How to meet with elected officials face-to-face
When conducting a face-to-face lobbying meeting with a legislator, it is important to be well prepared. Before you make any connection, plan what you are going to say. Keep your message simple and to the point. Know your request (for example, vote for a specific bill) in as few words as possible. If a group of people is making a constituent visit, it is often helpful to assign different roles and practice the visit in advance.
We've developed a number of guides to make your advocacy day more successful:
- Tips for a successful lobbying visit.
- A template for a meeting request letter.
- How a bill becomes a law.
- Find your congressperson.
The following tips are courtesy of Wellstone Action:
- Make introductions and be clear who is a constituent in a meeting. Legislators are most responsive to the people who can keep them in office – their constituents – so always try to have some constituent representation in any meeting.
- Provide brief, clear statements about the problem and your solution. Think about your key points in advance and have the whole group making the visit agreed to communicating them.
- Personal stories are important because they make the issues real and demonstrate the human impact of policy decisions. Use stories to illustrate the problem and the need.
- Provide local context by making a strong connection between the issue and the local community that the legislator represents. Use local examples that illustrate why your issue is important and why your position is a strong one.
- Support your case with facts. Don't overwhelm with numbers, charts and data, but do use them judiciously to make your point and legitimize your argument.
- Listen carefully to your legislator's responses. What is the person saying about the issue? What is his or her position? What questions or concerns does he or she have that might be answered? Pay attention to the direct and indirect statements of support or opposition.
- Ask for support. If you don't directly ask your legislator if he or she supports your position, you may never actually find out what he or she thinks and intends to do. The ask must be clear. For example, "Can we count on you to support Resolution 186 when it comes to a vote in committee next week?" After you ask, pause. Let your legislator answer and clarify if the response is not yet clear. Once you get an answer, you will know if the legislator supports you, opposes you or is undecided.
If your legislator supports you:
- Thank him or her, and thank him or her again.
- Be a resource to them. If they need additional information or help in any way, offer to make that available to them.
- Try to move them from being a supporter to a champion of your cause. Ask them if they will carry the bill to their colleagues, speak at a public event, write a commentary for the newspaper, to any other action which will move the legislation forward.
If your legislator opposes you:
- Thank your legislator for his or her time and don't waste yours. If he or she really doesn't support you, move on to those who will.
- Stay cordial and friendly. Although you disagree on this issue, you may be in agreement on another issue. Keep the door open to working together in the future.
If your legislator remains undecided:
- Try to understand his or her reservations and continue to communicate.
- If he or she needs additional information, be sure you get it to him or her in a timely manner.
- Think about whose voice is important to him or her and try to mobilize it on your behalf.
Finally, remember never to whine, threaten, misrepresent facts, malign the opponent, personalize a difference of opinion or burn bridges.