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Tell Your Personal Story
There’s a well-known marketing saying that “people buy from people they know, like, and trust.” There is simply no more impactful way to have that occur than through the strategic use of storytelling. The same applies in advocating for your position.
Stories are a “shared experience” and humans are hard-wired to receive information through storytelling. Storytelling brings people into a natural state of primal listening.
Because of that, stories also powerfully connect us to others. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others, the people we are talking to get to know us as authentic people – not just a random voice in the crowd.
When you can meld the use of stories with data-based information that helps verify, your influence and engagement become more powerful. It helps move people to action.
In short, human connections need to go before business. Connect first with your elected official – then get down to business.
“My property taxes have gone up 170 percent in the last 10 years. That’s not sustainable for my farm. Property taxes are now 20 percent of my operational costs. Residential taxes haven’t gone up that much. It’s not fair.”
Story/value based argument using facts:
“Our farm has been in our family for four generations. My youngest son is finishing up at the university next year. It’s always been his dream to come back to the farm. He wants to do this for a living. But the reality is we’re dealing with a depressed farm economy and our property tax bill just keeps going up with no end in sight. The taxes on our farm have gone up 170 percent in the last 10 years. I want what’s best for my son. How do I look at him and honestly tell him he should come back? To keep young people and young families in agriculture, we need to do something on property taxes. It’s influencing life decisions for him, our family, and other families like ours.”
Ways to Tell Your Story
Talk to Your Elected Official
There is no better way to influence your state senator than talking to them directly. Here are a few things to remember when engaging them in a conversation.
- Tell them your name, where you’re from, and what you do for a living. Doing so reinforces the fact that you are their constituent, and it gives them a point of reference.
- Personalize your relationship. Have you ever contributed time or money to his or her campaign?Are you familiar with him or her through any business or personal relationship? If so, communicate that to them in a positive way. The closer your legislator feels to you, the more powerful your argument is likely to be.
- Start by thanking them for their service. Serving can be a difficult job. Most will appreciate you recognizing that fact and respond positively.
- Be clear and concise in what you want to discuss and the action you want them to take. Elected officials get pulled in many directions. Most appreciate you getting to the point quickly.
- Personalize your issue. Lobbyists use talking points, but constituents can tell stories that give real life examples of how a policy positively or negatively impacts them. Giving elected officials real life examples of why they should or shouldn’t support a measure is more powerful than any talking point.
- You are the Expert. Remember that your legislator’s job is to represent you. You should be courteous and to the point, but don’t be afraid to take a firm position. You’re the expert on how legislation will impact you.
- Don’t just talk, listen. Communication is a two-way street. Once you share your thoughts, give them the chance to respond and listen closely. What they say and how they say it, will give you good insight into where they’re at. It also opens the door for you to ask more questions.
- Give them your contact information. Make sure you give them or their staff your contact information, so they can get back in touch with you if they need to down the road.
The more interaction the better.
- Share your findings. At the Capitol, information is king. The more Farm Bureau’s lobby team knows what senators are thinking, the better they can engage with them. Sharing what you learned is extremely valuable to Farm Bureau’s lobby efforts.
Letters & Emails
Writing a Letter to Your Senator or the Governor
Even in the age of technology, a short, hand-written letter still carries weight as an advocacy tool. It’s more personal and people recognize it takes time to write. The act of writing a letter is often more powerful and convincing than the message itself.
- Keep it brief. Letters should never be longer than one page, and should be limited to one issue. Elected officials and staff read many letters on many issues in a day, so be as concise as possible.
- Make it legible. The power of the handwritten letter is diminished significantly if it is difficult to read. Make sure it’s easily legible for a senator or their staff.
- State who you are and what you want. In the first paragraph, be clear that you are a constitu-ent and identify the issue about which you are writing. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, it helps to identify it by its bill number.
Hit your three most important points. Choose the three strongest points that will be most effective in persuading legislators to support your position and amplify them.
- Personalize your letter. Tell your elected official why this legislation matters to you. If you have one, include a personal story that shows how this issue affects you and your family. A constituent's personal stories can be very persuasive as your legislator shapes his or her position.
- Personalize your relationship. Have you ever contributed time or money to his or her campaign?Are you familiar with him or her through any business or personal relationship? If so, include this in your letter in a positive way. The closer your legislator feels to you, the more powerful your argument is likely to be.
- You are the expert. Remember that your legislator's job is to represent you. You should be courteous and to the point, but don't be afraid to take a firm position. Remember that often your elected official may know no more about a given issue than you do.
- Use the proper title. If writing to your state senator, address them as Sen. Jones, etc. If writing to the governor, the mailing address should be titled "To The Honorable Governor Pete Ricketts", but the opening and reference should be written as “Dear Governor Ricketts:”
Emailing Your Senator
Emails are one of the best ways to contact your legislator. As a constituent, you carry a lot of power with your elected officials — remember, they work on your behalf.
