I saw a great quote once on the leadershipforwomen.com site.
There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it.”
Joan Kirner at Women Into Power Conference, Adelaide, October 1994
This quote ties in to the topic of today which is effective communication with elected officials and corporate leaders. Regular citizens can make an impact by corresponding with elected officials and heads of corporations when it is done properly and often. When using a few simple steps citizens may contact a person of influence and have a positive impact effectively having their voices heard. I include corporate leaders and Boards of Directors in this discussion because as many have come to realize over the past few years, corporate leaders have an increased share of decision-making power. As such it is important that they are given the opportunity to understand the views of the citizenry whose being affected by the choices made in Washington D.C. and throughout corporate America.
How a person interacts with people of influence will directly impact the effectiveness of the message. There are a few key points to keep in mind to allow your voice to be heard and possibly influence some positive changes.
First, always be polite, concise and avoid using slang or vulgarity when making a point.
Second, state your name and let them know where you come from. Are you a constituent or customer and do you represent any voters or consumer groups which may create a larger impact because of your possible influence? Let them know!
Third, let them know right away what you would like them to do in direct terms. I would like you to vote yes on House Bill 1234. I would like to encourage you to use greener methods when manufacturing your product in our town.
Fourth, know your facts and use them. Do research and have data and statistics ready from reputable sources to back up your opinion and show them how they can benefit from supporting your side of the issue. If there is a problem and you have a viable solution, especially one that has been successfully used elsewhere officials are usually open to listening to that type of information.
Fifth, tell them your story. Avoid the “hot button” words and terminology the media loves so much. Speak from the heart and tell the officials your personal experience with the issue or what you have come to understand about the issue at hand and how it affects you.
Sixth, thank them and be polite. There are times when this can be a challenge especially with issues that people are passionate about. As the saying goes you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so no matter what is happening always be polite and thank people for their service to their community.
Finally, include your contact information and tell them you would be happy to follow-up with them. Contact information such as residential physical address and your name and title at your job if that lends credibility to your comments are all useful information. Proving that you live in a legislative district gives your opinion more weight over someone who is not a voter in that elected official’s district.
A good tip for contacting officials by phone is to have your ideas written on paper beforehand. Having your talking points ready keeps you from forgetting what you were going to say if you get nervous which is a natural response. It also keeps the conversation on point and not too long which loses the listener and makes less of an impact if you sound like you are out of control or misinformed because you misquote a statistic or some “rookie mistake” like that. Having your information in front of you allows a more direct and confident delivery of your phone message. Please note that rarely do you get to speak to the official themselves. It is more common that you will be leaving a voice message or talking to an assistant.
There are a few things to remember when contacting an official by email. First, manufactured emails from a particular group that all you have to do is add your name to and send is not taken with much weight by officials for the simple reason that it didn’t take much thought or effort to send. Take a moment to craft your own message. You do not have to be a professional writer only do your best to use the basic essentials of English grammar. An email that looks like a text message to a friend will not be taken seriously.
It is important to remember that though it is an email, include physical address under your name so that you can show you are a constituent and can be contacted if the official has any questions or would like to follow-up with you for more information.
Some officials are very email savvy and some are not. Whether or not email is an effective tool for communication for the officials in your district can be a matter of personal preference to that particular official. If an email is not answered in some fashion within 48 hours in a normal week when the legislative body is in session try another method of communication.
A written letter
A written letter or “snail mail” is the form of communication that holds arguably the most weight from an elected official’s perspective. Though a phone call isn’t too far behind especially for fast-moving issues.
I had one politician tell me that he saw one written letter as equal to twenty emails because it takes thought and effort to make it happen. Keep letters and emails to one page and start it out by introducing yourself and whom you might represent in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph tell them what you would like them to do and the statistics you have gathered to support your position if applicable. In the third paragraph summarize your personal experience with the issue. Close out your letter in the fourth paragraph by re-stating what you would like them to do and thank them for their service.
Finding your elected official
In the internet age you can use a search engine to find information about almost every town, county, and state that has a website to help you find out who your elected officials are to contact them. Click here to find out how to contact the U.S. Federal government representatives.
By using these simple techniques you may contact people of influence and have a much better opportunity for your message to be heard and for positive changes to come to light.
Do you have questions about how you can have more influence to make positive changes in your community? Email your question or topic idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.