With things opening up soon, staff and members of Congress whom we talk to anticipate virtual meetings will continue. This is because virtual meetings allow more efficient use of time for the members and staff, as well as the potential for greater participation from constituents and advocates who can’t travel to DC. While not great for relationship building, virtual advocacy can be productive and definitely worth the time and effort.
Here are some tips —-
- Platform choice goes to the member of Congress or staff. Unlike most other professional settings, Hill still prefers telephone so don’t be surprised. While more and more offices on Capitol Hill have adopted videoconferencing as their go-to platform for meetings, some individual staffers prefer phone calls. Whatever the case, let the congressional staffer decide the best way to conduct a virtual meeting.
- Send materials ahead of time. 3-4 page powerpoints are great. You can email other advocacy papers too as attachments, but don’t except the people you’re meeting with to read it all ahead of time.
- Use visual aids. Don’t simply email a congressional staffer the handouts you’d otherwise share during an in-person meeting. If you’re using a videoconferencing platform to conduct a meeting, there are more opportunities to convey your message, whether it be through images, a PowerPoint presentation, or videos.
- Location, location, location. With a virtual meeting, you have the chance to bring a legislator or a staffer into your world. Consider broadcasting your virtual meeting from a safe location that helps to tell your story or convey your message. For example, if you’re a health care provider, consider participating in a virtual meeting from your workplace, whether it be a hospital or another medical setting.
- Plan ahead and select a “meeting captain.” Plan ahead what to say – it will make the virtual visit go smoother. Create a few simple talking points, 3-4 messages you can make sure get across in your conversation. If your virtual meeting contains multiple advocates, give each individual specific messages or issues to discuss so that everyone’s voice is heard. If your meeting contains more than three advocates, consider designating someone as a “meeting captain” to introduce all participants and steer the overall conversation.
- Check your tech! Familiarize yourself with Zoom and whichever other platforms you may be using to ensure that your message isn’t held back by any technical difficulties. Make sure all links work appropriately and your devices handle whichever virtual meeting platforms you may be using. If you supplied the dial-in number, check to see if you sent the correct passcode.
Even when the pandemic subsides, virtual meetings are likely to continue to play a role in advocacy. Advocates who would otherwise be unable to travel to a legislator’s office due to geography or scheduling conflicts can make a difference by connecting virtually. In time, virtual meetings may complement in-person meetings and serve to strengthen an overall advocacy message.