Taking the Fear Factor Out of Lobbying.

Born to Lobby - Laurel was asked, NOT to touch the flowers in the picture.

Born to Lobby – Laurel was asked, NOT to touch the flowers in the picture.

Guest Blogger Laurel Craib is an exceptional lobbyist bringing more than twenty years of experience from both sides of the political desk. Well known and well regarded in political circles regardless of the party in power she has represented a range of clients from health professionals to auto manufacturers.  She gets inside of her clients issues and delivers their messages with a style and capacity all her own. Laurel recently launched her own company, Agora Consulting, named after the birthplace of democracy in ancient Greece.

I understand that lobbying does not come naturally to everyone.  It does for me though.

It’s a story that I have heard my mother tell many times.  In fact, it took years for me to understand its significance but not from a parent’s perspective, more from the orator’s point of view and what exactly I had begun so many years ago.

In 1968, my mother bravely took me downtown Montreal to watch the Santa Claus parade.  Better known as the Défilé du Père Noël, Montrealers would line both sides of Ste. Catherines Street, as marching bands and decorated floats thrilled the crowd of spectators who overflowed onto the streets from the sidewalks and storefronts.  I was about 4 years old, and my mother had dressed me in a white fur coat, a white fur hat, and white fur muff for my little hands. A little angel, she thought, as we headed out for our special day together.

The way she retells the next series of unexpected events is always scattered with incredible laughter albeit stemming from her ultimate embarrassment.

“I am a good girl, right Mommy?” I stated.  “Yes you are”, she answered, beaming with pride.

“I never say %#@!!!.  And I don’t use the words &%$@@ or *&%%, do I Mommy?”, to which she replied a little red faced in case someone in the crowd overheard , “No you don’t”,  and she hoped it would end there.  I admit that even today that response would never silence me.

I continued. “I hear some people saying #@!$$ and other people saying &&*%%, but I don’t say those things, do I Mommy? I am a good girl, right?”. Silence in response from my Mom this time.  Huge mistake.

My voice raised, just in case my mother did not hear me, I persisted.  “I don’t ever say &%%#@.” Getting louder still, “and I NEVER EVER SAY **&&* @@##$, BECAUSE I AM A GOOD GIRL, RIGHT MOMMY?”.  And then whoosh! My Mother had whisked me into a storefront alcove where she promptly instructed me to say every bad word I knew then and there.  Apparently compliance to my mother’s request took several minutes. I must have stock piled an arsenal full of expletives for this special occasion (I will call this my research).  With onlookers giggling and shaking their heads, my red faced mother asked me one final time if I had any words left inside that I wanted to share as examples of me being an upstanding young person. Apparently I did not.  I had made my point.  I was a good girl, now let’s go watch the parade!

Indeed I had made my point, despite my unrefined delivery.  At 4 years of age, I was advocating for myself, the good girl and on that cold December day, I was determined to influence my mother of the same.  What I had effectively just done was lobby my mother.   She was my first audience, and I knew her well.  Why, she had even agreed with my premise early on in this advocacy exercise.  Mission accomplished!  What I had begun, maybe on that very day, was the beginnings of my career and passion for lobbying.

I have taught many courses on how to effectively advocate and what lobbying is for a little over 8 years.  My audience is mostly made up of board members, CEOs, Presidents and representatives from many varied professional organizations.  I consistently hear from the participants in my course the uncertainty and fear that they feel about lobbying on behalf of their issue, organization or policy.  Most are concerned that about their messaging, their delivery, their relevance, their impact.  I often hear, “Why would they want to hear from me anyhow?”.  The truth here is that if you have decided that you are ready to bring your issue front and centre with government, you probably feel that change can be made and who better to articulate your premise than yourself.

