“Ok! That’s enough background,” a Senate staffer recently snapped at my wife.
Pitching legislative staffers, I’m learning, is a lot like pitching angel investors. Over the past few months my wife and I have made several trips to the Capitol trying kill AB 1102, the Fire Rings bill. What has caught me by surprise is how I’ve had several opportunities to apply my experience as an angel investor to my Sacramento lobbying efforts.I’ve worked 2 bills through the process — AB 2173, the Electric Bicycle bill which got as far as the 15-member Asm. Transportation Committee and the Fire Rings bill which has sailed through the Assembly and a little more deliberately through 2 Senate committees. I’ve gained a lot of experience in the process — in favor of eBikes and opposed to air pollution, I’ve seen both sides of persuading legislative staffers.
Staffers are the Legislators’ gatekeepers; you’ve got to pitch your ideas to them if you ever hope to speak to their boss. They’re busy, terribly overworked and always behind with their tasks. Their legislators pay them to review upcoming bills and feed them the pros and cons, who’s in favor and who’s opposed, so they can make a better informed decision as to how they’ll vote. Effectively pitching the staffers is critical, as many other lobbyists have all told me: the legislators come into the Committee hearings with their minds already made up — clever or witty oratory will have little last minute effect, you’ve got to do the “blocking and tackling” in the days and weeks prior to a hearing. The good news is that these staffers are very approachable; it’s their job to intercept petitioners and hear them out. As a result, they’ve heard a thousand pitches, many I assume of poor quality, so it’s essential to pitch them effectively.
As many know, I’m a long-term angel investor and I’ve heard a thousand pitches from startup funding applicants. Through my podcast show I’ve coached entrepreneurs in the fine art of pitching. There are subtle techniques to show angel investors you respect their time, to engage them and make it simple for them to understand your business concept. As I apply the advice I have offered to others to my own lobbying efforts in the State Capitol, I realize similarities in technique — it’s like PowerPoint, but with handouts.As I wandered the halls of the Legislature this Spring, pitching eBikes, I had 2 handouts; one was the bill’s fact sheet, written by me for our Author’s legislative aide. The standard format was all text, so it was easy to see that when I’d sit down with someone unfamiliar with our issues and hand them the fact sheet they would scrunch up their face and attempt to read the one-pager right while I was sitting there. This was not a good use of either of our time, so I’d hand them the photo of an electric bike on a signed trail, “No motorized bicycles.” They got it immediately and I saw they were relieved — I was their new friend, saving them from having to read a page of single spaced text. As I look back I came to it naturally, my appeals to value clean air at our beaches was an uphill fight. What I had that made me more successful — over a decade’s worth of fire rings photos. My approach was simple — take an evocative photo or a Google Maps image and overlay one of our pithy arguments. Of course, I’d print them on high quality photo paper, so some staffers assumed they were one of a kind originals — when my time was up they’d slide them back across the table thinking I wanted them back. I’d counter with, “Why don’t you keep one as a souvenir of our time together?” What I discovered in 2 separate instances, they both picked the same Google Maps photo. I asked the 2nd staffer, “Why that one?” “It has the most information on it,” she replied, which allowed me to continue, “This is my favorite,” as I slid a dramatic photo of egregious wood burning back across the table, “Why don’t you take them both?” Start with pleasantries and move immediately to your first handout. No introductory oratory, show them a picture about what you’re introducing. They’ll appreciate the context a photo, graphic, or map conveys.
How you pace the handouts will put them at ease. Move quickly from your first photo to your second; this will let them know you’re gonna move fast and they’d better pay attention. Having heard a thousand pitches they’ll appreciate your fast pace. They can keep up. You’re assuring them their time isn’t being wasted.
These techniques have often resulted in longer discussions, moving beyond, “I only have a few minutes…”