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Advocacy Curriculum Articles


Advocacy curriculum: Tips and tricks for meeting with a legislator

May 25, 2021, 19:46 PM by MSDC staff
Like in medicine, a little preparation in advocacy saves future headaches.

You are walking up the steps of the Russell Senate Office Building. You are about to meet with a U.S. Senator who is undoubtedly the frontrunner for their party's presidential nomination. Their autobiography is a #1 bestseller, they appear on every Sunday talk show, and Hollywood celebrities ask to have their picture taken with them. You are likely about to say hello to the next President of the United States.

You are walking up the steps of the Wilson Building. You are about to meet with a new Councilmember elected to their first term. They are new to politics and just learning how to be an effective Councilmember in the District. Their political future is unknown - they could be Mayor one day or could be another one-term member.

As an advocate at the state and national level, you will likely have both types of meetings, with many situations in between. In advocacy, however, how you approach both of these situations is essentially the same. When you are meeting face-to-face with any legislator, the elements of a successful meeting are the same. 

In our May Advocacy Curriculum article, we will review some tips and tricks for a successful meeting with a legislator. These tips work for a meeting with a local, state, or national legislator. And, with more legislatures opening up to visitors, these tips will be as relevant as ever.

Before the meeting: preparation 

A common mistake going into a meeting is that you need to know everything about an issue you're discussing and need to overprepare. A related mistake is assuming you can just "wing it" in a discussion and use your charm or persuasion to convince a lawmaker to agree with you.

Before your meeting, you should spend time thinking through the issue you'll be discussing. Write notes and even sketch a conversation if that would help you. Think about your elevator pitch - what you'd say if you were in an elevator with the person and you only have the time between floors to convince them. Gather the background and facts to support your argument, and make note of them to bring up in the conversation. 

In addition to researching your issue, make sure you research your meeting location. Many a meeting has been derailed when the person visiting goes to the wrong location. In Congress, that can end your meeting right there if you are in another building entirely. Make sure you confirm the room number and location, then see where it is in the building. Most legislative buildings have a fairly common-sense room numbering system. But keep in mind you may be asked to meet in a committee room, common space, or even outside the legislator's office.

Day of: Look the part

TU NortonI cannot overemphasize how important it is to look the part at your meeting. As a physician or medical student, dress for work. While scrubs may be a little too casual, your whitecoat or other physician related attire creates a visual connection to your profession. There's a reason many physician organizations hold "Whitecoats on the Hill" days in Congress.

On the day of the meeting, plan on arriving a little early. Even assuming the legislator will likely be late, you want to aim to be 5 minutes early to the meeting to be respectful of their time. Bring your notes and, if relevant, any handouts for the meeting. In the past, this would mean a "one pager" that summarizes your issue but those are less useful now. While waiting, take a minute to look over your notes and remember the points you wanted to make. 

Your meeting: Making the case

Your time comes and you meet with the legislator. Here are a few basic tips for success:

  • You're on their time, so when they imply or say they need to wrap this up, wrap it up.Sandy+Calvin
  • List facts and make good arguments that you would not be embarrassed to see in print or online. 
  • Be ready to respond to the question of "what would people opposed to this say" - it comes up more often than not
  • Relate the issue to the legislator's district. How will the people they represent be impacted by this issue? If it is an at-large DC Councilmember, that's easier research
  • Never, ever tell a lie
  • If you do not know something, simply say, "I don't know the answer to that, but I will find you an answer and follow-up" (and do that)
  • Be respectful to the staff person in the room and treat that person like a person as well.
  • Ask to have your picture taken, and if you plan on posting to social media, let them know.

After the meeting: Build on your chat

After you leave the meeting, begin thinking about next steps. If you promised more information, send the legislator and their staff that information. If you made the visit on behalf of an organization, share with that organization what you learned. Continue to follow-up with the office on the issue within the timeframes discussed.

Finally, it may be a bit old fashioned, but a thank you is a great way to show your appreciation for the meeting and create a lasting relationship. Address and send to the lawmaker, or to the person who set-up the meeting for them to replay the message, and express your appreciation for their time. Lawmakers do not get thanked nearly enough for doing what they do.


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