On our action alerts, you’ll find pre-written letters to your legislators that you can personalize with your thoughts. Many legislative staffers say that a personalized letter carries more weight than a pre-written letter since it illustrates the constituent took the time to tell their story.
While our pre-written letters will cover most of the basics, here are some more tips on writing to legislators:
- Begin by introducing yourself as a constituent and a member of Farm Bureau. Many legislators won’t accept letters or emails from outside their district.
- Make “the ask” and make it personal. In the first paragraph, specify what action you want taken and, if possible, refer to bills by name or number. Legislators can’t know what you want them to do unless you tell them.
- Briefly share your story about how your legislator’s actions will directly impact you, your community, your job, and your family.
- Keep the length of your email to three or four paragraphs and 100 words or less.
Testify at a Hearing
Providing testimony at a legislative hearing is the most direct form of providing public input on a legislative proposal. Farm Bureau often works to coordinate testimony with members on key pieces of legislation.
Public hearings are typically held in the afternoon during the first half of the legislative session. Committees have regularly scheduled rooms and meeting days, although that can change.
Committees may consider several bills in an afternoon. The order of bills to be heard might not be made official until the afternoon of the hearing.
Each bill is presented to the committee by the bill’s sponsor. After the sponsoring senator finishes, the Chairperson will typically ask for proponent testimony first, followed by opponent, and neutral testimony. Before testifying you must fill out the testifier sign-in sheet provided in the hearing room.
Tips for testifying:
- Changes to the bill. Be aware that the bill’s sponsor may offer amendments when presenting the bill to the committee. Amendments may change the way you feel about the bill and affect your testimony.
- Be ready to answer questions. Committee members are free to ask you questions; however, as a testifier, you are generally not allowed to cross examine or question the committee.
- Written copies. Provide written copies of your testimony to distribute to the committee. This helps ensure an accurate record of your testimony. Bring enough copies for the committee plus three additional copies for staff. 20 copies will cover most communities.
- Limited testimony. Be prepared to limit your testimony and try not to repeat what others have said. The committee will want to give every testifier an opportunity to speak so always be ready to summarize your testimony.
- Be courteous. Addressing committee members or testifiers from the audience is prohibited. Applause and other public demonstrations are also prohibited during hearings. Always be sure to silence your cell phone.
- Don’t be offended. Don’t be offended if senators come and go during a hearing. They have other commitments including presentation of their own bills.
- Get help. Farm Bureau staff is always available to help members write and prepare testimony on legislative measures if consistent with Farm Bureau policy.
Social media is rapidly becoming the premier way to advocate on policy issues. Many elected offices are on social media and use it to gauge public sentiment. Integrating Facebook and Twitter into your advocacy efforts is a major opportunity to reach officials and build relationships in a direct and public way.
- Your account. Before posting anything, make sure to review your own account. Be sure that your account includes a profile picture, bio, and location. Include any credentials you have earned, job title, or position you have held that can boost your credibility.
- Keep it short and sweet. A few words or a short sentence will go a long way and generatethe highest engagement. The basic formula for writing a post to your elected official is the following: location + elected official name or handle + the issue.
Example: I’m a farmer from Syracuse and my property taxes increased 15% from last year. @JulieSlama we need action to reform our current tax system.
- Personalize your posts. Tell your elected official why this legislation is important to you. Include a personal note about how this issue affects you and your family. If you need multiple tweets to tell your story, be sure to tag your elected official in each tweet.
- Make it visual. Photos and videos are overwhelmingly the most engaging type of content on social media. Try to include an image whenever possible. Snap photos on your farm or ranch, and don’t forget, you can always share and retweet photos and videos from Nebraska Farm Bureau’s social media channels.
- Stay positive. Office staff for elected officials will regularly monitor accounts for derogatory remarks or posts that include personal attacks. These posts will be disregarded and deleted. Remember to be respectful, credible, and seek to help instead of harm.
- Resources. Nebraska Farm Bureau will help you stay up-to-date on agricultural issues, legislative votes, and advocacy efforts. Sign up for action alerts!
- Timing is everything. Make sure to look for chances to respond to posts from your elected official’s account. Likes and retweets are tallied by office staff to gauge support. You can voice displeasure or support by replying or commenting on posts. The timelier your reply, the more likely you are to get a response.
- Say thank you. When your elected official has taken the right action on an issue, social media can be a great tool to acknowledge their work and thank them publicly.
