July 14, 2016
A great deal of preparation should be completed before a person ever steps foot inside an elected official’s office to advocate. As Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Honest Abe was also wise. Being prepared makes a meeting more efficient, impactful, and beneficial to the cause. While we do not need to spend four hours sharpening our axe for a meeting (hopefully), we can better prepare for a meeting with an elected official, or his staff, in four simple ways.
First, always do the homework. It is worth spending some time researching who the group is meeting with and his background and priorities. This is true even if a group is “just” meeting with staff, as the staff are there to represent their boss. Visiting the official’s government webpage will usually provide a photo, biography, and information about what committees the official serves on and issues he champions. A review of the news/press releases he has recently issued – almost always found on his webpage – will also provide insight as to what the office values and is currently finding important.
Second, know the issue background. This does not require a comprehensive understanding of the ins and outs of every vote or movement, but a quick google search on the meeting topic can provide the current status, some of its history and progress, and perhaps even a bill number. Even to a subject-matter expert, spending some time online to see what was possibly overlooked, or is new, is usually worth the few minutes. For instance, a meeting participant may understand local or state ramifications, but may not be as familiar with federal proceedings on the topic. Furthermore, knowing any specific information as it relates to the district or home state is always most useful in helping an elected official make a decision, as his constituents vote for him to stay or leave office.
Third, know the ask. An entire future column will be devoted to this topic alone because it is so significant. However, the core of this point is to know why the meeting is requested and the desired outcome of the meeting. If this was summarized in one sentence, what would that sentence be? Is there hope that the official introduces a bill? Hears a concern? Votes for a bill? Attends a business event? Signs a letter to a federal agency? Tours a local factory? Why is this meeting worth everyone’s time and what should come from it?
Fourth, know the opposition. It may appear that everyone wants to save puppies, because who does not love puppies; however, some folks are just cat people. That is true for the majority of issues – someone is always against something – for a variety of reasons – not all of which will ever make sense. Before a meeting, a person or group should determine who might be against the cause, why they are against the cause, and how, if at all, the proposals the group is recommending are different from what has been opposed in the past. Providing this information is helpful to the official. It is also helpful to the advocates because if the official has any further questions about it, the advocates are right there to alleviate any concerns or provide additional rationale or background.
Lincoln is also quoted as saying, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”
These four tips are a great start toward earning that chance.