Two years into the pandemic, and advocates are still primarily connecting with lawmakers in Washington over a telephone line or computer screen. However, much has been learned over the past two years, and there are plenty of best practices that you can use to make sure your next virtual meeting with a member of Congress is knocked out of the park.
In the pandemic’s first year, conference calls seemed to be the modus operandi for advocates connecting with members of Congress and their staff. Over the course of 2021, advocates and congressional offices alike increasingly warmed up to the idea of using videoconferencing platforms for meetings – with Zoom being an overwhelming favorite. Here are some tips and tricks for using Zoom to your advantage.
- For multiple meetings at the same time, use multiple accounts. The basic Zoom plan that’s free-of-charge only allows you to schedule one meeting at the same time. However, scheduling more than one meeting for the same time slot is easy – just use a verified email account to create a new Zoom account. This will allow advocates to run a new meeting that will run concurrent with what’s already on the calendar. When setting up more than one meeting at the same time, it’s essential to keep in mind two things: make sure the waiting room is NOT selected, and select the option to allow participants to join at any time. These two steps will allow participants to meet without the host, which is the person who holds the Zoom account.
- Do not schedule meetings with the same Zoom account-back-to-back. If the ability to allow participants to join early anytime is selected, a participant could join a meeting early only to find that they are inadvertently part of a meeting that’s still running. Ensuring at least a 30-minute window between meetings on the same Zoom account will prevent any accidental overlap on meeting attendees.
- Double-check your links. Scheduling multiple meetings can be tedious, so make sure all the Zoom links you created are for the intended meeting participates. This will help avoid cases of participants entering the wrong meeting or starting the meeting at the incorrect time.
Make Calendar Invitations Your One-Stop-Shop
When your meeting is scheduled, send an invitation via Outlook or another email service to all meeting participants. This way, both the advocates and congressional offices know who’s attending, which 1) gives the advocates an opportunity to coordinate beforehand and 2) provides a way for advocates and congressional staff to follow-up after the meeting.
Additionally, be sure to include other information that’s necessary to all participants to have a successful meeting: This could include:
- Links to Zoom, WebEx, or other videoconferencing platform.
- Meeting materials like PowerPoint slides, one-pagers, leave-behinds, and links to relevant external sources.
- Information about the legislator (connection to organization, past support of the advocacy issue, membership on relevant committee, etc.).
Recruit New Advocates
When setting up virtual meetings, don’t just rely on your normal “crew” that you could count on to meet legislators in-person. Instead, look for people that may not be able to make travel arrangements to Washington but have plenty to add to the conversation. With virtual meetings, geography and distance doesn’t pose any limitations, and advocates from anywhere can join your meeting to share a story with a congressional office.