such as when her husband discovers her in the backyard “clawing the earth furiously with my bare hands, intent on digging a grave so that I could bury myself alive.” Eventually, she is hospitalized and confined in the seclusion room of a psychiatric ward several times a week where she often felt “like a convict on death row.”

But Gayathri doesn’t end her story there. If she did, she would move us only from point A to point B—without providing a positive resolution or the promise of a brighter day. Here’s more of Gayathri’s story.

A defining moment came when Gayathri was a patient in the psychiatric ward, placed again in the seclusion room. Just before closing the door to the room, a nurse offered Gayathri words of compassion and strength that somehow triggered an awakening in her. In the night, she had a startling moment of clarity in which she promised to “fight to restore my dignity,” but also to bring hope to the lives of others. Gayathri looks to that moment as the start of her advocacy. Today, she’s a dedicated and vocal advocate for mental health, founder of ASHA International, and author of her published memoir. She’s working for a world “where every man, woman and child suffering from mental illness is provided the love and support they need to thrive in life.

Getting locked up had set me free to create a life of meaning and purpose.

“Pointing to the Positive,” means naming the positive change in you that has lead you to advocacy. It also points others to the positive change you want to see. Doing so, you

  • invite the audience to envision themselves as part of the positive change
  • help the audience make the connection between your specific life experiences and the issue or action that affects them or others
  • remind audiences that with your storytelling, you are ultimately asking something of them: to be more aware, change a behavior, adopt a new plan of action, or write a check that will help create change. Unless you point to the positive, better world, telling your story does not give your audience tangible reasons to care, reflect, or invest.

We congratulate Gayathri on her powerful advocacy and thank her for sharing her story with us. Read more of Gayathri’s story in Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference

The President's Youngest Advisor on HIV/AIDS Stays Focused

Since speaking publicly in local high schools about his HIV-positive status only a few months after his diagnosis at age seventeen, Lawrence Stallworth II has addressed college students, doctors, and legislators, the United Nations and the United States Conference on AIDS. Now—at twenty-three—he’s the youngest member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.


In previous posts, we’ve talked about the challenge advocates face maintaining focus and staying committed to their advocacy–especially when challenged by or up against strong counternarratives.

But it’s not only when you are challenged that it’s important to maintain focus; it’s just as important when you are successful in your advocacy, when you deliver a lot of presentations and give countless interviews. As the value of your story is recognized, you may be called upon to speak more frequently, and you may attain a measure of local or national recognition. You may even find that “advocate” becomes your main public persona, and you are a frequent subject of media attention.

Given the impressive response to Lawrence’s advocacy, we thought he’d have a good perspective on this. Here’s what he says about his advocacy journey: “How many people are in my shoes? How many 23-year olds get to say, ‘I’m advising the President of the United States of America?’ Had you told me six years ago that I would be the new face of young black people living with HIV and AIDS, I would have said you were crazy.”

“Before HIV, I had an idea of what I wanted to do: I knew I wanted to help people. But I didn’t know how I wanted to do that. HIV gave me that purpose. So now I’m giving audiences an example of how young people can overcome adversity every single day, especially LGBT young people.” 

—Lawrence Stallworth II, HIV/AIDS awareness advocate

Still, Lawrence remains focused on his advocacy goal: “This is a great thing for me…but it’s also not about me. It’s about helping my community and people who are living with HIV and AIDS. I see it as another platform, one where I get to make recommendations that will affect people’s lives. Fate has a way of putting you where you need to be.”

If you are fortunate to achieve this level of interest, heed the advice of other sought-after advocates and spokespersons: always remember why you chose to speak out. Keep that reason at the core of your advocacy and the focus will stay where it should be: on the positive change and the difference you want to make. Enjoy the increasingly larger platforms and audiences that your story and your advocacy have gained.

