After you have done your research, prepared your lobbying paper, and scheduled your appointment, use these tips to ensure a positive meeting.
Be Nice to the Gatekeeper. Whether you are greeted by a secretary, office manager, doorkeeper, receptionist, or security officer, be friendly and courteous. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but doing so makes a good first impression.
Introduce Yourself. One of the purposes of the meeting is to allow you, a constituent, to interact with the public official or staffer. Don’t assume because your name was on the schedule that the public official or staffer will know who you are or be familiar with your issue.
Thank the public official or staffer for something the public official has done, even if it is not related to the issue you are lobbying about. This is a good idea especially when the public official with whom you are meeting with is not on your side of the issue you are visiting about. It helps establish common ground and will require that you do some additional research ahead of time.
Make friends with the public official or staffer. Small talk is an art and one that not many people are naturally gifted with; most of us have to learn it. Again, this is away to establish creating common ground. Ask the staff or public official about the home state they are from, asking about a popular sports team, recent positive event, or other related interest.
Ask for the public official’s position on the issue. Whether you are meeting with the public official or the staff, ask for the official’s position on your issue. You likely won’t get an answer from a staffer, but you never know and it helps the person you are meeting with know you are serious.
Make an action request. Even if it is your lobbying paper, you still need to bring up your “ask” in the meeting. This way you have the opportunity to see how the public official or staffer reacts. Don’t expect an answer one way or the other–most likely the public official or staffer will take it under consideration.
Maintain composure. It is hard to mess up being a citizen lobbyist. The definitive way to know that you have messed up: you have been pepper-sprayed or led away in handcuffs. Otherwise, you probably did great. That’s not to say it will be easy to handle yourself with dignity and speak respectfully to every public official with whom you meet. You need to be the better person though. You have more to lose than the staffer or public official.
Collect business cards. Whether you are meeting with a local, state or federal public official–or a staffer–each will have a business card. Collect them like lottery tickets. It can be difficult to find direct contact information after the meeting, so if it is offered or you can ask for it in person–get it!
No kibitzing until you leave the building. Don’t talk to anyone about the meeting or jump on your phone to chat about it while you are still in the building–continue to act professionally. Wait until you are outside of the building and can’t be overheard by others inside. You never know who could overhear.
Follow-up with a thank-you email. Be sure to send a thank-you to each person you met with about your issue within 24 hours of the meeting. The timing is important because if you wait too long, the public official or staffer will have forgotten the meeting you are referring to. The email is a good reminder to do his or her own follow-up on your issue.