So allow me to suggest ways that will make your advocacy exercise less frightening;

Don’t be afraid of your audience.  First of all, do your research.  Most politicians and senior bureaucrats have their biographies available online, or through professional social networking sites.  Make sure that the senior officials that you are meeting with are in fact interested in your issues.  You would not seek to meet with an official at Fisheries and Oceans if you want to discuss tariffs.  Also remember that these people are quite likely someone’s mother or father, sister or brother, aunt or uncle.  That is, they are just people.

Don’t be afraid to be passionate about your issue.   Speak about your experience, education and knowledge within your field of expertise and how it relates to your reasons for lobbying on your particular issue.   Your passion will come through loud and clear.  People listen to interesting and invigorated speakers.

– Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Much like my mother who forgave me fairly quickly for the embarrassing exchange on a crowded downtown sidewalk, senior officials are just people who also make mistakes. The more that you engage in advocacy exercises, the easier it gets.  Don’t forget to start with the appropriate pleasantries, but quickly get to your point. This gets the conversation going, allowing for questions and open dialogue about what you are trying to accomplish. 

I like to remind the participants in my course that the elected and non-elected officials have a responsibility to listen to stakeholders and that as an experienced and educated professional, they want and need to hear your input to be better informed in their decision making.   Stage fright can also creep in your early phases of a lobbying exercise.  While I have never suffered from one single bout of standing in front of an audience, I have witnessed many inexperienced advocates go from shy wallflowers in the first several minutes of their discussions to become full fledge scene stealers once they get in the groove. The positive feedback from your audience, whether verbal or simple body language, will prompt you to continue.  They might even try to shut you up at some point, much like my mother did.

While I do know some lobbyists who swear like sailors, I no longer personally use such flowery language when I am face to face with an elected or non elected official. But that goes without saying.

For me, this just comes naturally.  It flows like water down a slope.

Of course, most lobbying is not directed towards our mothers….if it were, it would be relatively easy.  We would already know our audience, we know that they already like and wont judge us, and we know that they will most likely listen attentively and hear our case.

Do you have an interesting story to share where you had to overcome some element of your advocacy campaign?  Have you faced fear, or been uncomfortable with your audience or subject matter?  I would love to hear about your lobbying successes and challenges.


0 responses to “Taking the Fear Factor Out of Lobbying.

  • We should all be inspired to speak out minds, even in our daily life. Of course we should be aware of the consequences, but as you inspire your students – try to forget fear and engage people, question people, confront people. Thanks for sharing and motivating people to new heights. Ashley

  • Pretty sure my mother would have not had the same reaction had I started a conversation that way. But love the story.

    Also love your company name. It’s great to see that there is meaning behind the name that can open dialogue with customers.

    You make some really great points above, my favorite being about passion. Without passion the cause is already all but lost.

    • Laurel’s mom was clearly a lady of infinite patience. 🙂 Couldn’t agree more on the passion front, whether we intend it or not the people we are delivering our messages to can pick up on whether we really mean what we are saying.

    • Laurel says:
      May 2, 2013 @ 10:47 am

      Thank you Johnny for your comments about my company name, your feedback is valuable!

  • Cute story and good way of proving your point. These are all good pieces of advice and ones that I learned in a speech class in college. I think the best way to effectively lobby is to know how to balance being seen as a real, down-to-earth person as well as someone whos credible to speak about the subject and sway your opinion. Its always great to get tips from people who are professionals in an area.

    • I agree. Being down to earth in your exchange allows everyone involved to relax and have real conversations. You can be an expert, but so off putting in your manner that people are reluctant to listen.

  • Hi Debra
    I am not one who likes controversial situations so lobbying would never interest me. Your story was very interesting. I think your idea of lobbying really applies to more than lobbying for a cause as when we sell a product we are really doing the same thing, we just call it another name. I just wish I could be more persistent to get my point across as you did when you were a child. But many things in life that we think are different are really the same.

    • Hi Arleen, I’m fairly persistent and consistent in my efforts, but the story comes from Laurel Craib. 🙂 I agree, lobbying is essentially marketing an idea or perspective. I find that in the course of doing business I use the skills interchangeably. There are times when I have to lobby that have nothing to do with government.

