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Tricks of the Trade: What House of Cards Can Teach Us About Communicating

No matter your job or industry, you should talk like a Washington lobbyist.
Yes, you read that right. And now you’re probably thinking, “But I’m not anything like Remy on House of Cards!”

I get it. The term “lobbyist” is a mixed bag these days. And maybe you don’t see the parallels to your current job – especially if you work outside of the Beltway.  

But even if you work in financial services or at a tech startup, I can assure you there’s lots to learn from Washington lobbyists when it comes to being an effective communicator.

Whether they’re advocating for relaxed regulations or more funding for the arts, their goal is the same: persuade to get the results they need. And if you spend any time reading about the gridlock on Capitol Hill, you know advancing legislation is no easy task—unless you’re a master of language.

With usually 10 minutes or less to meet with a busy Hill staffer balancing the work of four people, a lobbyist must be the “three C’s” – clear, concise, and convincing – to be effective. If they haven’t told a persuasive story, the interests of the people they represent won’t be heard.    

Just like that Hill staffer, your customers are juggling competing priorities, and your time for their attention is limited. So to maximize your impact, you also have to be masters of language. Because the words you use to advocate for your business matter.  

How can you put on your best lobbyist face and be a better communicator? Here are a few tips:

BE CLEAR: If there’s anything lobbyists are good at, it’s cutting to the chase. So if you’re launching a new product or responding to criticism, don’t beat around the bush. Tell your audience what the issue is, and how you’re going to address it.

BE CONCISE: Rather than throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the conversation, lobbyists share only a few key points to support their position. Why? Because those busy Hill staffers won’t remember more, and neither will your customers.

BE CONVINCING: No good lobbyist goes to a meeting without a solution that will benefit the office’s constituents. The same goes for your customers. They need to know why they should care, not just that what you’re offering is better.

…BUT DON’T GO OVERBOARD: Many lobbyists leave behind one-pagers that staffers can refer to later on. Maybe your customers want more information too. That’s why you could direct them to a website or other research. Those who want to learn more will take advantage of the opportunity. But if they don’t, they’ll still appreciate your transparency.

And one final lobbyist “trick of the trade” that we all should follow:

BE COMPELLING: Lobbyists know that relationships matter; that’s why they’ll check in with their contacts often to stay relevant. The relationship you have with your customers is just as important, especially if you want to stay top of mind. Staying engaged with them is easier than ever in today’s social media-driven world, so connect with them – and connect often.  

Now that you have the basics down, how would you transform yourself into a lobbyist? How would you tell your story? 

Written by Nicole Nichols, Director at maslansky + partners