From your Member of Congress to your local School Board, elected officials are in office to represent your voice and your values. After all, you hired them for the job!
Now, we know the word “lobbying” has some negative connotations. It instantly conjures the image of shady backroom dealings in Washington, D.C.! But at its core, lobbying is simply the act of encouraging decision-makers to take a certain action. It’s the privilege and responsibility of every resident — don’t be intimidated!
Here are 8 tips for being the most effective advocate you can be. Whether you’re in a one-on-one meeting, a public town hall, or you’re sending an email while stationed miles away from your home district, these tips will help increase the odds that your message turns into action.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. It can take a couple tries to get your message succinct and understandable. Whether by yourself in front of a mirror or with friends (or with a member of our team!), practice vocalizing your thoughts before the big moment arrives.
- Pick a targeted topic. I’m sure you have a lot of opinions about a lot of issues. But when you’re talking to a decision-maker, it’s important to really focus your “ask” to one specific issue. That makes it easier for them to take direct action in response.
- Fit length to setting. Think about where you’ll be speaking and cater the length of what you want to say to be most appropriate. For example, a one-on-one or small group meeting may be more conducive to a short back and forth than a town hall. When in doubt, concise is always best!
- BE ENTHUSIASTIC!!! Never expect your audience to be more enthusiastic than you. You are lobbying for something you care deeply about, so channel your passion into persuasion.
- Establish your connection. If you live or vote in this member’s district, lead with that! Politicians always prioritize their constituents. If you don’t have a personal connection to their district, don’t worry — every district has military families, so something that’s affecting you is probably affecting their constituents as well. The earlier in the conversation you make this connection clear, the better.
- Customize your message. If you’re sending an email or letter, try to avoid forwarding on a mass communication. We’re all busy, and a generic email is certainly better than nothing. However, personal touches will increase the chances that the assistant who reads these doesn’t swipe right past.
- Tell stories. No matter how much we love our statistics, personal anecdotes are always more powerful. They paint a picture that sticks in our memories. These stories can be particularly effective as they stick with decision makers and can be relayed to others.
- Staff are gatekeepers. The first eyeballs (and ears) on any communications is a staffer, who is most likely over-worked and underpaid. So be extra nice! Also, staffers are rarely going to be an expert in your issue, so avoid acronyms and don’t take basic knowledge of the issue for granted.
Whether or not things go your way, you make a difference simply by putting your opinion out in the world.
Your voice and your story have power and value. Don’t be afraid to use them.