For all the talk about meetings being overrated, they’re valuable if you know what to look for. Usually, it’s in what’s not said: the part of communication that’s decidedly non-verbal.
In recent weeks, I’ve had the fortune of meeting with multiple state representatives and their staffers in different parts of the country. Some were from blue states and some were from red states. But the meetings would usually go the same way.
Every politician’s office has a designated point of contact for outreach: the front person, if you will. That person decides whether the office should engage with you, and whether you are credible and worth blocking off time for. Most communication at this stage comes through emails or phone calls, though in this era of rapid, digital conversation, email predominates. Grammar matters. General etiquette goes a long way. But above all else, mention you are a constituent and have a clear focus for a proposed meeting. Those two factors alone will tilt the scales in your favor.
Do your homework. Instead of asking to talk about the plight of pain patients or the lack of resources for patients with substance use dependencies, ask to discuss a specific policy or legislation that you care about. Politicians don’t do well in the abstract. They much prefer to talk about something concrete, relevant, and, most important, related to their constituency. Remember, a politician lives and dies by the vote. If you have something that directly affects voter turnout, such as a stance on a new bill or policy, then you’re more likely to get somewhere.
The next step, should you be successful in your initial outreach, will be an in-person, or, more likely, a virtual meeting. This is where that designated point of contact hands off communication to another staffer. From here on out, be keenly aware of everything.
Who they assign you to speak with determines how interested they are. Research that person and find out whether he or she has done work in pain management, addiction or anything opioid-related. Find out how long he or she has been on the staff. If you find yourself speaking with someone who is relatively inexperienced, then the meeting is likely a feel-out session where they’re still assessing whether it makes sense to speak with you. If it’s someone more senior, then they’re interested in hearing you out.
My advice to you: prepare for both scenarios the same way. A strong first impression, regardless of whom you are speaking with, cannot be overstated. Look up the person you’re speaking with. Look up the politician’s voting record and public statements on key issues. Review legislation he or she has supported in the past. Pick out relevant press releases to quote in the meeting. They want to see you do your homework. You’ll appear more credible and you’ll be more prepared and confident when speaking.
During the conversation, stick to the talking points. Convey your message succinctly. Anticipate how they’ll respond and prepare accordingly. If you wish to discuss the lack of physicians who prescribe opioids in your state, get testimonies from other patients in your area or find examples of physicians who stopped treating chronic pain. Always find a way to return to the main point that matters to them: your message matters to this constituency and a lack of action would lead to poor results at the next election cycle.
Those are the magic words. They will pique interest and help convey your message.
I hope these nuggets of advice help you to formulate a plan of action and give you the confidence to speak with your local, state, or federal representative. Remember, no amount of lobbying dollars can match the outreach of a well-prepared constituent. It’s only your lack of action that leaves you unrepresented.
I’ve prepared some links to resources that can show you how to prepare for and connect with your political representatives. Please start by crafting a detailed, thoughtful message. Something you convey either by email or phone. Once you’re in the door, prepare as much as you can. The better you present yourself, the more effectively you will present your message.
If you have any email templates that have worked in the past, please post them in the comment section below. If I missed any links or resources you find valuable, please post them as well.