Etiquette and advocacy: tips for visiting the Hill

Recently at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine, we had an informative session given by Dr. Paul Leary on how to prepare for this trip. Dr. Leary is a successful practicing dentist in New York and is heavily engaged in organized dentistry, licensure, and politics. He reminded of us some key advocacy tips and rules of etiquette, which I summarized below. They’re helpful tips that can translate to advocacy for any field of business and legislation on the Hill, so take a look.

#1: Don’t Just Lobby, Build a Relationship

  • The cardinal rule of any kind of advocacy is to approach it as building a new relationship and a professional alliance.
  • Thus when meeting with members of Congress and/or their staff, approach that meeting as an opportunity to begin a long-term beneficial form of exchange.
  • And on that note, remember that we’re not going to Capital Hill just as individuals. We’ll be going as a team representing ASDA and ADEA and thus this working relationship is technically between two entities: U.S. dental students at large and the respected members of Congress.
  • Use this forum of advocacy and lobbying to foster a meaningful and beneficial relationship between you and your professional family with the members of Congress.

#2 Think As A Team

  • Lobby Day is about working together with hundreds of other fellow classmates from across the country representing both ASDA and ADEA.
  • Before meeting members of the Hill, meet your fellow classmates to agree on talking points and make sure your stance on the issue is in line with the associations you are representing. At Lobby Day we have speakers to help identify talking points and suggest ways to present the issues to get the members of Congress on our side. The last thing one would ever want on the Hill is for members of the same party posing contradicting ideas.
  • Use all the brilliant and diverse minds to speak as ONE voice.

#3: Be Prepared

  • Learn ahead of time the legislative process and understand it well.
  • Choose a maximum of three topics to be introduced and discussed and review and rehearse the major talking points well ahead of time. For National Lobby Day we try to limit the number of issues to two for simplicity and understanding.
  • Be honest, straightforward and realistic with your goals.
  • Consider potential questions that may be asked and be prepared with answers.

#4: Know The Players and Be Engaging

  • Know that you’ll be talking firsthand to those who have significant influence in the development of policy. Therefore if possible, try to identify legislators whom you know are friendly to the dental profession. Finding a common ground on an issue can make for a strong coalition.
  • Acquaint yourself with the Congressmen and their staff members. Be clear who you are, the organization you represent, and that you are a constituent.
  • Be brief, concise, persistent, and polite and feel free to ask inquisitive questions.
  • If possible, leave the staff with useful materials, such a summary of the main talking points, state or locally specific data, and most importantly, your contact information.

#5: Awareness of Time and Punctuality

  • Time is currency on the Hill. Therefore, always, ALWAYS, be on time.
  • Also be mindful of the staff member’s time. Be effectively concise and brief in stating your purpose and making your case.
  • If an out of topic question is asked, be polite in addressing the question, but if possible, try to bridge that answer back to the topic at hand to make the most of the limited time.

#6: Be Appreciative and Follow-Up

  • Don’t be surprised if the meeting is only with a young, junior-level staffer. This is perfectly acceptable since these staffers also have a role in the policy decision-making process by being the research team for the Congressman.
  • Remember, trips to the Hill and talking directly to the main policy makers is a rare opportunity not given to all. Therefore, before leaving, always explicitly express your appreciation and thanks.
  • After the trip, send a thank you e-mail and any brief relevant material reminding and reiterating the points made in person.
  • Note the best way to send correspondence to the Hill is via FAX with an attention to the staff member(s) with whom you spoke or e-mail.

~Rika Prodhan, Stony Brook ’15

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