Lawmakers oftentimes schedule town halls in their districts to ensure they're keeping up with the thoughts and opinions of their constituents back home.
If you've never attended a town hall, it might feel intimidating. Use these tips to make sure you're prepared before arriving.
Want to find out if a town hall is scheduled in your district? Learn how you can make sure you stay in-the-know.
While members of Congress spend a lot of their time in Washington, they’re keenly interested in the thoughts and opinions of their constituents back home.
One way lawmakers get a pulse on what constituents are thinking is to hold town hall meetings when they return to their districts during a Congressional recess. This gives lawmakers and constituents alike a direct line to make their voices heard.
To see if there’s a town hall scheduled in your district, visit the websites, check the social media accounts, or call the local offices of your senators and representative. You might also sign up for their newsletters or emails to get regular updates on their activities. Visit our Action Center to look up the contact information for your members of Congress. Another resource is this list of local Congressional events.
If you’ve never attended a town hall meeting before, it might feel a bit intimidating. Here are some tips to help.
- Do your homework.
Find out if the meeting is focusing on specific topics and research related statements or activities of the legislators. Determine one or two key points you want to make and prepare them in advance.
- Tell your story.
Personal stories continue to make lasting impressions on elected officials and their policymaking. You can share a success or a problem, but make it clear how it relates to a policy issue the elected official can address. Most importantly, be concise, but also genuine. Learn more from our storytelling tips.
- Paint the bigger picture.
If you’re speaking on behalf of your organization, or a group of older adults you serve, describe that group in terms of numbers, diversity, etc. Data points are valuable, but stories are still important. Just be sure to convey how others with similar experiences can be affected by the policy(ies) being discussed.
- Be respectful.
Showing up and being heard is important for your leadership role in your community. Being mindful of the legislator’s time and that of your fellow advocates is as important as the message you convey. You are also seeking to build or strengthen relationships to support future dialogues with policymakers, and even mobilize your community for your causes.
- Enlist allies.
Amplify your message by asking others to join you at the town hall. Organize them to reinforce your points or divide up topics and stories to make the best use of time. In addition to involving other aging services professionals, consider inviting older adults to tell their own stories that support your goals.
- Engage staff.
Working with the legislator’s staff is key for your success. Make sure they know who you are. Be brief, but direct. Introduce yourself and share a business card and materials you’ve prepared. Get their business cards too! You’ll have better access if you show up early and reach out before the meeting.
- Leave paper.
Providing your business card and materials to support your message will reinforce who you are and your message with the legislator and staff. Don’t overdo it in terms of length or volume; you can, and should follow up with electronic versions. Prioritize what will make an impression immediately or soon after the meeting and will prompt them to reach out for more as well.
- Follow up!
Send an email with a thank you for the meeting and the chance to share your thoughts, briefly recap your main points, and attach/link to a brief set of supporting materials (particularly ones to share with DC-based legislative staff). Make sure to leave an opening to future dialogue and to build the relationship, such as: offer to answer any questions, express willingness to convene a future meeting to discuss further, invite them to a site visit or event to see what you were talking about in person. See our thank you tips for more info..
- Keep in touch.
Shaping policy takes more than a single meeting. Continue to use high-level engagement activities like town halls, personal meetings, and site visits to make your case and build a relationship for future goals. Also maintain the connection organically by sending newsletter and other promotions to the office, and follow the legislator through her/his newsletter and social media.
If you attend a town hall event, please take a moment to tell us how it went. Your response will help us track our public policy and advocacy efforts.