What level of government do you need to engage with? Determine if it is local, state or the Australian Government that you need to raise your concern (and possible solutions) with. Plan to meet with them personally. Whilst this takes time and finances, personal contact is still the best way to get a message across.
Firstly, ensure that you clearly understand your concern/need and know that facts surrounding your clearly defined concern. Know what your desired outcome or goal is. Whilst often your advocacy is about good policy, you need to remember that politicians need to engage in good politics – after all, that is their job. Go for a win/win…..what solution to your advocacy might encompass 50% good policy and 50% good politics? It is prudent to reflect upon the arguments against your case and have your responses prepared. Consider any unintended political or policy consequences from your ask.
Secondly, do your research and structure your documents in a rational, thoughtful and clear way so that the area of mutual interest is evident.
It is also wise to do your homework on the intended recipient of your lobbying effort – both their personal and political background. Googling, reading maiden speeches and official websites can be your best friend here. Remember, you are starting the process of building a relationship and it helps if you can determine what interests, connections or influences that they might have that could help you to maximise your engagement with them. Remember – failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
Ring the office of your advocacy target, asking for an appointment to meet with them. You will usually be asked to put your request in writing, so it is wise to have an email pre-drafted which outlines your topic, along with key contact information. Send this within minutes of your initial phone call, so a seamless process can be initiated. You should receive a response in due course advising you of the outcome of the request. If an appointment is offered, remember to ask for details concerning accessing offices in this time of heightened security in public buildings and what length of time you have been allocated.
This is the one time in your life where it pays to be aware of your personal presentation. Yes, a conservative power suit does have a role to play. If you are not sure of how you might present yourself, check out what some of the current high profile politicians are wearing at the moment and emulate that look. Personal presentation does matter! If you want to be taken seriously, you need a serious look to your grooming.
Take along carefully prepared hard copy documents. Short and sweet is best, and a one pager with key web links is best. Consider having some high impact graphically designed materials to complement the one pager, as well as your business card. It is prudent to have multiple copies, as there may be advisers and other staff members present.
On the day of the meeting, be confident that you have prepared well and that you are looking your professional best. Own your authority and share your passion! Most meetings are for 30 minutes, so ensure you arrive punctually before your appointed time. Once the introductory preliminaries have been completed, do not hesitate to clearly set out your concerns and solutions in a confident voice, as you hand over your hard copy documents. Once you have presented your case, listen carefully to the response. Observe body language, ask questions and reflect upon what you hear. Contain any extreme emotion.
Be mindful that most people in positions of power have well developed egos and you should express confidence in their ability to understand (even to champion) your cause. Make them feel important and emphasize your confidence in them and their position.
Politeness is an inexpensive way of making friends. As well as expressing your sincere thanks for their time at the end of the meeting, it is wise to also follow up with a thank you email or letter. Don’t forget to also follow up on any agreed actions.
Remember, we live in a democracy and you have the right to make a difference. With careful preparation and total ownership of your authority as a rural women who has a unique knowledge of your concern, you can bring about change. Always remember that it is not about winners and losers, it is about the art of the outcome that delivers 50% good policy and 50% good politics. As a rural woman, you have a right to have your voice heard. As Margaret Mead once said - Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Harness that passion, go forth and make your voice heard!