Well. This is it folks, 57 days left. A lot of us are already doing outreach, and hopefully a bunch more will follow suit. Having spent the majority of the last 3 years canvassing/phonebanking to pay my bills, Id like to offer some helpful tips. A lot of it is pretty commonsensical but for first timers, outreach can be intimidating. Even for folks like myself who make their livelihood doing it, it can still be an up and down experience. Follow me after the jump for some good things to remember....
Update: Let me be clear here, please check with the Obama campaign and co-ordinate with them. These are tips I have used for my own "personal canvassing" (talking to people I know, family friends, and people who live in my apartment building) as well as throughout my career canvassing for a number of different campaigns.
Before canvassing/phonebanking, make sure to check in to the Obama campaign's page (or similar page for any group you are associating yourself with). You should always know who you want to talk to and what you want to tell them, and the Obama campaign should have enough info for you.
- Make sure to check your local laws! Like it or not, some people HATE canvassers. Or they are suspicious. This goes doubly after sunset. As the days shorten, and night comes sooner, you may be spending more time canvassing in dusk/night conditions. Know what your town's laws are. Some towns will require to you register with the town, some will be ok with it. Again, this is stuff that the Obama campaign may be able to help you with, otherwise contact your town hall
- Dress to impress! Seriously. Remember, people who you canvass often look through their peephole or out through a window. Make sure you look as "nice" as possible. I make it a point to cover my tattoos and keep my facial hair as neatly trimmed as possible. First impressions matter! This is especially true when you are representing a political candidate.
- Dress for the weather! This should be common sense, but for those of us in the northeast, canvassing in November can be tough. Water proof shoes are good, check your weather forecast before heading out.
- Know your stuff! Like any speech, sales pitch, presentation or oral report you've ever done in your life. You will come off stronger if you rely as little as possible on "cue cards" or other aids. That said, I find visuals help. Carry a clipboard, maybe with some graphs (the chart with the tax plan differences is a big winner I've found).
- Leave some info, if possible. I'm not sure what the Obama campaign's official policy is on this (if anyone knows let me know), but leaving info for people to mull over when you leave is a good idea
- DON'T GET DISCOURAGED! Sorry for the caps, but this is the biggest obstacle people face. Whether it is "Get off my lawn!" or getting a door slammed in your face, or "Obama is a radical Muslim OMG". Some people are unreachable. Know when to cut your losses and move on. Don't waste 20 minutes trying to convince a racist that Obama is a good guy. Thats a couple of more open-minded people you are missing. Just smile, and ALWAYS thank them for their time - even if you are thinking to yourself "what an ass!" Smile, smile, and smile some more. Convey your enthusiasm for Obama and his platform. Every time someone yells at me or slams a door in my face, I just focus on how great the next person is going to be.
- Don't misrepresent yourself. Make sure they know exactly who (if anyone) you are affiliated with.
- Bring snacks/bottle water/backpack. If you plan on canvassing for awhile, take a break when needed and bring supplies. Canvassing on an empty stomach is never fun and may sap you of your much needed energy. (if you are a smoker like myself, I suggest not smoking right before you ring someones bell, rigid non-smokers may not want to get close enough to talk to someone who stinks of smoke)
- Practice, practice, practice. Practice in front of the mirror, practice in front of your significant other, practice in front of a stuffed animal. Just practice!
- Make a human connection! If someone is holding a baby, or a dog comes to the door, I always like to say "aww what a cute dog!" or whatever. Make your target comfortable with you. Talk freely, no speed talking (a bad habit when youre nervous). If someone says "Im too busy making dinner (ah yes, and it smells delicious!)" reassure them it will take just a minute, or ask them if you can come back. Usually they say no, in which case, ask them if you can leave some info (even if it is just a list of websites to check out)
- Do your research. Get a list of voting locations, and a list of local rules and regulations on voting. Make SURE you remind people of places to vote/times you can vote.
A lot of the same tips, but some additional:
- Be prepared to be hated. Folks, a lot of your targets live in swing states. They have been getting called by Senate campaigns, the RNC, DNC, pollsters, McCain, Obama....some get called 7 times a night! A lot of people will hang up on you quickly. Forget it and move on. People also say FAR nastier things to you on the phone. That's their right. It sucks sometimes. You may get called all sorts of horrible things. DO NOT let it get to you. We all know there are plenty of jerks out there.
- Politeness ESPECIALLY counts on the phone. These people can't see you to know you're a good guy/gal. Remember your "Sir"s, "Ma'am"s etc. It feels corny to some, but I assure you it can work.
- Have info in front of you, but don't appear to be reading. Remember, you want to be conversational. You're SELLING Obama, think of it as a sales pitch. Give clear, concise reasons to vote Obama (or to register to vote)
- Time is limited. People are quick to hang up. Get to the point, make sure you have a good "hook" to keep them interested
- Volume, volume, volume. Calling people is pretty quick, most people do NOT want to have a 20 minute conversation with you. Some will, and those people should treated well. But they're rare. Like I mentioned above, don't waste time with people who are "unmovable". Spend as much time as possible on fence-sitters. We all love Obama, but spending 20 minutes talking to a rock-solid Obama voter is not the most effective use of time.
More contributions are welcomed!
I know canvassing/phonebanking isn't for everyone. It can be nerve wracking,emotionally draining and incredibly frustrating. But for those of you who feel uncomfortable doing this work, what is more important to you? Your anxiety of talking to a stranger at their door? or a McCain/Palin presidency. The stakes are WAY too high to let the butterflies in your stomach prevent you from talking to your fellow Americans.
This is our time, our chance. Let's get out there and spread the TRUTH about our candidate.
UPDATE: A good "hook" is something to get your listener interested. It could be a fun fact, like "Did you know Barack Obama has worked with republicans on important legislation (pick one you think will work"). It could be an emotional connection, if you're at someones door "Thats a cute dog, I have a dog myself and the Bush/McCain economy is even making pet food more expensive!". On the phone, listen for clues as to how to connect. If someone clearly sounds like a senior, have a quick fact explaining Obama's stance on matching retirement funds up to 1000 (check Biden's speach in Philly). Or if someone says they are a senior, perhaps mention that you are taking care of your senior mother. Whatever the case may be. I don't particularly like dogs (probably came from canvassing too much!), but I've found people LOVE talking about them. All my targets think Im a huge dog lover :)
Another good tip: Canvassing alone, especially in unfamiliar places or at night can be anxiety producing for some people. Bring a friend! Remember to introduce them though. It's a little weird if only one person introduces themselves! As mentioned below, this is a good way to keep morale up.
Know your "turf". Canvassing in places with spread out houses can be tough on your legs. Bring a car, although it can be sketchy parking in front of someones house. Try parking in a central location. Pick up a cheap map at your local gas station and plan a route. Maximize the number of houses you can hit. If you live in a small town where everyone knows everyone, you can perhaps leave more personalized info at houses where no one is home "This is Jack Stevens from Evergreen street, just stopped by to talk to you about this exciting election, check out this info!"
Along the same lines, mark down houses where no one is home, come back later or another day.
Personalize your message. If someone has a "God bless our troops" sticker on their car in the driveway, maybe tailor your message to the war. If they have a huge flag on their doorstep, hammer home that Obama loves America (not in those words). If you see a hybrid parked outside, say "hey I couldnt help but notice that Prius! Did you know Obama is going to help create new hybrid/alternative fuel cars...right HERE in America." etc. You've all probably heard the speeches, you should know what are good Obama talking points.