The adage, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, is often used to describe how bills get turned into law. With so many concerns to address, legislators often only have time to focus on what they think is the biggest issue - or what advocates prove is the most important.
Nothing supports this proof more than the importance of in person visits with a legislator. Face-to-face visits let legislators and their staff connect with the issue and the emotions of advocates. Speaking directly to a physician who treats patients suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis makes it much more difficult to argue why a bill protecting their patients doesn’t need to pass.
For advocates, directly connecting with a legislator can help give the opportunity for a real discussion, provide impact on the importance of an issue, and help build a relationship that will support future advocacy efforts.
In office visits are listed by congressional staffers as the single largest influencer of legislator votes. These important meetings give you a chance for a personal conversation about your issue. READ MORE: Special Feature - The Importance of Legislative Staff
- Schedule in advance - Scheduling in advance gives you the best chance to meet with a legislator or specific staff member for you to make the most out of the short time you'll have.
- Tell a story - In an in-person meeting, your first job is to connect your issue with the real people who are affected. Poignant and emotional stories are often the best at showcasing your concern.
- Tell the truth - Reputation is very important to each legislator. Providing bad information can make you a permanently rejected resource. If you don't know the answer, it's ok to admit it, and then follow up with the information.
- Be calm and respectful - If a member or staff disagrees or provides incorrect information about your issue, be respectful and calmly provide your facts.
- Thank! - Everyone's time is valuable. Make sure to thank any legislators or staff you encounter and get business cards so you can send a follow-up thank you note (and stay in touch!).
Site or Facility Visits by a Legislator
Site visits are a great way to give a legislator or their staff the opportunity to see your work in action. The chance to see your operation at work and meet with your patients can be incredibly important to showing why your issue matters.
- Get the timing right - Legislators spend a lot of time in between the capitol and their district. When looking at schedules make sure to find a time when they're in town.
- Prepare your facility - You can get the most out of your visit if you have staff ready to talk with the legislator about your issues or patients available to tell their story.
- Get media coverage when appropriate - Getting newspaper or even television coverage can add a lot of bang for the buck to the legislator. Check with the legislative office if they're ok to have media present and then send out notices or make calls to reporters in advance.
- Prepare a schedule - Schedule in advance how you'll want the day to go including a facility tour, meetings, and a chance to discuss your issue. You may also want to plan for a short reception or luncheon.
Town Hall Meetings and Other Gatherings
Legislators use town hall meetings and other gatherings as a way to get in front of and connect with a large number of constituents.
- If you are hosting - Provide as much information as you can about who will be there and what the audience concerns will be. Providing a friendly environment for the legislator to talk makes you a valuable resource.
- If you are attending - Make sure to greet the legislator and introduce yourself. If possible bring supporting attendees that can help showcase the level of support for your issue.
- Speak out - Town hall meetings are a chance for you to raise issues. It's important to do more than just attend.
Testifying Before a Congressional Committee
Testifying before a congressional committee can be a daunting task. However, physicians hold an extra status in the minds of legislators that can be especially important for providing expert opinion in favor of your issue.
- Know the hearing requirements - Unless you've been invited, most committees will require you to submit a digital or written notice of testimony shortly before the meeting.
- Be flexible - Often times committee meetings appear with short notice or will change their dates. On the day of testimony there may be an hour or more of business before your issue comes up.
- Be direct and concise - Testimony is almost like combining letter writing and in-person visits. Often you will be given a very short window of time where you want to touch on your major points, cite important facts, and bring in a personal connection or story.
- Prepare in advance - Know who you will be speaking to. Write out your testimony, check it for accuracy and then practice your speaking. Be prepared to answer questions.