Speaking Out Effectively
There are several easy ways to express your views publicly. When you speak out, you not only gain confidence in yourself, but you also give others the courage to speak out. Here are some general tips you should keep in mind whether you are writing to, or meeting with, an elected official or the media.
- Speak to the issues you know about.
- Be clear and concise. Long letters don’t get read.
- Make sure of your facts.
- Double check your spelling.
- Use personal stories whenever appropriate, but make them as concise as possible.
Write a Letter to the Editor
Did you know that the letters to the editor section is one of the most popular sections of the newspaper? If your letter gets published, your views will reach a lot of people. Even if your letter doesn’t get published, it will make the editors aware of what is on the minds of their readers. This can influence their news coverage and editorials. Here are some tips on writing a letter to the editor.
- Make your letter timely and relevant. Your letter should relate to a recent editorial or article in that newspaper. To make this clear, refer to the editorial or article in your letter. Send your letter as soon as possible, preferably within a day of the date that the article or editorial appeared in the paper.
- Where to send your letter. You can write to your local newspaper or even a national newspaper, but you have a far greater chance of being published locally. Find instructions about where to send your letter in the newspaper itself, usually on the editorial page or on pages two or three of the paper’s main section. Or, you can check their website. If you don’t know the address of your local newspaper, this website may help.
- Address your letter to the editor. Reading the other letters to the editor in the newspaper will show you the expected format
- Keep your letter short and concise. It works best if you have one topic for your letter. Published letters are usually short—less than 250 words. A good letter follows the following format:
- Paragraph 1 – Explain why you are writing in a sentence or two.
- Paragraph 2 – Back up what you say with some facts or your personal experience in two or three sentences. This engages the reader and is interesting to the editors.
- Paragraph 3 – Give your conclusion; state why you think this topic is important.
- While you can base your letter on a sample letter from another source, your own views and words will have more weight. Talk about other people’s ideas but do not attack anyone personally. If you do, your letter is not likely to get published.
- Sign your letter. You should include your real name and address and your daytime telephone number at the end of your letter, in case the newspaper needs to reach you. The newspaper may want to confirm that you really are the person who sent the letter. If you send your letter by email, you should include your email address. Do not send your letter in an email attachment, since that is not likely to be read.
Start a Letter Writing or Email Campaign
A letter writing campaign means that many people send their own letters or emails to one individual or organization about the same issue. It is a good tool to use when the views of many citizens can affect a specific outcome – like a school board’s vote on sex education policy, or the state assembly’s vote on a bill. To be most effective, each letter should be concise, personal, and signed individually. A letter writing campaign also must be timely! Letters need to reach the decision makers before they make their decision.
A letter writing campaign is easy to start. If you use emails, it’s even easier. Here’s what to do:
- To find others to join your campaign, use your email list, make calls to like-minded friends, or organize a letter writing get together (described in the “Working with Others” section of this toolkit).
- Decide who should be receiving these letters and be sure to give their correct address – email and/or postal –to everyone you contact.
- Write a sample letter to make it easier for others to write their own letters. If you don’t do that, give them useful websites or facts to put in their own letters.
- Let the other letter writers know the time frame and when letters will count the most.
- Encourage each person you contact to ask someone else to write a letter also – that way you can double your effectiveness!
Write A Neighbor-to-Neighbor Letter
This is one letter signed by many people. It is you and other members of your community – your neighbors, fellow parents, or fellow veterans, for example - reaching out to others may share your concerns. The purpose of this kind of letter is to influence readers by what the letter says AND by the number of people who sign it.
You don’t have to know everyone who will get the letter, but everyone who gets it should recognize the names of at least a few of those who have signed it. This is the personal touch that gives a neighbor-to-neighbor letter its impact. A neighbor-to-neighbor letter can ask people to vote for a candidate or an issue, or it can just raise awareness so people will be open to action later. Here’s what to do:
- Let’s say you have decided to support a particular candidate and you want others to support him or her also. Write the best letter of suport you can. Show it to others and ask for their ideas.
- Circulate it to your friends and others who might be willing to co-sign it (e-mail works especially well for this), and ask them to sign it. Ask if they know others who will sign it. Twenty, even fifty or sixty names, are not too many! You don’t need actual signatures; just type in the names of those who have agreed to “sign” it.
- Make enough copies of your letter to distribute to your target audience. You can hand deliver it in your neighborhood, hand it out at school or at church, or mail it. If there is a public event—a school fair, sports event or church bazaar – hand it out there, too. Sometimes you can put letters on windshields in a parking lot. Your goal is to get your idea – backed by the signatures of many others—as widely distributed as possible.
