THE FACE-TO-FACE MEETING
By Nina Babiarz, Public Watchdogs Board Member
If you want a face-to-face meeting with an elected official then I highly recommend that you read the previous articles in this series and implement at least some of the suggestions about developing a relationship with their office, staff and the elected official first. If you haven’t then I can pretty much guarantee that you will be put to the back of the line behind those who have done a few minutes of homework.
If you know your elected representative’s position on the issue you wish to discuss, voting history on legislation related to the topic, and public comments or interviews, then the first step is to contact the office and speak first to the staffer that is the specialist on the topic in the District office e.g. deadly nuclear waste, transportation, high utility bills, etc.
When having this conversation regarding a request for a personal visit, know beforehand what EXACTLY you are requesting to discuss. For example, if you are looking to change your representative’s opinion on an issue, make sure you fine tune your talking points into a couple of key bullet points.
You may only get enough time or focus for your ‘elevator speech’ so have your ducks in a row and be ready to count them off. Also, make certain to draw a correlation as to why your key points are important to his/her constituency; after all they are elected officials and this is always going to be their primary criteria and underlying motivating factor for any action.
If, on the other hand, you are looking to make an appeal for support on a particular funding issue then become intimately familiar with what funding he/she has and also has or has not VOTED to support in the past. The voting record is important because, even though they may have verbalized a position, it is the voting record that must be your barometer for what their record actually is and how they will most likely respond to your request. Being able to anticipate this response gives you another tool with which to work in building your case.
It is critical that, if your issue or funding request is time sensitive in any way, such as a proposal deadline or a vote or that is scheduled to come to the floor or a committee that has a specific date set, then make sure you pave the way to success by driving home your point at every possible curve in the conversation as it relates to the calendar. You must stop them in their tracks by forcing them to focus on a date, a time, and scheduling a meeting.
Plan to meet on a Friday …
Keep in mind that most elected officials have schedules designed to accommodate meeting personally with their constituents. Many are in their Districts every Friday and if not in their offices they may be attending a community event you can also attend and make personal contact that way. If you cannot get on the calendar of the representative then definitely go for a face-to-face meeting with that staffer you are communicating with directly.
These key staffers constantly summarize complaints and requests for their boss to review at the end of the day or the end of the week.
Be flexible and patient …
If you are successful in securing an appointment to meet with your elected officials then prepare written materials to present and/or to leave behind. Be prepared for something else that happens quite frequently – a last minute cancellation. Often times the proverbial ‘unanticipated event’ can arise and circumvent your plans due to a priority that takes precedent. Do not be discouraged. Be gracious, understanding, and prepared to meet with a staffer, or to be asked to leave your materials behind. Keep trying.
When you do get that face-to-face meeting then make the most of every minute you have by leveraging a personal common denominator you discovered while doing your research. Then get to your point and stay on point. Give them time to absorb what you’re saying and also a chance to respond and ask any questions they may have. Clarify when you can, quantify if you must. Point out the BENEFITS of your request, if any, to their constituents and then like any good sales person; sit back, shut up, and listen.
This is your golden moment to listen, and gain insight to develop an action plan that engages the cooperation of your elected officials.
That’s about all for now. Are you ready to Take Action?