We congratulate Lawrence on his powerful advocacy and for sharing his story with us, more of which you can read in Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference

Guest Post: Ethics and Advocacy Performance

A guest post from Jen Tuder, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Her solo performance, Suicide Punchline, maps her experience of surviving her father’s loss to suicide. She has toured the show from San Francisco to Philadelphia.

Telling stories to advocate for social change is a compelling method of persuasion. Advocates use their personal stories as evidence. They use the peculiar influence of the “true story” to move audiences to take action. But like any powerful tool, advocacy stories can be used for good or for ill. 

As Capecci and Cage note in Living Proof, advocates can get caught up in “The Story Game,” a kind of “sensationalist Olympics” where the most lurid or painful story wins. This can lead to a variety of ethical missteps, from exaggerating details to fabricating entire experiences.

In my Performance and Everyday Life class, I teach a unit on advocacy performance. As students begin to make decisions about their own stories, I ask them to think about the particular ethical burdens of advocacy. It’s easy for students to get caught up in The Story Game, since they often feel that the entire educational enterprise is a competition. However, I want them to understand that playing The Story Game carries significant risk to them as advocates and to the social issue they care about.

No incident exemplifies this better than the case of Mike Daisey’s The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Daisey’s original solo performance told the story of his visit to the Foxconn factories in China where many Apple products are made. The stories Daisey told were often harrowing and led to public outcry against Foxconn and Apple. After presenting excerpts from the show on This American Life, Daisey came under fire from host Ira Glass and his producers when they discovered several fabrications in his performance. Many of these fabrications contained the most shocking and persuasive details of Daisey’s story. With these un-truths revealed, the momentum for change faltered; Daisey himself lost much of his credibility as a professional.

 Courtesy of BusinessWeek

Courtesy of BusinessWeek

This story serves as a case study for my students. I ask them to listen to and/or read the transcript of the This American Life “Retraction” episode, where Daisey appears and attempts to defend his actions. The students then prepare a short essay that takes a position on the issue. I ask them the following:

Mike Daisey defends his actions by saying his performances were “theatre” and not “journalism.” Make an argument for or against Daisey’s defense. Is Daisey right? Should we assume that autobiographical performance is always fictional? Or is Ira Glass right, is this an issue of “labeling” (framing) the show?

Students bring their prepared essays to class and we have a discussion around some of the underlying issues surrounding advocacy performance:

  • Why are performances drawn from our own lives so powerful? How is this power different from performances of fiction?
  • What are our obligations as performers when we frame our performances as based on our personal experience and research?
  • Since we’re “artists” and not “journalists” do we have “creative license” with the facts of our experience? What are our obligations to accuracy?
  • How would you feel if you were moved by one of your classmates’ stories and later found out that she/he had fictionalized/fabricated parts of it?

First we break into small groups to discuss these four questions; then we come together as a whole class to discuss.

Students take a variety of perspectives on Daisey’s case, some outraged, some sympathetic; however, all of them are uneasy with Daisey’s choice to fabricate a story and present it as “true” to persuade audiences. The outraged students become more reflective about the temptation to fabricate in the name of social change. The sympathetic students are often startled by the vehemence of their outraged classmates, not realizing how deeply betrayed some audience members will feel. Regardless, students learn a lot about their future audiences’ varied reactions to unethical advocacy storytelling.

As we wrap up our conversation, I make this point: when audiences expect a true story and find out they have been given a fabricated one, there are consequences for both the advocate and—especially—the issue. If advocates play The Story Game, they risk undermining the very issues they care about. In the end, advocates’ ethical responsibility to both audiences and issues should guide them in making responsible use of story’s power.

What are Health Advocates Reading this Summer?

Living Proof received a lovely shout-out from the National Association of Community Health Centers this week.

We’re delighted to see the book show up on summer reading lists—especially of organizations like the NACHC, the leading national advocacy organization in support of community-based health centers and the expansion of health care access for the medically underserved and uninsured.

What’s on your story+advocacy reading list?