mind your business

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How to Make Good Use of a Meeting With Your Congressperson

By: Ben Bryan
, THL Contributor

Today some friends and I met with Congressman Jim Cooper. He’s been seeing people in his office during the recess and so we got an appointment to meet with him. He seems like a nice enough fellow, but I learned little from this meeting.

There is only so much you can do in a half an hour meeting and my friends and I left the meeting realizing we had made poor use of it. So here’s a few pointers about how to make use of any meeting time you happen to ever get with an elected official:

1. Skip the small talk
Your congressman will ask you about yourself and get distracted by personal details. Don’t let him deter you. When you’ve got 30 minutes to talk, don’t waste 2 of them talking about which coffee shop you, he, or his staff frequent. If he’s your congressman like he talks like he is, the best thing he can do is cut to the chase and forget all the personal blabber.

2. Ask direct questions
Don’t ease into the subject. Just ask what you want to know. If you don’t, you’ll never get past small talk. If he says something and you want him to explain it, ask. If you have a particular matter that’s important to you, ask about it up front.

3. Ask specific questions
Broad questions produce broad answers. Period. Stay away from questions that ask what he thinks about a large topic. Asking generally about health care, for example, won’t get you anything more than vague talk in general about health care.

4. Ask more specific questions
Unfortunately, specific questions often also produce broad answers. You must continue to ask specific questions if you expect to get clear and specific answers. He didn’t answer your first question specifically? Ask another one that is clearer or more specific.

I wish we had done these things. We went in with the right thing in mind: we wanted to try to hold a reasonable conversation about some issues. We weren’t there to have an argument. We didn’t realize that having a reasonable conversation instead of a little empty small talk and a lot of vague generalizations took so much effort.


  1. Thank you for this advice. As I go to see my congressman and when I go to the 912 march on DC I want to be clear with my concerns and beliefs. I don't want to become a soundbite that comes across as ignorant, totally partisan, or spewing a talking point. Well said and timely. Dave

  2. It's great to hear someone with that goal! Too many people are content to yell and holler, but can't give a clear and calm explanation of their beliefs. Good luck defying that tendency as you see your congressman!