1. Dress professionally
Think about if you were meeting someone for the first time and their clothes had holes, stains, or were unkempt. It may be more difficult to pay attention to the message that is being said because you were looking at their messy hair. Dressing up a little more professionally in a blazer and dress pants or dress/skirt can leave a good first impression.
2. Schedule a meeting beforehand
Representatives have a busy schedule and often in and out of the office. Scheduling a meeting ahead of time increases the chance of your representative being available. Be on time if not 10-15 minutes early to the meeting. Buildings often have multiple floors and rooms that can be confusing to navigate. Account for travel, parking, and finding the room when scheduling, particularly if you have to accommodate other schedules or need more time.
3. Be polite to staff
Sometimes the representative might not be available to meet - even if you schedule an appointment! Try not to get upset or mad, though. You may not meet directly with your representative, but their staff that works with them are the next best thing! These are the gatekeepers to the person you want to meet and should be treated with the same respect and politeness. Ask if they are available for you to talk to and leave materials with them to pass along.
4. Know what you are advocating for inside and out
Be sure to know and structure your information beforehand. Say only true facts and information that is relevant to why you are there. Avoid getting off track or losing sight of the issue at hand. If you struggle with tangents when communicating, bring someone along to keep you on topic or write down the information before hand. Referring to bullet points will help organize your thoughts and might make it easier for others to follow.
Assume that not much is known about the issue you are talking about and be prepared to give some background on brain injury or statistics. Look up the individual prior to meeting and see what other bills or committees they have been involved in. This might give you a frame of reference for their understanding and a talking point to connect to.
5. Be flexible and able to think on your feet
Have quick talking points written down for you to refer to. You may have scheduled a 30 minute meeting that gets cut short to 5 minutes. Try and practice what you might say if you only had an elevator ride with the person you are speaking to. Ask yourself, What is the problem you are trying to address? Why is it important for you and others to fix? What is the solution you propose?
Should questions be asked that you don't know the answer to, it is okay to say that you do not know. Try not to guess or make up information as an alternative. You can offer to look for more information or find an answer and include it in your follow up note.
6. Share personal stories
Your personal story is often a way to connect with them and make the issue more than just words on a page. Explain why you are there, as well as how the issues and their decisions affect you. Try not to be so detailed to the point that the message you are trying to say gets lost or you make the individual feel uncomfortable with too much personal details. That being said, you are there to represent yourself as a individual in a group of many. Do not feel pressure to represent or speak for all people with brain injuries. If they are interested in learning more they can visit the Brain Injury Association of NC or a local support group.
7. Always thank them & follow up
Thank them and their staff for their time at the beginning, afterwards, and with a follow-up note to their office. In your follow up letter/email, remind the individual who you are and the issue you were there to discuss. Reference a particular detail of your visit or something that stood out to you, as they may meet many individuals and address multiple issues.