Tips for a Successful Meeting
Meeting with your legislators for the first time can be an intimidating experience. It is important to be adequately prepared to ensure that your meeting is a successful one.
The following are a list of pointers to help you not only to plan your visit, but to make sure you follow-up as well.
Become acquainted with what you will be asking for. Visit our FAQ page for more information about the Congenital Heart Futures Act, its funding and the Congenital Heart Caucus.
Practice telling your story. The “Telling Your Story” document will help you develop an effective story. We encourage you to practice telling your story in advance to increase confidence for your meetings.
Learn more about your Senators and Representatives. It is extremely helpful to familiarize yourself with your members’ priorities and views by visiting their websites at www.senate.gov or www.house.gov. Visit the CHD Caucus page to see if they have already joined the Congressional Congenital Heart Caucus. Feel free to contact ACHA at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any specific questions about your legislators.
Be prepared to meet with your legislator’s legislative assistant. Your legislator may not attend the meeting. Staff may be young, but they are instrumental in shaping the legislator’s views. It is not unusual for the legislator to defer to his/her staff for an opinion on your issue. It is important to demonstrate respect to everyone you encounter during your visit.
Bring contact information. A business card from work, or a 2 x 3.5 inch card you print yourself, should contain your name, address and email information. Request to have your picture taken with your legislator and leave a copy of your contact information with him/her. Your contact information will also be helpful if follow-up is desired.
Plan to dress appropriately. We ask our delegates to wear clean and appropriate professional attire (suits, dress pants; shirts with ties; dresses; skirts and blouses; etc.) for your meetings with lawmakers. No jeans, sandals, flip flops or printed tee shirts. Comfortable shoes are permissible as there is a significant amount of walking.
Use your judgment when considering bringing a child. Children can be a powerful voice to our congressional leaders, but we wish to keep their wellbeing our top priority. ACHA’s lobby events in Washington, D.C., are not a place for children; however, you may want to bring a child to an in-district meeting. Our schedule at events in D.C. is a demanding one, even for adults. Our day is typically spent in training, waiting and in formal congressional meetings. The information discussed about CHD may not be age-appropriate and could lead to fear and confusion. For this reason, meeting participants must be over the age of 13. In-district visits are often shorter, and a child who can cooperate in a business meeting setting may benefit from the experience.
Visiting as a group. Whether visiting in-district, or in Washington D.C., as an advocate, there is often comfort in numbers. If you are visiting as a group, assign a “leader” to the group. This person should be the constituent and ideally has experience with legislative visits or has participated in additional advocacy training. The leader should start and conclude the meeting. One group member must take notes and report back the details of each meeting. Make sure you assign this task in your group before you are at the visit!
The constituents are most important. The legislators’ primary concern is whether you can elect him or her into office. If you live in the district you are important. The spokesperson should begin the meeting by identifying himself/herself as a constituent and introducing all participants, indicating your relationship to the issue (i.e., patient, family member, doctor, etc.) and briefly identify your request early in case time runs short.
Cover the priority issue. Now is the time you’ve been waiting for. Tell your story, and explain why NIH funding for research and CDC data collection is important to you. Make your remarks brief and to the point. Encourage them to learn more and do more.
Avoid focusing on the medical details of defects, surgeries, and/or health problems. Your story is more powerful and memorable when you keep it simple and accessible. Visit the Share your Story Page for details. Remember to tie your story back to your request – visit our Take Action page to learn more about what we are currently asking of our members of Congress.
Stay on topic. Be careful: A little chit-chat is acceptable, but be sure to stay on topic and not be drawn into storytelling—you’ll never know where the time went! Be concise and stick to the issue at hand, but do not rush the conversation.
Solicit the legislator’s views on this issue. Review your request and do some research on your legislator. Does your legislator support the Congenital Heart Futures Act? Have they joined the Caucus? Support is support, regardless of the reasons. If they support the funding, make sure to thank them appropriately and encourage them to take action as outlined in the material you will leave with them. If there is disagreement, never argue with your legislator or their staff. Listen to his/her perspective and then present your views. You will enhance your effectiveness if you can demonstrate a willingness to participate in a friendly exchange of ideas. Record the response of your legislator to facilitate follow-up.
Conclude your meeting. Make sure your legislator and/or staff has a copy of the briefing folder with your primary contact information. Thank them for their time and offer to be a resource to them on CHD issues.
Complete a Visit Report Form. Please complete one form for each visit. A copy of the form can be found here. Please complete the form as soon after the visit as possible. These forms allow us to follow up on the concerns or requests for information from particular offices and identify “friends” on our issues.
Follow-up notes. Advocacy is all about developing relationships. Continue the conversation with your lawmaker. Each participant is asked to send a thank you note to their members upon completion of their visit. A simple “thank you for your time” will work; however, including a personal anecdote from the meeting is even better! Your thank you can be written via email or on a personal note card.