Capturing video testimonials is now a common practice…and an influential one. Record video messages that showcase your farm and ranch, animals, equipment, successes and challenges. These videos can then be sent to lawmakers, shared on social media, or held for future use. The most common videos from farmers and ranchers include testimonial, issue impact, explanation or procedural/how to.
Above all else: keep it simple. Videos should be clear enough that the content is quickly understandable.
Personal Phone Calls
The window of opportunity to influence legislation when the legislature is in-session can be very short. A personal phone call to your legislator’s office is always an effective and timely advocacy tool.
When calling your legislator’s office:
- Provide your name and address so you are recognized as a constituent. Also, identify yourself as a Farm Bureau member.
- Identify the bill or issue you are calling about by its name and/or number if you have it.
- Briefly state how you would like your legislator to vote.
It is important to keep your phone calls quick and simple since most staff multitask during calls to keep up with the volume of communication from constituents.
Here’s an example of a good introduction/90-second speech:
“Hi, I’m John Smith. I am a constituent who lives at 12345 Main Street, Nebraska and a Farm Bureau member. I am calling to ask you to vote yes on LB 1234 and support farm programs. My phone number is 555-555-5555 if you have any questions. Thank you for your time today.”
If you have more time or need to relay a detailed position, follow these steps:
- Ask to speak to the staff member who handles the issue; this staffer will relay your comments and concerns to the legislator.
- Ask for your legislator’s stance on the bill or issue and for a commitment to vote for your position. Remember to make “the ask.”
- Don’t guess at answers to questions. If the elected official’s staff requests information you don’t have, tell them you will gladly follow-up with requested information.
Writing a Letter-to-the-Editor
Letters-to-the-editor are a good advocacy tool because they can be used in many ways. Letters can be used to not only share your position on an issue, but they provide a public forum to influence and draw attention, positively or negatively, to the action or lack of action by an elected official. Most senators and other elected leaders monitor their local papers to get a pulse on constituents. Letters-to-the-editor are widely read, particularly in smaller community papers.
Letters-to-the-editor pages differ from newspaper to newspaper. Monitor your newspaper to get a feel for what they do and don’t publish. View a sample letter-to-the-editor and write your own using these tips:
- Letters should be short. Most letters should be no more than three or four short paragraphs. Note that some papers reserve the right to edit for length if your letter is too long. Always start your letter with “Dear Editor,”.
- Advance your message. Letters present an opportunity for you to influence others. Use storytelling and verifying facts to make your case. If you want an elected official or entity to take a certain action, be clear in what you want done and make sure you name them. If you want to build a relationship with the official, however, it’s always better to have contacted them to share your position with them first before doing so publicly with a letter.
- Responding to misinformation. Letters can be used to respond to articles with misinformation. Begin your letter by identifying the article to which you are responding to and then move on to your point. The classic first sentence for a letter-to-the-editor is some variation of “Your recent article on ______________ missed the point.” From there, move on to your message and make your case.
- Signers make a difference. Are there others who share your position? Sometimes it helps to have multiple signers on a letter if the paper allows it. Having well respected or well-known community members collectively sign onto a letter can help influence others.
- Provide contact info. Make sure to sign your letter-to-the-editor and include a phone number and address. If the letter is chosen for publication, the newspaper staff can call to confirm that the letter is indeed from you. The newspaper will not print your phone number.
- Send your letter. Always make sure your letter is addressed to “Letters-to-the-Editor,” to the newspaper. Some papers take letters by fax, email, or on their website; others do not. Check your newspaper’s policy.
Doing a Media Interview
Food and agriculture issues are a hot topic these days. You know the old adage, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will do it for you. And so often, those eager to tell agriculture’s story have biases against the way farmers and ranchers do their jobs. Studies show that the public has a high level of trust for farmers and ranchers as individuals.
There are few opportunities to reach a wider audience than through the media outlets. So it’s important that when we get the chance, we have members who are willing and able to represent what they do and why they do it when the media calls.
Want to find a way to amplify your message? Interact with the media. Here are some tips to make the media interview a success.
- Determine your interview goal.
- Stay focused on your key message(s),and repeat them frequently.
- Think and speak in terms of headlines, followed by the story.
- Block and bridge to refocus the interview or address difficult questions.
- Keep answers brief.
- Say only what you want to say, then stop.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms.
- Remember who your audience is.
- Never go “off the record.”
- Meet media deadlines.
- What is the reporter’s name and media affiliation (radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, website)?
- What are the reporter’s phone number and contact information?
- What is the topic of the interview?
- What is the story’s objective or angle?
- Who is the primary audience?
- Am I the appropriate person for this story?
- Who else will be interviewed for this story?
- What are the date and time of the interview?
- What are the format and length of the interview?
- What is the anticipated date of airing or publication?
- Are there any additional information needs?
- Who else should be notified of this media opportunity?