#2: In Person Meetings
One-on-one meetings are the bread and butter of great advocacy!
An in-person meeting does two things: it gives you a chance to get 15 to 20 minutes of a staffer’s undivided attention and gives you an opportunity to “ASK” for something.
Why Is It Ranked Second?
One-on-one meetings are an effective way to get your issue across to your lawmaker for many reasons. One important factor is that face-to-face contact and in-person dialogue are much more personal and humanizing than every other way to communicate with your lawmaker. There is no better way to personalize your issue than for the lawmaker to see the actual people the policy or law impacts.
Another reason this is so important is that having the undivided attention of someone who can make policy changes, even if it is only for 10 or 15 minutes, is critical in this day and age. With all the noise coming from social media, fake news stories, outrage on both sides, and a press that is constantly looking for the next big scandal, getting the undivided attention of somebody in power is like gold.
How to Do It Right
The most important step in a one-on-one meeting is actually getting the one-on-one meeting!
Members of Congress and their staff are extremely busy, whether it’s creating policies in committees, time required on the floor, or campaign duties. They also split their time between their home state and Washington, D.C., which makes getting a meeting very difficult.
However, fighting for that meeting is worth it. It shows your elected member of Congress that you are dedicated and persistent for your cause. Building a relationship with constituents is very important for members of Congress because their job is to represent your interests in Congress. This is the first step in making that connection. If you are unable to get a meeting with the member, try getting a meeting with a staffer, and they will pass along your issue.
Try to recruit other people in your district to come with you to the meeting. This will make it clear that this is a prevalent issue for constituents.
Know your ONE issue inside and out: whether it’s a real bill or one you’d like to propose, know the background and the language well.
Study up on your lawmaker’s voting record, past public statements, and social media posts. These can give you a good idea of where he or she stands on the issue.
Know the lawmaker’s background. Does he or she have personal or professional experience that would connect him with your cause? Be prepared and tailor your approach to their own background.
Plan and practice your speech, and prepare to ask and answer questions.
First, thank your lawmaker for making time to meet with you.
Bring notes if you think you need something to keep you focused on the issue.
Print out some (short) materials to leave behind with your lawmaker and staffers. These might not get read, but if there is a follow-up question, they might use it to look up something.
Don’t do all the talking. Present your issue concisely, then let the member or staffer respond.
Watch to see if the staff is taking notes. If they aren’t, you’ve lost them. Find a way to connect with what matters to them.
Send a thank you email to whomever you met.
Follow the legislation pertaining to your issue and reach back out when a new bill is introduced, a piece of legislation makes it out of committee, or a full vote is coming up to remind them where you stand on the issue.
Keep building the relationship. Staying in touch with the person you met with is just as important, if not more important, than your actual meeting. Try to stay in touch while also repecting the staffers time.
Respect the staffer’s time.
I once bragged to a lobbyist friend (don’t worry; he is one of the good guys) that my meetings were going great because I was able to condense my argument to 15 minutes. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “That is three times longer than it should be.” He told me to only talk for five minutes. Anything longer, and the staffer loses interest. He, of course, is right. The more concise you can make your argument, the better.
Play the long game.
If you can only get a meeting with a junior-level staffer or an intern, do not get upset. They still have some influence over policy. They will brief the legislative assistant or director on their meetings, and if you make a good argument, they will make the same argument to their superiors.
Staffers who work for congressional committees are harder to get meetings with but are among the most influential staffers in Congress. They tend to be more policy-focused, so if you are able to get a meeting with them, be prepared to talk more about the policy and less about the personal story.
Follow up is important
Reach out to the office if and when there is an important vote coming up that pertains to your issue. If your lawmaker votes the way you asked or follows through on a request you made, send another thank you note or email. Maintaining a respectful and open relationship with the office will help you now and in the future.
Working for Congress is not a glamorous job. Staffers work long hours, get little recognition, and are grossly underpaid. Many are still there despite the fact that they could make much more money working for a private lobbying firm or D.C. think-tank. They stay because they have a sense of service towards their country. A simple “thank you” for this and for their time can go a long way.