Call a Radio Talk Show
Another way to make your voice heard is to call one of the over 5,000 local, national, and syndicated radio talk shows. Before you call in, listen to the show to get a feel for its tone and the topics discussed. Many of these shows want to hear your views only on that day’s topic. Only an estimated 2% of listeners call in to these shows, so go for it! Here are some pointers to get you started.
- How do I find out about radio talk shows in my area? If you are not familiar with radio talk shows in your area, or a show doesn’t provide good call-in information on the air, go to www.radiotalk.org. This website lists talk radio stations, shows and hosts, their location on the radio dial, and links to their websites. Using the internet, you will undoubtedly find others. Also, many organizations and candidates will provide you with a list of radio shows. Some give you talking points. For example, in Maryland, you can go to www.mddems.org to find out about the Maryland Democratic Party’s radio truth squad.
- Get ready before you call. Once you select a show, listen to it before you place your call so you get to know their style. Know what you want to say before you call. Write down your key points so you won’t forget them in the excitement of getting on the air.
- Calling in: Relax and listen to the show while you wait. Keep the volume low so it can’t be heard in the background.
- Talking to the screener who answers your call: Your call will probably be answered by a screener, who will want to know your name and the city or area you are calling from before you go on the air. They may also want to know what side of an issue you are on. Just answer their questions and be friendly and lively.
- Talking on Air: Talk to the host in a friendly way. Be prepared with new facts or ideas, be concise, and quickly get to your point. State your views firmly, but don’t argue with the host. Be polite, even if the host isn’t. Remember, your audience is the listeners, not the host!
Use a Blog
So, you’ve heard about blogging and want try it, but don’t really know what it is or where to begin. Many traditional journalists (in TV, radio, magazines and newspapers) believe that blogs and other new media tools (like photocasting and Podcasting) are dramatically changing the way information is being shared. If you’d like to participate in this new forum and add your voice, this will get you started.
What is a blog? Blog is short for “web log.” It is an electronic “place” on the web for a blogger to share his or her thoughts. By creating or joining a blog, you join a “virtual community” that enables people to share their views without meeting face to face.
- How do I start my own blog? One way to create your own blog is to use the materials provided by a company called Blogger. Blogger was a small company that was recently bought by Google. On their website, www.blogger.com, Blogger claims you can create your own blog in less than five minutes for free, and get technical support if you need it. Their site is user friendly. Check it out for yourself.
- What do I do with my blog? On your blog, you post (or type) what you want to say from time to time. Keeping your blog up to date is a good idea if you want people to read your blog. You can decide whether to accept comments from others about what you have posted. Most bloggers like to hear from their readers because that’s the fun of having a blog. Although you can delete comments you don’t like (since you control the content of the blog), most bloggers prefer to post their responses to comments they receive because that is part of the dialogue. Finally, bloggers usually provide links to other peoples’ blogs on their own blog. If your blog is good, others may link to your blog, too, so you will get more visitors.
- How do I join someone else’s blog? A web search will help you find blogs you might want to participate in. Each blogger sets the rules about posting or joining that blog, so you’ll have to check the blog itself to find out what the rules are. Most blogs want people to look at them so access is free. Some blogs, though, require you to subscribe and even pay subscription fees so they can raise money to support their blog. Others have paid advertising for this purpose.
- What is a blogger network? Blogger networks are places on the web where groups of blogs are posted, so that a viewer can locate related blogs. Many blogger networks have rules that the bloggers must follow.
Meet with Your Elected Representative
If you really want to make your views known, you can arrange to meet with your elected representatives either by yourself or with a small group. No matter what their position, whether mayor or senator, your approach will be the same. You want to build a relationship with your representative so that in future they will welcome your thoughts. Always be polite but persistent and don’t feel intimidated, they are there to represent you because you are one of their constituents. Here are some tips:
- Arrange an appointment. You may be asked what you want to discuss so that they can be prepared. Depending upon their position you may meet with the official him/herself, or one of their aides.
- Before the meeting:
- Decide exactly what you want to discuss. If several people are going and more than one person wants to speak, try to avoid repetition. Have each one decide in advance what their key points are.
- Research the topic.
- Research your representative – know where he or she stands on your issues.
- Be prepared with a list of your key points, which you may want to leave with them.
- If you have found some good supporting material, an article perhaps, then take that to leave with them, too.
- During the meeting:
- Dress appropriately – how you look does make a difference
- Start by making a personal connection with your representative or their assistant
- Get down to business:
- explain why you are there
- what you see as the critical issues
- how you see them making a difference
- give them any materials you have brought with you
- Thank them for their time and service
- After the meeting – write a personal note. In that you can briefly recap your major points.