As academics, we become accustomed to certain styles of speaking and writing. When constantly surrounded by colleagues who share a communication style and discipline-specific jargon, it is easy to forget that language is just as specialized within fields as the actual knowledge that said fields encompass. 

Bear in mind that while many of us have built careers on in-depth knowledge of particular topics, legislators are jacks-of-all trades. Particularly at the federal level, legislators are expected to bounce between topics constantly, so in a single morning a policymaker may have meetings about higher education funding, sanctions against North Korea, agricultural subsidies, and judicial nominations. Even an education staffer often covers all aspects of education beyond higher education from K–12 to career training. This means that the ability to express your positions concisely is paramount to getting your point across.

Keep a relatively narrow focus (this also applies when talking to the press). Some background information is helpful, but stay focused on your main points. Even if you can explain the entire history of a particular policy in the United States clearly and succinctly, a legislator or a reporter is listening more for sound bites/major points that are directly relevant to a current topic or bill, so focus on delivering your message in a bullet-point format. Too much detail and background information most likely will only lead to you (and the AAUP) leaving the legislator unclear about what you are asking them to do.

It is helpful to have a clear and focused “ask” when meeting with members of Congress or state legislatures and their staff. For example, you may be asking a legislator to support or to oppose a bill that is under consideration. You should state that ask up front and be prepared with concise reasons why a bill would be helpful or harmful. If you are asking for increased funding for a particular program during the budget and appropriations process, it is also wise to bring specific examples from the legislator’s district of where that funding went. For example, you may talk about the impact of research funding at your institution or the number of students who received scholarships from a state grant aid program.