Lawmakers are elected to represent you.
Having a face-to-face meeting is a very effective way to build a relationship with your elected official. Remember that legislators are elected to represent constituents like you. Most lawmakers welcome the opportunity to meet with the people they represent, and constituent lobbying is a proven way to effectively influence public policy.
When requesting a meeting, remember that the job of a legislator is to represent constituents like you. Clearly state your concern and ask if your legislator would be willing to meet with you. Be prepared to offer a couple of different times you’re available. Also be sure to convey any timeliness to consider when finding time to talk with your lawmaker (i.e., an impending vote on a bill).
Legislators are very busy and are most likely to meet with you if you give them good reasons. One way to do this is to clearly state on the phone why the issue is critical and timely. Another way to accomplish this goal is by organizing a group of constituents who want to meet with the legislator together. Contact your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to see who would be willing to join you and when. The more support you can generate around the issue, the more likely your legislator will set aside time to meet with you.
It’s important to communicate with the lawmaker who will attend the meeting and who they will be representing prior to the meeting. Additionally, it’s important to keep the meeting size manageable (one to five people, for example).
If your legislator prefers, offer to meet somewhere in their district. If they are willing, ask if you can meet somewhere convenient in town (possibly your home, a coffee house, or a casual restaurant).
Once you have scheduled a meeting with your legislator, take the time to do some research. You will be more comfortable and come across as credible and persuasive during the meeting. Here are some questions to research before your meeting:
What is the legislator’s background (i.e., birthplace, religion, previous career, education)?
What issues are most important to the legislator (based on their background and current activities or on recent media stories, their social media followers, and groups they belong to)?
On what committee(s) does the legislator serve?
How might the legislator’s position on this issue differ from your own and why?
Based on this information, which arguments can you use to best convince the legislator to support your position on the issue about which you are meeting?
Have they taken a position on your issue or a similar issue in the past, and if so, can you use it as a way to give your issue deeper context and relevance to their past experience?
Be adaptable. Lawmakers, especially if you are meeting with them at their Statehouse office in Columbus, can be pulled in many directions on days when sessions and committees are occurring. Try to be flexible about interruptions and to keep the meeting flowing as best as possible. Also be prepared to summarize your main points in one to five minutes in case you end up meeting with a lawmaker’s staff person or if you have less time than originally planned with the legislator.
Connect with the legislator. No matter how aligned you may be with a lawmaker’s position on issues or politics, it is always best to connect on a personal level with a lawmaker. Be yourself, and share a piece of information or a story that will help you establish a rapport early on in your meeting. It could be useful to mention a common hobby, interest, or acquaintance. Be respectful throughout the meeting, even if you disagree.
Tell the truth. The best way to build a long-term relationship with your legislator is to establish yourself as a credible source of information about your issue. Be sure to provide accurate information during your meeting, and if you are asked a question and do not know the answer, be honest and promise to get back to them after you have found the answer (and be sure that you do).
Anticipate opposition. Consider what arguments the legislator might have already heard from your opponents, and be prepared to refute the opposition.
Leave something behind. Provide the legislator with written information that supports your arguments (i.e., a fact sheet about the issue or articles from your local newspaper).
Request action. Ask the legislator to take a specific action on your issue (i.e., will you vote for/against or co-sponsor this bill?) and be sure that they reply to your request before the end of the meeting.