In my position as a city commissioner I often find myself being lobbied by a resident or a developer who has a position they want me to adopt. That’s fair. In fact, it’s the basis of our system of government. We are, after all, a representative republic. Periodically we elect someone from our midst to go represent us at some level of government. Those people are expected to learn as much as they can about the issues, make judgments and decisions based on the information they’ve been able to gather, and then stand up to defend those decisions at election time, assuming they want to keep the job for another term.
Lobbying is a reality. Although, contrary to popular belief, most lobbyists aren’t paid for what they do. They’re you and your neighbors. They’re anyone who steps up to the plate to make their position known to someone who has the ability to cast a vote when the time comes. They’re largely ineffective, too.
Nobody likes to hear that, but it’s true.
The big difference between a paid lobbyist and a hobbyist lobbyist is their ability to succeed. The paid lobbyist gets results or they find a new line of work. Nobody wants to hand over their hard-earned cash to make a new friend who’s willing to adopt their perspective. Nope, they want to win. They want to line up votes for a project or an initiative they truly believe has merit. So they hire a lobbyist who can carry their message effectively to the people who are preparing to cast votes.
The politician side of the equation is willing to talk to lobbyists, too. And why not? Their job is to gather the information they need to make an intelligent decision on issues as far ranging as water rights, taxes, zoning, user fees, more taxes, economic incentives, different taxes, budgeting, and maybe even the current rate of the minimum wage. Politicians need information. Lobbyists have information to share. Lobbyists and politicians are a natural pairing.
Hobbyist lobbyists are almost always less successful than the pros. That’s not because their causes are any less noble or worthy. It’s simply because they tend to be less effective in their ability to communicate clearly, quickly, and include real substance in their argument.
If you want to make headway lobbying an official of any kind, on any subject, you need to have a bang-up elevator speech ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Let’s imagine that you run into the exact person you need to see in order to get some traction on an issue that’s important to you. Whether it’s a city commissioner, the Secretary of This or That, the FAA administrator, or even the President of the United States — what would you say that would sway him or her given no more time than you would get out of the average elevator ride? Could you pique their interest, or would you become an annoying buzzing sound in their head? When the doors open at their floor, would they ask you for your card so they can follow up with you, or would they simply walk off the elevator to never be seen again?
You need an elevator speech. Professional lobbyists know that, and they hone theirs down to a handful of fine points they can rattle off at a moments notice.
How about you? If you’re searching for the right word, or statistic, you’ve wasted your opportunity. If you’re stumbling around trying in vain to make a salient point, your palms will start to get sweaty as you realize your golden moment is turning to tin before your very eyes.
Whether you want to lobby for lower hangar rent, a block on user fees, the addition of a grass strip to your airport, or any other issue that matters to you, you need a barn-burner of an elevator speech on the tip of your tongue, ready to go, 24 hours a day. So start thinking, start making notes, and start practicing yours today. Because you never know when you’re going to stop into the local deli for a nosh only to find yourself standing in line right behind the person you need to talk to most.
What the heck, you’re a lobbyist already just by virtue of being an American. So why not be a good one? Get your elevator speech in order. It will serve you well one day — truly it will.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.