    • Laurel says:
      May 2, 2013 @ 10:46 am

      You are correct…..in fact lobbying is sometimes essentially just a sales job. I often say that lobbying is just a template that fits on top of any issue/item/legislation. Whether its a doughnut, a rubber band or changing legislation to allow for same-sex marriage, the lobbying aspect is all the same. A lobbyist if someone who seeks to promote, oppose, or otherwise influence the outcome of a decision maker.

  • I guess I successfully lobbied to re-write the media guidelines at my old school district when an ultra-conservative board member parent tried make the film viewing policy even more constrictive. Still, it’s not a role I ever covet. However, that instance did allow me to prove to myself that I can be proactive and take a stand when an issue truly matters to me and is worth fighting for.

    • I don’t care much for awkward or controversial situations although I often find myself in the midst of them. 🙂 As I get older I realize that my involvement is more a reflection of my ability to facilitate, put those lobbying skills into play and help those involved see each others’ perspective then it is any interest on my part.

    • Laurel says:
      May 2, 2013 @ 10:41 am

      I think what you undertook is fantastic…and I hear passion behind your motivation to get involved and make a change for the better in opposing the potential outcome. It does not come easily to everyone, but when the right motivation (read: passion) is behind your efforts, your voice is heard loud and clear.

  • I laughed and could just see that whole event transpire. I used to teach six year olds and some are natural born lobbyists just like you. It is a great lesson and one that teaches the subject well.

    When it comes to my own situation. I remember having to speak to a group about a subject no one wanted to hear. I used a metaphor and analogy to get my point across and entertained them at the same time. I won them over and was given the go-ahead for my project. 🙂

    • While she no longer swears like a sailor, Laurel is very effective at using stories and metaphors to illustrate her points. At heart we all love a good story and while the stats and facts play an important role in legitimizing a message, the story is what will be remembered. Having watched a few of your illustrated stories I know you have the added advantage of bringing images to your words to help support the message.

    • Thank you Susan! Indeed, metaphors and analogies do work well to get through a sticky or uninteresting presentation or discussion. They can perk up a disengaged crowd for sure. Good point!

  • Those three suggestions work well in any form of public speaking. I went to school with a girl who was so terrified of public speaking that she would make videos of her oral reports. The videos were well done and an innovative way to get her message across, but they did little to help her overcome her fears.

    When training for a leadership role like chef you still need to be able to talk to those you are leading.

  • That poor girl! Mind you I have been with doctors and other professionals who deal with people on a regular basis, but when they get in front of an elected official they turn to jello. I sometimes advise my clients, if they appear nervous, to pretend that they are talking to their uncle, or cousin about their issue. I figure that an uncle is a friendly audience but that you do not really know him intimately. This tip has worked for my clients and alleviated some of the fear.

  • Good and to the point story, Laurel and Debra. If lobbying and similar activities comes naturally to you, chances of succeeding are much higher.

    Have worked with top leaders of government and business most of my life and never been afraid of them. Having said that, I like having a bit of stage fright because then I make more of an effort to make sure I succeed:-)

    Can’t help thinking of a girl who worked for me who was so afraid when she was meeting top leaders she vomited and had stomach problems. Then one day she realised that they were just human beings and became highly successful.

    • Thanks Catrina, I know what you mean about the edge feeling a bit of fear can add to the work your doing. It keeps you on your toes and in an odd way, gives me better focus.

  • Eleanor says:
    April 30, 2013 @ 08:25 am

    Very entertaining story 🙂 I laughed a lot. 🙂 Best “This career was meant for me” story I have ever read.

    • I’ve heard the story before and I still laughed out loud when reviewing the blog before posting. 🙂

    • Thank you Eleanor. I must admit that I feel very blessed, almost lucky, that I wake up everyday doing something that I love. I could not for one second imagine having a career that I did not love.

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