Legislators are like everybody else. They are much more likely to remember and be swayed by effective personal communication than by any other method.
Put yourself in your legislator’s shoes. His office is deluged by mail every day and the phone never seems to stop ringing. Wouldn’t you pay more attention to a one on one meeting with an important constituent? Which has the bigger impact on you: a friendly communication from someone you know, or a pile of computer generated letters and e-mails.
So how do you set up a meeting?
- Plan in advance. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Organize the main points you plan to communicate ahead of time. Determine in advance which representative or staff member you need to meet with.
- Call for an appointment. Simply call your representative’s office and ask for a meeting. In most cases, your legislator will have a scheduler, or someone designated to handle his or her schedule, and you will talk with them. Be prepared to give the reason for your meeting and who you represent. If you know anyone on the legislator’s staff, you can ask them for help setting up the meeting.
- Be flexible. Offer several dates for a meeting. The more flexible you are, the harder it is not to schedule you. Legislators are busy people, and are always juggling priorities, so allow them as much elbow room as possible. Explain what the meeting is about, and how long it will last. Once you get your meeting, stick to your time commitment- don’t ask for more than 15 minutes – they have many people vying for their time and will appreciate your respect for the demands they face.
- Prepare your materials. Whenever possible, bring a few materials supporting your position to the meeting, be they fact sheets, news clippings, or even a simple one page briefing paper. Include the basics on your company: how many employees you have, how much business you do. Sometimes, a member may not be aware of the real nuts and bolts of an issue. It’s up to you to provide them with clear information that demonstrates your points and builds your case effectively. NCA staff will be happy to help you put together appropriate materials. Keep handouts to no more than three items.
- Be punctual, and patient, when you arrive. Sometimes, if your representative is ahead of schedule, you can get more time. More often than not, your representative will be running late. Sometimes, your meeting may be interrupted due to a vote or some other unplanned event in the member’s crowded and constantly changing schedule. If that happens, be prepared to graciously continue the meeting with your member’s staff.
- Get to the point. Most legislators are very busy people, and beating around the bush is not doing them any favors. Exchange a few pleasantries at the beginning of your meeting, and then get down to business. Whenever possible, make the connection between what you’re requesting and the interests of the member’s constituency. Your representative’s primary goal is to please the voters in their district. Spell out what you need, and be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information.
- If appropriate, when concluding, ask for some action or feedback. If some follow up is required, your meeting will not fall into the memory hole, and your materials will be less likely to end up in the round file. This is also a great time to invite your representative to be your guest for a plant tour. Courteously offer other assistance as needed, on this issue or other mutual interests.
- Send a follow up thank you letter. Reiterate your main points. If you’ve promised additional materials, be sure to enclose them. The letter will remind your legislator just what it is she promised/said she would do, and reminds the staff that follow up action may be required. At a minimum your letter will serve to jog her memory and reinforce the relationship between you.