UNC's Undergraduate Student Government hosted its first annual Lobbying 101 Workshop on Thursday night in the Student Union.
“The goal of the workshop is to be able to connect the lobbying committee for State and External Affairs with various student organizations here on campus and learn about the process of government relations and how it could help champion student voices on campus,” Dylan Heneghan, director of lobbying for the Undergraduate Student Government, said.
Heneghan said he hoped the workshop would help demystify lobbying, and that he'd love to see it become an annual event.
Special guests N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, and a panel of professional lobbyists used the time to discuss how students can effectively talk with and persuade government officials.
“Manage your expectations,” said Harry Kaplan, a lobbyist at the North Carolina General Assembly. “You’re not going to get everything you want the first time you ask — maybe not even the hundredth time. And just because you don’t convince somebody the first time you talk to them, you can’t take it personally.”
Amy Auth, director of state affairs for the University, emphasized the importance of knowing your audience.
“Do a little research before you sit down with someone,” Auth said. “Find out where they’re from, what they like to do, what committees they serve on.”
She said the key to success is to look for things that are common ground between what you’re trying to do and what their interests are.
“If you know your audience, you can communicate in a way that will resonate with that person,” Auth said. “You have to take your very complex issue and break it down into two to three minutes max. That’s usually all the time you’re going to be able to catch from somebody.”
The panel also discussed what life as a lobbyist is like.
“Every day is different,” Sarah McQuillan, government affairs associate with Kairos Government Affairs, said. “It’s a lot of strategic hovering outside of elevators and bathrooms.”
Politicians lead busy lives, Kaplan said. Sometimes they aren’t able to hear everything lobbyists have to say.
“I tell people I’m a lobbyist — it’s impossible to offend me,” Kaplan said. “Persistence is the single most important quality you can have.”
Sen. Woodard explained the expectations representatives have when meeting with lobbyists.
“We’re people too,” Woodard said. “We’d like for you to know a little something about us when you come in. We’re public folks. A simple Google search can tell a lot about us.”
It’s all about how you present yourself and the relationships you make in the process, he said.
“Something I particularly appreciate from volunteer lobbyists is a follow-up notice,” Woodard said.
Kaplan said students looking to get involved should find a way to get down to the Legislature.
“All you need to do is make a few friendships,” Kaplan said. "It makes a big difference."
Connections are important, Auth said, but an internal commitment to your cause is more important.
“It’s definitely a world that keeps you on your toes,” Auth said. “You very rarely get bored, but you’ve got to be driven by a desire to do good for your community”
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