As a member of Congress, hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals crossed my desk during my time in office. On average, a member of the House represents 700,000 constituents – which means Congress and their staff are filtering through approximately 250 proposals every year.
Therefore the need to break through the noise and stand out is paramount to getting heard. It’s simply the first challenge, a major one at that, to be overcome when submitting an idea to the state or federal government. After 22 years in office, I recommend asking yourself these five questions before presenting a proposal:
Do I Have the Right Connection?
Building a better mousetrap is rendered fruitless unless the right people review your idea. Knowing who to talk to and getting your proposal in front of their eyes is the first obstacle. This is one of the most difficult steps in the entire proposal process. After all, there’s no point in spending the time and energy crafting a meaningful proposal if it’s never read by those you intended it for – those who can turn it into something actionable.
If you don’t maintain a relationship with the relevant leadership, you’ll need to:
- Enlist the help of a contact who has that connection
- Develop the relationship yourself by going to town hall meetings, fundraisers, or other events your target Representative attends
- Visit the district office and engage the staff with the goal of setting up a meeting
- Hire a lobbying/consulting firm who already has those contacts
Is My Message Precise?
From the first word you put down, you have 60 seconds to capture interest or your words will be filed away and most likely never acted upon. So get to the point immediately. If your proposal takes an exhaustive amount of time to paint the picture, your audience will never embrace it. Be precise, stay on point, and deliver a concise, digestible overview. There’s simply no time for a college-level lecture – explain your idea in terms that can be easily understood.
And, avoid using a PowerPoint presentation or any other type of comprehensive material for any initial meeting. Those are better suited for leave behind pieces when you have the opportunity for a more in-depth discussion with the staff. After all, you should know the material and key points well enough that a full-length presentation isn’t necessary.
Have I Rehearsed and Revised Enough?
Odds are you won’t have more than a few minutes to present your idea, so rehearse and revise the presentation with a focus on delivering the most valuable details in the shortest amount of time. When I would hold proposal meetings, they were scheduled to last fifteen minutes. This fostered the delivery of clear, concise proposals.
Your opening sentence is crucial to success. If it doesn’t pique interest, losing the attention of the room is inevitable. Clearly state your message from the start, with enthusiasm and purpose.
Do I Really Believe in What I am Presenting?
Be completely engaged. You need to believe in what you are presenting, and not be caught up in just selling it. If you aren’t excited about your idea, no one else will be either.
A few years ago, a man approached me on an airplane with an innovative idea regarding U.S. Defense. This person was confident, knowledgeable and truly believed in the subject matter, which incited me to take his request to the committee. Shortly after that, he was invited to present in front of that committee in Washington D.C. The man’s background? He didn’t hail from one of the big defense contractors, he was simply passionate and professional in his delivery. And his proposal was ultimately accepted.
Am I Respectful of Their Time?
While responding to the needs of constituents is the first priority for any elected government official, there are thousands of people clamoring to be heard at any given moment. Therefore, be respectful of their time – arrive early for the appointment, get to the point quickly and be prepared to end on time. And always make sure you allow enough time for questions and discussion.
While serving as the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a meeting I had with the Ambassador of Japan illustrates the above point. At the outset, he politely thanked me for my time, and then proceeded to outline his proposal. I thought the proposal was a good idea and began to question him further on a few details. However, fully aware that we reached the end of our allotted time, the Ambassador stood up, thanked me again for my time and noted he didn’t want to encroach upon the rest of my day. Therefore, he asked if another date could be scheduled to further the discussion. I appreciated how considerate he was, and as a result I took the initiative to follow-up and continue our discussions.
After 22 years in Congress and participating in hundreds of proposal presentations, I can tell you that navigating the proposal process in Congress can be daunting. However, with diligent preparation – which includes asking yourself the aforementioned questions – along with a healthy dose of persistence, it’s possible to “Stand Out” and make the process far less challenging.
Chairman Howard P. “Buck”” McKeon served the 25th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years. During that time he served as Chairman on both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He is now Chairman and CEO of McKeon Group, a company that provides strategic analysis, public relations, advocacy and comprehensive government relations for its clients.