If you handle it well, a face-to-face meeting with a politician can really get your message through.
Politicians, particularly Ministers, are usually booked up months in advance. Their diaries are packed with appointments, events and openings, and that doesn’t even count the time they have to sit in Parliament. If you do manage to grab 15 minutes of their schedule, you need to be prepared and use that time wisely.
Before you even start, do your research. By the time you’re in the room and making your pitch, you should be confident that:
- You really know your topic
- You’ve got the right person in front of you
- Define your team
Going with a small group helps with the nerves and shares the speaking time around. But keep it lean and make sure that everyone who is going has something to say and knows how to say it in a way that a politician will understand. Use the rest of your team for valuable research, advice and moral support.
The first thing you need to do is make the call. Don't expect to talk to the politician themselves straight away – you’ll probably be talking to one of their advisors. Be prepared to explain:
Why you’d like to meet with the politician
How long you’ll need (bear in mind that 30 minutes might be the most you can hope for)
Who’ll be there – if you're not coming by yourself, let them know who’s turning up and why they’re coming
After you make the call, someone will get back to you at a later date with a suitable time and place if you’ve scored a slot. Be prepared to be flexible. Because their schedule is so packed, it could be weeks and even months before you get a time to meet.
If your meeting gets bumped for something else at the last minute, don’t worry too much. Sometimes important and urgent issues come up without notice for politicians. Their staff will work hard to make sure that you get another time as soon as possible.
Don’t underestimate the staff
In the end, you may end up meeting with an advisor or an assistant. Don't turn it down – these are the people who can influence the issues a politician follows up on and who they might meet in the future.
Before you go into the meeting it is really important that you are clear on:
- The real heart of the issue – how would you describe it if you were in the lift with someone for a few minutes
- What you want them to do – for example, do you need funding, ublicity, a speech in Parliament, lobbying of party colleagues, attendance at an event or meeting
- How can you back up your claims – for example, facts, stats and figures
- Support – for example, commitment from businesses, schools, universities and your group
- Your target – make sure you know who you are meeting, what motivates them and if they’ve made any comments on your cause or issue previously
Gather your materials
Part of being prepared is rehearsal. Get some practice in and go through what you are going to say in front of a friend. You could also prepare a one-page briefing paper for the MP and staff that outline what you’re expecting from the meeting.
Put together other information, reports and articles that might support your case. But don't expect to have time to present them during the meeting. You will probably need to leave them behind for reference, but it shows you know your stuff.
When you’re in the actual meeting, speak and act as you would in a conversation with someone you respect. Even if you’re really fired up about an issue, it’s better to be calm and organised with your argument. Stay confident and keep returning to the purpose of your meeting. Listen carefully and when you speak, be:
You’ve only got a short period of time so stick to the point. Finish the meeting by:
- Summarising your key points
- Suggesting your preferred outcome
- Asking about what happens next
- Thanking them for their time
It would be great if it worked that way, but you can’t expect to solve everything with one meeting. At the meeting, there was probably someone there who helps with getting stuff done. Make sure you get their details. Follow up any agreed outcomes or obligations after the meeting, first with their staff and then directly with the politician.
Don't turn into a stalker, but do stay in contact and keep your issue, meeting or event on the radar. Once you’ve got some support, make sure you thank the politician and their staff and let them know if there are future events that may interest them.