How to Lead a Lobby Team
This training reviews the role of a lobby team leader, how they assign team roles, coordinate practice times and how to handle other special situations.
This lesson is for those who wish to learn more about leading a lobby meeting with a member of Congress or staff.
How to lead a lobby meeting is part of the Working with Congress series.
What’s a lobby team meeting leader?
A lobby meeting leader coordinates and facilitates the process of meeting with a member of Congress or their staff from the planning stage through post-meeting follow-up.
Mentoring and nurturing others
In this role, meeting leads are well positioned to nurture and empower others, so others can build their capacity for this work.
A good leader shows faith in those around them. Having faith in others means you know there are going to be some coachable moments, which is fine. To feel empowered, people need to be put into situations where they can both succeed and fail.
The leader’s role is to make everyone around them better. This happens during planning or practice, the meeting, and after the meeting.
Coordinating planning meetings (DC only)
Lobby Team Leaders first coordinate a time to meet with the lobby team.
- Schedules. For lobby meetings in Washington, DC, you’ll receive your meeting schedule a few days before before the conference starts (check with your Group Leader or Regional or State Coordinator for the exact date).
- Verify location. If you’re meeting lead as soon as you receive your schedule please call the congressional office(s) and verify both the building and room number. Let the team know of any new location information.
- Contact team. Reach out to members of your team immediately after receiving your schedule and team roster with contact information.
- If you do not know a volunteer on the lobby team, then spend a few minutes getting to know them. Taking the time to get to know them will help you determine what role they might fill and develops trust in each other.
- Ask each team member to choose from the time options (see "Coordinate a time to meet" below) for meeting with the rest of the lobby team.
- Ask which roles they prefer to fill. If they are new to CCL, then it might be a good time to review and explain the importance of each role.
- Confirm that they received their schedule, bios and meeting plans (if available) and ask them to review the information before the planning session.
- Coordinate a time to meet. Suggestions for coordinating a planning meeting with your team in DC for team leads:
- You may be able to set up a time for a conference call before people head to DC or get some discussion going by email.
- Normally in DC there will be meeting rooms and times scheduled so that you should be able to easily schedule a meeting with your team.
- Check out the suggested lobby team meeting times during the conference breaks here.
- It may also be possible to find a common time on the lobby day to meet before your meeting, but it’s riskier since lobby schedules can change.
- If you can’t find a time that works for everyone on the team, set a time that works for most people and go ahead and plan. It may not be perfect, but it will still make a difference to your team, and you can fill in the missing person separately. With all of the bios and meeting plans sent ahead of time, if someone can’t make the planning session they’ll still have plenty of information.
Planning meeting suggestions
As a leader, the planning meeting involves you getting to know your team’s strength and helping the team set a course of action for the meeting.
Here are some suggestions for the ideal situation, but we realize that many of us will be scrambling to get ready, so any contact ahead of time is a good thing.
- If provided, first read through the notes from previous meetings. This will help the team to get a sense of where things stand with this office, what’s been tried before, and where we left off in the last meeting.
- If there is a meeting plan submitted by the liaison, then review and discuss the meeting plan with everyone. Otherwise, create a meeting plan.
- Review sample meeting outlines from Community.
- Assign roles.
- Review the concept of a supporting ask and when you would use it. If not already specified in the meeting plan, then help the team settle on a supporting ask.
- Transitions. Use your judgment with your team as to whether or not you’ll facilitate transitions verbally or with body language cues during the lobby meeting:
- A verbal cue could sound like this: “Elli would like to tell you why we are here today and what we’re asking for.”
- A body language cue could be as simple as turning to look at them.
- Or if you’ve practiced well enough, your team may not need cues at all. Do what feels right for the situation.
- During the planning meeting, let the team know how, or if, you plan to cue them.
Before the lobby meeting
Things to make sure happen before the lobby meeting.
