Meeting with your legislator: 10 tips to help you prepare for your meeting

Meeting with your legislator doesn’t have to be scary. It can be easy with these 10 tips.

Michigan 4-Her Marjia Cornelia meets with State Senator Tom Casperson at the 2017 4-H Capitol Experience. All photos by MSU Extension.

Michigan 4-Her Marjia Cornelia meets with State Senator Tom Casperson at the 2017 4-H Capitol Experience. All photos by MSU Extension.

Meeting with representatives and senators isn’t something everyone does on a regular basis, but you should try to find the time to meet the individuals that represent you. It can be a nerve-racking experience meeting with someone in these positions, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking time to prepare will alleviate stress and help you get the most out of your meeting.

Michigan State University Extension suggests these 10 easy tips when reaching out to your representatives or senators.

1. Remember, they are just people.

They are no different than you, your parent, your neighbor or a person who lives in your community. They most likely lived or live in your community and that is why they chose to represent you. Therefore, they already share common ground with you.

2. Do your research.

Know what committees they serve on, what political party they represent, their background and what positions they generally take on issues. Doing this will help you understand who they are as a person as well as put together a brief greeting or presentation of your concerns. In addition, they will appreciate you know a little about them and that will help build rapport.

3. Plan your meeting.

If you are scheduling a meeting with your representative or senator, then you will most likely work through their office staff to set that up. Let the office staff know if you want a meet-and-greet or if you want to talk about a specific concern. If you want to talk about a concern, give them details on what that concern is so it can be researched before the meeting.

Let the office staff know if you can come to their capitol office to meet or if you prefer a meeting in the district. District meetings will be a little more difficult for some areas, but are possible. Often, legislators have “coffee hours” in the district when anyone can speak with them.

Remember to ask for enough time for the meeting; they have a very limited amount of time, but you don’t want to be too brief.

4. Practice your speech in advance.

If this is a planned meeting, you have more time to prepare and can have a list of points you would like to make. If it is going to be a quick meeting where you might have planned a way to bump into them, then have a concise speech prepared you can give in a couple minutes or less, often referred to as an elevator speech. However, try not to let your speech sound rehearsed, as you want to be as natural as possible.

5. Introduce yourself properly.

When greeting your legislator, shake their hand firmly, introduce yourself and let them know where you live and what group you represent, if applicable.

Nathan Laurenz and Gary Glenn

Michigan 4-Her Nathan Laurenz meets with State Representative Gary Glenn.

6. Share your story.

Don’t just tell them about the program or group you represent or the issue or concern you have—tell them your story. Explain why the issue is important to you and how you feel it affects you and your community. Connect your story to something you know about them from your research.

Your personal opinion matters, yet be sure to differentiate when you are sharing your opinion or facts. You do not need to have a list of facts to share with them at all. It is completely acceptable to share your opinion or personal story and leave it to them to do the research.

7. Ask about them.

Find out who they are and why they have chosen to represent your community in this capacity. Find out what they like about the position and what challenges they face.

This is a great way to get to know them, and if you do not have a concern to share but just want to meet them, then it’s important to give them the opportunity to share.

8. Thank them for meeting with you.

Thank them and offer a way for them to reach you. Once you have met with them, be sure to give an opportunity for follow-up. This may be an email, phone number, business card or address.

9. Follow up.

Be sure to follow up, even if they do not, with a letter or email after your visit and quickly recap the points made during your interaction. This will help remind them of the concerns you raised, the questions you wanted follow up on, or just remind them of who you are for future interactions.

10. Share your interaction.

Share your experience with others to help them be prepared to meet their legislator. Once you have used some of these tips and experienced meeting with your legislator, you will see it was pretty easy. Sharing this experience for others can make their experience much less stressful as well. You may also consider sharing a picture with the legislator (with permission) on social media and tagging them.

4-Hers with legislators

Michigan 4-Hers meet with State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service, and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website