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Eye of the Lioness

Advice on Capturing your Audience’s Attention from Pollster and Political Strategist Celinda Lake

Celinda Lake and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Celinda Lake with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 29 – Imagine you are a lioness, deep in the African safari. You keep watch over your young cubs that are rolling and tumbling around under the blazing sun nearby. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see something rustling the tall grass close to your cubs. You stand up, now on alert. A dry breeze wafts the stench of a hyena into your nose before a piercing laugh splits through the air; your cubs freeze. Baring your teeth, you walk toward the hyena that is now visible. As you get closer, you hear laughter coming from all around you and your cubs. You are surrounded. Even as the hyenas move in, you are committed to protecting your cubs, no matter what.

According to Celinda Lake, a person has the attention span of nine seconds; in order to capture that person’s eye, you must have a good story. During her talk with RespectAbility Fellows, Lake called upon her years of experience working for women candidates and nonprofit organizations working to increase the number of women in public office. When a woman is portrayed by the media or her opponent as being “aggressive,” she often is stereotyped as being too intimidating, and ultimately unlikeable. However, when the woman is shown as standing up for others, like a lioness, she is seen in a more positive light. Just because a woman is “intimidating,” does not mean she does not have a heart and the characteristics to “get the job done.” You cannot assume a person’s beliefs and values by simply looking at them.

Lake, a well-known pollster and political strategist for progressives, is the president of Lake Research Partners and co-author of What Women Really Want. Using public opinion research as her guide, she has helped national party committees, Democratic candidates and incumbents, labor unions, government agencies and nonprofit organizations determine the best approaches for major issues ranging from education to criminal justice.

Applying Lessons for Real World Application

This summer, RespectAbility Fellows will be conducting one-on-one interviews with various stakeholders in three teams: philanthropists or people who work in entertainment or employment in Hollywood and Long Beach, California. Our goal is to learn more about attitudes toward people with disabilities and the stigmas this community faces.

I am part of the Communications team working on diversity and inclusion in Hollywood. My team and I have the goal of increased accurate representation of characters with disabilities; this includes the inclusion of entertainers in Hollywood with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera. About 20 percent of Americans have a disability and just two percent of characters on network television have a disability. Furthermore, a person without a disability plays a character with a disability more than 95 percent of the time.

By giving RespectAbility Fellows an inside look at polling, Lake shared her knowledge to help us with these surveys. She provided valuable tips on how to have one-on-one phone interview conversations including how to gain trust and be an impartial listener.


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Lilly Grossman

Lilly Grossman is a Communications Fellow. As a young woman with a rare genetic disease, Grossman is a passionate advocate for people with disabilities and received a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work. She is a rising junior at Whittier College in California.

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