- If your team settles into a plan that you and others feel good about a good ahead of your meeting time, you are also welcome to email the broad overview bullet points of your agenda to the office ahead of time. Research that the Congressional Management Foundation has done in the past highlights that the staff in the meeting appreciate being able to prepare resources and question responses ahead of time, but this isn’t a necessary step if you don’t settle on things early enough to send the agenda early.
- Ask everyone on the team to be at the meeting location 15-20 minutes ahead of time.
- Meet in the hall outside the office or a predetermined place for a pre-meeting huddle.
- Here are some things you should review during the pre-meeting huddle:
- The roles. Assign or reassign roles as needed.
- The goals of the meeting.
- The primary ask and supporting ask.
- Remind everyone to watch or listen out for their cues.
- If there's a constituent joining by phone (see "Constituent phone call" below), the pre-meeting huddle time is a good time to check in with the constituent.
Facilitating the meeting
Once the meeting begins, your role is to empower everyone on the team, handle transitions and end on time.See the meeting leader role description on the lobby meeting practice page.
Examples of verbal transitions
Transitioning from the discussion to the end of meeting close:
“Congresswoman, I see that we are nearing the end of our time with you today, so I wanted to recap and clarify our understanding of the obstacles preventing you from supporting this proposal.”
Transitioning from showing appreciation to stating our purpose:
“Congressman, I want to thank you for your recent efforts to protect citizens from identity theft. That’s a really important issue to me, but today we’ve come to discuss how we can partner with your office to pass our legislation.”
Transition to a teammate:
“Congressman, I want to thank you for your recent efforts to protect citizens from identity theft. That’s a really important issue to me, but we are here to talk about a different topic. So Sabrina is going to let you know more about why we are here today and what we’re seeking.”
As a meeting leader, you will do a lot of advanced planning and preparation, and that’s really important. However, we can’t let our plans and preparation go on auto-pilot because you never know what scenarios will play out. That’s why we always need to be focused on what is being said – in the moment – and respond to what we’re actually hearing, not what we expect or think we heard.
As the meeting leader, you should recognize when it might be appropriate to diverge from your plan. We refer to this as situational awareness.
Situational awareness is the ability to perceive and understand what is happening in the moment and being able to react to challenges as they happen. Good situational awareness means you’re not only listening to the words being said but also the tone of voice and body language too.
You can signal your teammates that you want to veer off the plan with a transitional statement like so:
“That’s a really interesting point you just brought up. I know this wasn’t on our agenda to talk about today but I’d like to explore that a little more.”
Empowering your team
Be on the lookout for “the silent constituent.” It’s OK for team members who are not a constituent to be quiet but if a constituent hasn’t spoken during the meeting, encourage them to do so with a verbal cue:“Sabrina, I’d just like to pause for a moment and see if there’s anything you’d like to add at this point?”
Also, see the bottom of the Handling Difficult Lobbying Scenarios page for how to handle volunteers or staffers getting emotional or when a volunteer team member says something that’s incorrect.
Debriefing the meeting
If there’s time immediately following the meeting, then debrief with as many of your team members as possible.
A debrief is a short examination of the meeting. Here’s what a debrief could look like:
- First of all, get away from the office door, don’t debrief right outside the door;
- The meeting leader could begin by asking what each person thinks went well and take the opportunity to nurture and build the confidence of team members;
- Ask the notetaker to read the notes back;
- If a DC meeting, make sure the meeting ID (5-digit number in a black box in the top right corner of the schedule) is listed correctly in the meeting ID field on the form. For non-DC meetings, enter 1000;
- Look at the back of the meeting minutes form and find the section titled “Important Things to Capture”;
- If there’s something missing, capture it;
- Capture and record as accurate of a window as possible into a member’s position on both our policy as well as their individual beliefs on climate change according to the scale on the back of the form.
- Remind every person in the meeting they’ll receive an email with the meeting notes but that they’re not to be shared with anyone, not even other volunteers who were not in the meeting.
- Verify the plan for follow-up items: note who is going to do the follow-up, drop off thank you card, file the meeting minutes online, and, if in DC, drop off the top copy at the designated time and place.
