Tips for effective meetings with state legislators and officials
Make the most out of your next face-to-face meeting with a state legislator or other government official by following these simple guidelines.
- Scheduling the Meeting. When calling the legislator's office, ask to speak with the appointment scheduler. Be prepared to be flexible on the dates and times you can meet; have several options ready. Be prepared to provide the scheduler with the number of people who will attend and a short summary of the purpose of the meeting. You may be asked to fax a formal written request indicating the same information plus the names and Social Security numbers of those who will be attending the meeting. The typical meeting is scheduled for 15 or 30 minutes. It is not unusual for legislative schedules to change unexpectedly, so be prepared to be as flexible as possible. If the legislator is not available at appointment time, take advantage of the opportunity to become acquainted with or to solidify your relationship with the legislator's staff.
- Before the Meeting. After the date and time are finalized, send a confirmation letter to the legislator (it can be faxed), as well as any advance informational materials to brief the legislator on the subject of the meeting. Also, do your homework ahead of time and know exactly what you wish to discuss. Try to anticipate issues or questions that may be raised related to the topic.
- During the Meeting. Set the stage at the beginning of the conversation by reinforcing some common ground, such as shared interests or aquitances. Be clear, concise and specific. As is the case with written communications, encourage specific action such as co-sponsoring a bill, voting for or against a measure, supporting or opposing amendments or substitutions, or generating support among other legislators. Bring handouts that briefly summarize your comments to leave with the legislator. Even if the legislator disagrees with your position, be polite and courteous. Arguing with the legislator or government official is not an effective way to advocate for your position.
Use factual information and concrete real-life examples to support a point. This will help humanize the issue so that legislators can see beyond cold statistics like cost figures or averages. Do not make commitments on behalf of the state veterinary association to lend support or opposition on issues on which it has taken no specific position. At the end of the meeting, offer to serve as a resource on veterinary medicine to the legislator and his or her staff. If questions come up during the meeting that can't be answered, be sure to follow up promptly. It is not unreasonable to ask the legislator at the end of your visit whether you can count on his or her support.
- After the Meeting. Send a letter thanking the legislator for his or her time. Reiterate the main points made during the meeting. Thank him or her for any support promised. If no position was stated, or the legislator opposed your position, it is appropriate to once again encourage support. If state VMA representatives did not attend the meeting, please contact the association immediately after the meeting with a report and your assessment of any follow up that will be required.