Welcome back to our ongoing series to help you advance your public policy success when conducting Washington, D.C., fly-ins with your employees and members.
Your grassroots advocates are likely feeling somewhat nervous on Capitol Hill, especially before their first appointment with their representative or senator. The trick is to transform that nervousness into positive energy by reminding them that they are the experts with regard to the issues at hand. Today represents a positive opportunity to educate and motivate key policymakers. If it helps, also tell them to bear in mind that members of Congress work for them.
It is important to prepare them for one basic question that a member of Congress might ask: “Why are you here?” Though it may be hard to believe, this simple phrase baffles many an individual. Your troops need a concise answer (concise meaning in the neighborhood of 10 seconds) that tees up the discussion and puts them on track with your message.
From the moment your advocates enter the meeting, diplomacy is obligatory. While they must muster the discipline to promote your issues without reserve or hesitation, they should also remain sensitive to the member of Congress and his needs. What’s in it for him? Can you invite him to a hometown event that could do him some good? Might you be able to help him on another issue? Politics is known as a “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” game, so you should be willing to provide support in addition to seeking it.
No matter who you meet with and what your group members’ personal opinions of them may be, make sure to demonstrate proper respect and deference at every turn. Remember, these office holders were duly elected by the people back home. And on a practical level, you may notice that most members do not suffer from low self-esteem.
At the same time, refuse to be intimidated. There are those in public office—and their staff minions—who blatantly try to cow others. Don’t let them get under your skin. Your grassroots representatives are there to educate Congress concerning a valid point of public policy. Keep the discussions on a professional, even keel.