Other meeting considerations for lobby team leaders
- Team size and roles. The size of your teams will vary from meeting to meeting. If there are just two or three volunteers in a meeting, then each person will need to fill one or more role. Large groups may mean some folks do not have to speak. As the leader, you want to acknowledge and appreciate them for that. Having additional people in the meeting whose role is looking pleasant and affirming their interest is important, so even if they don’t say anything, we should value them for being present.
- Late arrivals. Coming in late will disrupt the meeting. The only time you would want a volunteer to join a meeting already in progress is if they’re the only constituent. Otherwise, politely thank them for letting you know, explain to them that coming in late will disrupt the meeting and that you will fill them in on the meeting afterward.
- Surprise, I’m here! In DC, if a volunteer from another region or state shows up for a meeting they’re not scheduled in, make sure they’re not in the wrong place or ditching a meeting they should be in. If not, thank them for their interest and passion but let them know we have plenty already, that the scheduling process was set up to structure each meeting fairly and that we do not want to overwhelm the office.
- Submit notes within 48 hours, for DC meetings. If notes have not been submitted within 48 hours of a DC lobby day, we will contact the team leader to follow up with the notetaker.
TBD Meetings (DC only)
If a DC lobby meeting wasn’t confirmed before we generated our lobby schedules, we will create a “To Be Determined” meeting on your schedule. This allows us to create a CCL meeting team.
How to handle TBD meetings:
- Touch base with the appointment setter, whose name and contact information are listed in the special notes section on the schedule.
- We don’t ask that you take over for the appt setter, but rather that you work with them to get the meeting scheduled.
- Try to avoid the 2:00 ET time.
- The TBD meetings are intentionally overfilled because we know that when that meeting is finally scheduled, some people will have conflicts.
- The remaining schedule for the rest of the team is displayed in the far-left column of the schedule, so you will know whether someone can attend the TBD meeting once it’s confirmed.
- Once the meeting is confirmed, the leader informs the other teammates by phone, email and text to let them know.
- Why all three you ask? (1) You can’t depend on having good cell service in DC (2) some folks don’t text and (3) some folks hate email. Meet them where they are.
Delivery only meetings (DC only)
On your DC schedule, under “Time” if you see “Delivery Only” it means we did not get a meeting with this office. We will make a delivery to this office.
- There should be two people listed to make this delivery. Call the other person and plan a time to deliver drop off materials (Primary Ask - Leave Behind and any constituent letters) to the staffer listed in your schedule.
- Please report delivery-only meetings online as you would meeting minutes. Choose “Drop Off Materials Only ” and in the notes area you can simply type N/A or add a few sentences if there’s anything to report.
Constituent phone call.
When you receive your schedule, you may notice a meeting with a constituent call-in. In some cases, when no constituent is able to make the trip to DC, it may be possible for one to join by phone.
How to handle a constituent phone call:
- Plan with the team to conference the constituent into the meeting by phone.
- Reach out to the constituent to confirm their availability, decide with them what role they wish to play, and when you will call them. Make sure to clarify/confirm that the meeting will be taking place in the Eastern Time Zone and to adjust the time if they are in a different time zone.
- When the meeting starts, confirm with the office that it’s OK for the constituent to join by phone.
- Call from our cell phones and place the call on speaker. We shouldn’t ask to use the MOC’s phone. If they offer it, it’s ok to accept.
- Involve the constituent as appropriate; you may want to pause or cue them knowing it’s hard to jump in by phone.
- Cell service on Capitol Hill is spotty so don’t get flustered if you can’t connect, move on.
Intro and Agenda
The Importance of Meeting Leads
Other Considerations & Meeting Debrief
TBD, Delivery Only, and Constituent Call-in Meetings
Intro and Agenda
The Importance of Meeting Leads
Other Considerations & Meeting Debrief
TBD, Delivery Only, and Constituent Call-in Meetings