Meeting Your Elected Officials in Person

Voter Info | April 7, 2017

Most legislators want to meet with citizens to hear their concerns and recommendations.

You only have to be a citizen passionate about an environmental issue to get your message across, not an expert lobbyist. Because you hold the power of the vote, your opinions carry more weight than any number of lobbyists.

To arrange a meeting

Call your legislator’s office and ask to make an appointment by speaking with the appointments secretary or scheduler. Identify yourself as a constituent of the legislator, stating where you live, and briefly explain which issue you would like to discuss with the legislator. Request a 30 minute meeting with the elected official, but keep in mind that you might be given less time. If the legislator is unavailable, request a meeting with a legislative aide or other staff person who is responsible for or knowledgeable about your environmental issue. Send a note or fax to confirm the appointment. Include the time, date and location, as well as your name, address and daytime phone number. Some legislators allow you to request a meeting online, so check out their website first.

Before the meeting

Decide in advance what you hope to get out of the meeting – for example, an agreement to sponsor a particular bill.

Research the legislator’s previous position on your issue.

Arrange for a small group of people who share your concerns to participate in the meeting.

Decide ahead of time what the group will say, who will speak on each issue and arrange for someone to take notes.

List all arguments for and against and develop responses. This will avoid being put on the spot when the legislator disagrees with your argument.

Limit your visit to one, or at most two, topics.

If you want press coverage of your meeting, clear it beforehand with the congressperson. Don’t “ambush” the Member with surprise or unexpected press or by taping the meeting without permission.

Prepare your message or information in a letter or fact sheet format to leave with the legislator.

Role-play your presentation with others who can provide feedback. Practice until you are confident and know the information or message, but do not memorize it like a script. Make sure that the information you are presenting to the legislator is limited enough to allow time for questions and discussion.

During the Meeting

Be on time. Some elected officials may not be on time due to meetings or hearings. If the legislator cannot meet with you, or cancels the meeting, ask to meet with his or her staff.

Dress nicely. Initial impressions are important in this setting and a good one can only help your message, not detract from it.

Start the meeting by thanking the legislator or staff person for his or her time.

Present your case clearly and succinctly, but do not feel that you need to be an expert. All that matters is that you are an intelligent citizen with voting power. Your best tool will be to show how genuine your concern is for the issue. Give examples of the impact the proposed legislation will have on your home state or district.

After you have presented your message, let the legislator respond. Listen carefully. If you cannot wait until after the meeting, take notes on what the legislator says.

Make clear what you want your legislator to do and why.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make it up. Offer to find out and send information back to the office later.

Keep control of the time and make sure the discussion stays on goal with the message you are trying to convey. You will have twenty minutes or less with a staff person, and as little as ten minutes if you meet with your elected official.

Be firm about your position, but don’t try to change the legislator’s mind if they are adamant. Be courteous, direct and fair. Ensure that no personal remarks are made. If you are not seeing eye-to-eye with the legislator and are frustrated, move on to another part of the issue or politely end the meeting. It is important not to alienate the legislator since you made need their support on another issue.

Leave a brief position paper or fact sheet with the member when you leave.

Thank the legislator for their time at the close of your meeting.

After the Meeting

Before you leave the building, immediately take notes regarding the main points of discussion, the legislator’s remarks, any unanswered questions, etc.

Complete your research on finding information for the unanswered questions.

Promptly follow up the meeting with a thank you letter. Use this to restate your key points, state the answers to the outstanding questions and reiterate any commitments the legislator made. The letter should be signed by all parties who attended the meeting, as well as those interested parties who could not attend.

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