Getting There: Be punctual! Always arrive on time for your meeting, and don’t be offended if you wind up having to wait. This happens frequently!
If Your Meeting is in Washington: Know that there are three House Office Buildings: Cannon (CHOB), Longworth (LHOB) and Rayburn (RHOB), and three Senate Office Buildings: Russell (SR), Dirksen (SD) and Hart (SH). Directories and maps can be found next to most elevators, and feel free to ask a Capitol Police officer if you are having trouble finding your way—many of these buildings are confusing! Give yourself at least 15 minutes to get through security and find the correct office. Introduce yourself and your local community links (groups associated with, member of a board, etc). Say what you want to talk about, what issue and legislation.
Begin with the Basics. Always assume that the person you are speaking to does not know a great deal about the issue you are presenting. If you are talking to them and they are familiar with the issue, they’ll let you know. At that point, you can talk in more detail about what you’d like them to do. If you’re writing a letter, the detail can be vital information that will help your member of Congress make a decision.
Get the Congressperson or Aide to Talk. Ask what the member’s position is on the legislation and why. Do they support specific amendments? How will they vote? If their position is different from yours, ask them to explain why. Ask if it is based on constituent input or other information. If the office does not yet have a position on your issue, ask them to get back to you within the next two weeks with a clarification of their position. Tell them you want to know how you will be represented on this issue. When it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment.
Ask for Something More and Something Specific. Open with a specific request. If they are already on your side, ask for something more. Make sure you know what you’re going to ask them for in advance.
Bring the Issue Home. Always explain why the issue you are talking about is important to you as a constituent and, if relevant, how taking the position you are asking for can help your community. Creating local interest in an issue will help a member of Congress in deciding how to vote on that issue. Don’t be afraid to be “political.” Your member of Congress wants to represent the best interests of her/his constituents.
Speak from Your Experience. If you are meeting with your member’s office on Colombia and you’ve travelled there or heard a Colombian speak, share your story. You do not need to be an expert! Bring as many facts as you feel comfortable with to the table, but give stories from your experiences (especially with people) if possible. However, don’t stray from the facts!
Bring Materials Supporting Your Position to the Meeting to Leave with Staff. Present them at the beginning of the meeting so that you can make reference to them during your conversation. This will allow the person you are talking with to continue to familiarize him or herself with your issue after you are gone.
Close the Deal. Get a commitment on your specific request. If you got a yes, then you are done. If not, ask what the member would need in order to do what you want. Then follow up on those concerns. Follow up is key to maintaining interest and to remind a member of Congress that this is an issue they should be concerned about.