I hate talking on the phone. Specifically, I really hate the act of calling people. Will the person pick up? What if I repeat my name several times and they still don’t understand me? Am I calling at a bad time? I’m not sure why something this innocuous causes me such anxiety, but I’m not alone. Sometimes I wonder if technology like texting and online help desks were inspired in part by telephobes.
What makes this more difficult is that I run an advocacy campaign for which I am regularly asking volunteers and other concerned citizens to “Call your Senator today!” or “Ask your Representative to support this bill!” I know that when I receive these kinds of requests in my own inbox, I think, Can’t I just write an email instead?
And I could. We all could. It’s easier and faster to click “send’ on a pre-written email than it is to have a conversation. It’s also a lot less effective most of the time. Phone calls can’t be overlooked or ignored in the way that emails can. How many of us have looming messages that we’ve been putting off responding to? In my opinion advocate phone calls are the fastest, most direct way to convey your concerns to your elected officials.
With this in mind, what can fellow telephobes or other anxious advocates do to get over their inclination not to make that phone call? Here are a few helpful tips that will make picking up the phone just a little bit easier.
Know your stuff. One thing that helps me dial those numbers is being confident in what I’m going to say. I take a few minutes to jot down 2-3 bullet points of the key information I want to convey when I call. Just like a phone interview for a job, you have the luxury of having your notes right in front of you. Let’s say that you are calling about your support for a bill called the Public Education Improvement Act (I just made this name up, so please don’t call your elected officials about it!) that increases funding for primary education. Your bullet points might look something like this:
- Who you are and why you care. (I’m a constituent who supports funding for public education because I care care about investing in our country’s future.)
- What you know (The U.S. currently ranks 36th in the world for public education, and our children deserve better.)
- What you want (Please support the Public Education Improvement Act to ensure that all students in the United States have access to quality education.)
Need help writing your bullet points? Look for some organizations that support your cause. Oftentimes they create one-pagers and fact sheets about the legislation that contain most of the key information you will want to share.
After you jot down your notes, if you can spare a few extra minutes, practice a couple of times. It might sound silly, but just say aloud what you want to convey. If you first hear yourself speak the words, you’ll have an easier time speaking them to someone else with confidence. You probably won’t even need to reference those bullet points.
Keep it short. With your key information down and a few rounds of practice under your belt, you’ll be able to speak your piece comfortably and quickly. Trust me, the staffer who answers the phone will be very appreciative of how prepared and succinct you are in your message. And, if you’re a telephobe like me, it’s nice to know that the conversation will be over before you know it!
Speaking of staffers, remember that you are speaking to a person. Our elected officials and the staff who work with them are people who work in the field of public service. It might not always appear this way, but a large part of their job is to be attentive to your concerns. Of course not every person who picks up the phone is going to be an absolute delight, but generally you can count on the answerer being professional and polite. And since you’re so prepared, knowledgeable, and confident in your message, how can they be anything but helpful?
There are two final tips about mindset that I wanted to share.
Speak your truth. You don’t need to pretend like you know everything to be taken seriously. You don’t need to be an expert on a piece of legislation to have an informed opinion. You only need to communicate in your unique voice about why this issue matters to you and your community.
Put it into perspective. Sure, getting out of your comfort zones can make you a little nervous, but the alternative is that you might miss your chance to make a real difference on an issue that you care deeply about. Take this as an opportunity to share your passion with someone who frankly is paid to listen to you.
You’ve got this!
Katey Zeh is