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Arts and Culture Public Officials Breakfast 2015

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Doing More By Saying Nothing

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a public official in a local community to discuss the city’s strategic plan. Before the meeting, I had written down a few notes and done some research to better prepare. I had also written down a few objectives for the meeting; bullet points for how I could measure the ‘effectiveness’ of my conversation.

About half way through the meeting, I put my notes away. I realized I had come thoroughly prepared on the defense and this was clouding my ability to carefully listen with a fresh perspective.

I think we often find ourselves in situations where we need to defend the work that we do, proving to others that it is important. We bring along our case-making tools and cheat-sheets, hoping that one or two facts is going to stick or change opinion. We spend so much time positioning our cause outside the moment that we aren’t actually listening to what’s being said in the moment. We fear the outcome of the meeting will not fare in our favor.

My colleagues know me as a type-A individual. I’m one who thrives on spreadsheets, measurable outcomes and numbers. I find bliss in being able to tick off boxes as things are completed. At times this is my Achilles heel as I’ve explored the art of conversation, especially with policy makers and influencers. Sometimes the agendas and numbers just have to wait. Sometimes there is no defined outcome. Yikes!

So how do we measure our effectiveness? How do we ensure we are maximizing the valued time of this meeting? You can wrestle with this question a few different ways, but how you answer truly depends on your approach to the conversation.

I’ve learned that in order to get the most out of our conversations we need to develop a ‘listening framework’. This structure takes focus off our priorities and places it on the desired outcomes of the other individual. In doing this, the outcome of the meeting is jointly defined at the end.

Here is how it works:

Preparation:
The goal for you is to focus 80% of the conversation on them and 20% on you. Do your best to carefully listen and ask specific questions as the conversation flows. 

You will want to arrive with one piece of 8.5” x 11” copy paper. This becomes the basis for conversation, not your previous research or lined notebook paper which forces things to evolve in a step-by-step fashion. All of your notes should be written on this one piece of paper.
You will also need a pencil. Not a pen. Pencils allow you to erase and re-write what you’ve interpreted to help clarify what was meant and talked about. As the conversation evolves, so should your notes.

It’s best if you can leave them with one item to remember you. A brochure or a palm card for example. BE CREATIVE. This item or object should accompany your business card.

Conversation:
The conversation starting point should begin with something broad such as their current policy agenda/portfolio. You can begin to get more specific as topic areas are discussed. Let them set the stage for where they are focusing their energy and why they are focusing it there. If they don’t provide the why, ask.

Chart the conversation as it happens, much like you would a brainstorming map. This is the key. Items that you have in common or feel the need to share information about can be marked and circled. You can then revisit this concept at an appropriate time. Anytime they mention needing help or support on a topic area, mark and circle this topic with an ‘S’.

Most importantly, leave time for silence. It’s OK to take a minute to write and process what is being said. We often feel uneasy about silence in a room. It’s OK to take a brief moment to capture the thought and process it.

Wrapping it up/Be a resource:
Near the end of the conversation, do a brief scan of all the topics discussed, focusing specifically on the areas where support is needed. Dive deeper and make sure you know what exactly is needed. For items where you can provide immediate advice, provide some insight.

Thank them for their time, leave them with something and follow-up via e-mail. This is where impact and effectiveness of the meeting can be measured.  Your follow-up should illustrate how your work dove-tails and supports their current policy agenda- specifically those areas where they indicated they need assistance. This will test your listening skills and your notes!

Monitor how your follow-up is integrated into their work. Set another meeting to discuss solutions in greater detail or to inquire about progress. This follow-up establishes a very strong foundation for future engagements.

Most importantly, feel confident in your ask to meet. You both came to the table wanting to learn more about one another. They will be very appreciative that you've reached out and are interested in learning how you can continue to be a valuable resource to them.

Want to get your Board and Staff ready to meet with public officials and community influencers? Have CPAC come to your organization to provide a free in-depth Advocacy Training session. Contact us for more information.  

Categories: advocacy, advocacy training, arts and culture, Best Practices, Connecting with Policy Makers, Listening, Policy Makers, research, Roundtable

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