As active members of your communities, you carry an immense amount of power. Through organizing, mobilizing, and speaking up for what you believe is right, you can advocate for LGBTQ-inclusive policies and the wellbeing of all students at your school. Remember, school administrators, school board members, and elected officials don’t know what it’s like to be a student, and they may not understand the changes they need to make for safer schools. But by sharing your stories and outlining specific changes, we can get their attention and encourage them to act.
Here are 12 tips for meeting with decison-makers, like school administrators, district superintendents, and state legislators. For more information, check out this quick guide.
- Make an appointment: Decision-makers are often very busy and will most likely not have the time to meet with you on short notice. Scheduling a meeting in advance will help their staff prepare and ensure a more productive meeting.
- Plan ahead: Have a clear idea of what your goals are for the meeting, what you are going to say, and who you will be meeting with. It is best to work out the logistics of who will be taking notes and who will do the talking beforehand. Practice your story and what you’re asking for. Planning ahead is the best way to ensure that you are able to make the most out of your meeting.
- Authentic vs. professional clothes: They don’t always have to be at odds with each other. Wear the clothes that make you feel confident and powerful. You deserve respect, no matter what you’re wearing. However, don’t let your outfit overshadow your goals or message.
- Be early: Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before the meeting in order to avoid being late. Sometimes finding the office of decision-makers can be complicated if you have never been there before. Being early allows you extra time to calm your nerves before getting into your meeting.
Make it happen
- Be flexible, and don’t be surprised if you meet with a staff member instead of the decision-maker. Often staffers are more knowledgeable on specific issue areas than the decision-maker and are better suited to meet you. They will inform the decision-maker of your views and requests after your meeting.
- Keep your materials organized and on hand. Staff members and decision-makers meet with hundreds of people every week and deal with many different issues. Short handouts that explain the issues that you are discussing can be very helpful to the decision-maker to reflect on your meeting after you leave. They are also helpful resources for staff to follow up with your “ask” and issues.
- Introduce yourself to the decision-maker and/or the staff members. Tell them a little bit about yourself and your background. Provide a personal narrative in order to make your message more engaging and memorable. Think about your narrative not as a full biography, but as a short story that illustrates a problem that needs to be solved. Your full introduction and ask should take about 3-5 minutes.
- Make an “ask.” Ask them to do something real and measurable that solves a problem — and that you can hold them accountable for later. Clearly state your position on the issue you came to discuss, and describe how the ask will advance that position.
- Be ready to answer questions and provide details on the issues that you are discussing. Knowing your issues inside and out gives you credibility and makes it a lot harder for you to be ignored. If you don’t know the answer, tell them that — but offer to follow up with an answer.
- Take notes on what happened during the meeting, the decision-maker’s position on the issue, and what you were able to accomplish through the meeting.
- If the decision-maker disagrees with you, stand up for yourself, but do not become overly argumentative. Try to share the issue from your personal perspective, emphasize the positives of your position, and keep the conversation on a constructive note.
- Send a follow-up letter or email thanking your legislator and/or staff members. Include any information that you might have in support of your issue and your specific ask. The follow-up message is important because it confirms your dedication to your cause and helps build a valuable relationship between you and your decision-maker. It is also great to follow up on any details that were left unanswered during your meeting; this is one of the ways to keep your decision-maker accountable.
Keep in touch! Let GLSEN know about your community organizing by reaching out to email@example.com.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What is your initial impression of these steps? How does reading through this guide make you feel about the process of meeting with decision makers?
2. How might your GSA use these tips? What kinds of issues at our school might require such a meeting?
3. Sketch out a timeline with one of the issues you discussed, what kinds of obstacles might you encounter along the way? How can you use these steps to overcome the obstacles?