Taking the Fear Factor Out of Lobbying.

Posted on April 30, 2013
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.