There’s four and a half weeks left in my internship – that’s all! While I’m feeling slightly panicked (“I’ve got to find a job!”) and busy trying to get everything wrapped up (“Cross that off the ‘To-do’ list! What’s next?”), I’m actually very excited. I’ve been enjoying my internship, but I’m looking forward to finishing it and getting back into the “real world” and hopefully having a real job again.
I’ll be entering my staff relief rotation soon and I’ll be staffing the General Medicine/Surgery in-patient clinic, as well as some coverage for the new SCI unit in that hospital. I’m very excited about that. But before I get you caught up on my internship rotations (I’ve got to post about Nutrition Outpatient Counseling, Geriatrics, Home Based Primary Care, Cardiology, St. Luke’s, and the one I’m currently in – HPDP) and projects, I really want to tell you about Public Policy Workshop.
Because I LOVED it.
Yeah, I know it was a month ago, but better late than never, right? Truth be told, I’ve tried to write this post several times and I started multiple drafts, but something always seems to take precedence. However,
tomorrow’s today’s Legislative Day for the Missouri Academy and I’ll be headed to Jefferson City with a bunch of other Missouri Academy members, so I really feel like I need to get this posted NOW, if only so I can review what I learned at PPW so I can put all my advocacy skills into practice tomorrow later today.
What is Public Policy Workshop? Public Policy Workshop (PPW) is a three day conference held in Washington, DC. At PPW, RDs and other Academy members learn valuable skills in communication and advocacy. There are talks from wonderful guest speakers and panels featuring RDs covering a range of important topics. On the last official day of the conference, Academy members “hit the hill” and meet with their elected officials in the Senate and the House of Representatives in a collective movement to advocate for important nutrition policy.
Not everyone gets to go to PPW, so I really wanted to share my experience at PPW. This will be a really long post, as I took a lot of notes and a lot of pictures.
This year, PPW was held Sunday, March 30 through Tuesday, April 1, 2014. I didn’t want to have to rush from airport to conference and risk being late, so I flew to DC the day before. Other members of the Missouri delegation went even earlier. But we were doing PPW-related things long before we got to DC! Before PPW officially kicks off, the Academy sends out a link to everyone that’s registered for PPW. That link gives access to the PPW Community of Interest (CoI), which has a huge library of useful handouts and a message board where members can post tips and updates. Some of the posted handouts are overviews and key points of the bills the Academy wants members to talk about to elected officials. The students and interns in the Missouri delegation were all tasked to become familiar with the bills and do some research on how the bills affect Missouri and, more specifically, St. Louis, since most of us were coming from the St. Louis area. We had many emails going back and forth before the conference and met to discuss logistics of the trip.
I also watched a lot of my favorite episodes of The West Wing and all of Alpha House.
Yes, I consider those two an important part of my preparation process for PPW 2014.
Day one of PPW, Sunday, March 30th, began with registration. Even though it was possible to check in the day before, I had spent the afternoon exploring DC. When you check in at PPW, you get a badge and a very official looking folder. Inside the folder is your schedule and all the handouts that were shared in the CoI. During the sign up process for PPW, you choose whether or not you are “Beginner/Intermediate” or “Advanced” level and that affects your schedule. Since this was my first PPW, I signed up for the “Beginner/Intermediate” level. The other thing your schedule tells you is what table you’re sitting at. I was at the “Missouri/Montana” table, while other members of the Missouri delegation were at the “Missouri” table. (We didn’t necessarily stick to the assigned tables, but we were still nearby) Also included in the folder was guides to getting around DC and maps of the Capitol.
Day one started with a tribute to military RDs, which was pretty awesome. Then it was the Academy Presidential Address from Glenna McCollum, the Academy President. She encouraged us to stay aware and provide input when possible on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, reminded us that the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act is up for renewal, and gave us a quick rundown of what the Academy has labeled “Targeted Priorities” and what the goals were for each. “Advocacy increases our credibility and our visibility” was one statement she made and I agree. She encouraged us all to share our time at PPW on social media platforms. Which, the St. Louis crew definitely did. As soon as McCollum encouraged us all to use social media, my fellow intern turned to me and asked for help setting up a Twitter account. So, I did and she took to Twitter like a total pro, too.
Joy Bauer took the stage next and wow…she is an amazing speaker. I don’t have TV so I don’t exactly keep up with the daytime shows, so I wasn’t really familiar with Bauer’s work. I’ve now borrowed one of her books from the library to see if I like it and I’ve watched a few more of her clips on YouTube, because she impressed me that much with her talk. She is really motivating and super energetic. Bauer’s talk was on delivering effective messages. I took a whole two pages of notes during her talk, but the key points, I think, from her talk were:
- Lead with a powerful opening
- Think direct and consolidated
- Keep it fresh
- Find the positive: empower the audience (I loved this point so much, because sometimes I feel that so much of being in dietetics is empowering someone and helping them realize their own abilities)
- Pictures can have a huge impact
- Provide clear action steps/takeaways for the audience (but keep it to four or less!)
- Practice! Practice! Practice!
Next up was a panel of RDs who gave advice on how to deliver high impact messages in a short amount of time. A lot of their points were similar to Bauer’s talk, but there wasn’t overlap – it was very complementary. One of my favorite notes from this panel was “PPW = Powerful, Persuasive Words.” I thought it was a good acronym, easily remembered by everyone there. They also talked about bridging and deflecting and encouraged the audience to have phrases ready to bring the conversation back to where you want it to be. Phrases like “I just read a study” or “This reminds me” to bring the conversation back to the message you’re trying to deliver. This has already come in handy to me when speaking with patients.
Also, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention that both Bauer’s and the panel’s talk reinforced that it is extremely important to never give a made up answer about something you don’t know about. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it is really very critical to say “I don’t know the answer” which can be followed up with “…but I’ll be glad to look it up for you” or even “..but I know another RD who specializes in that and I’ll be glad to ask her/him for you.” Never make up an answer. Just… don’t.
Then it was some networking time, lunch (which was a super popular event!), more networking, and then time for afternoon panels. Since the event staff needed to reset the room before and after meals, we were all kicked out of the room for networking which led to some really crowded hallways. The afternoon talks were all about the three bills the Academy wanted us to talk to our representatives about (Older Americans Act, Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, and Preventive Health Savings Act). At the afternoon talks, we got some phrases and statistics to use, advice on how to deliver the key messages about each bill, and opportunities to practice delivering the messages at our tables. Then a wrap up talk from the Academy President full of encouragement. The evening events were all optional, and since I love DC and wanted to check out some more exhibits (really, any spare time I had was spent in downtown DC or on the National Mall) I called it a day for my first PPW. Except, I went through all the handouts and notes before going to bed.
Day kicked off with a working breakfast, the National Anthem, Color Guard, and an update about how much money had been raised for ANDPAC. We also got a challenge to get to $25K raised, which, of course, was beat by the end of the day with a $26K+ total, I believe. Also, the phrase “If dietetics is your profession, then policy should be your passion!” got updated to “If dietetics is your profession, then policy MUST be your passion!”
The first panel of Day 2 was an amazing panel. It was a panel of RDs who had or were holding elected office. That’s right – RDs who were politicians. As someone who owns multiple copies of “All Politics is Local” and “Nine and Counting” (among other political inspiration books, but those two are my favorites), hearing from RDs who were voted into office by the general public was AWESOME. Panelists were Libby Coates (Mayor of Thornton, AR), Jackie Sergent (Mayor of Oxford, NC -she’s a Tarheel and a Blue Devil? House divided indeed!), Martha McLeod (State Legislator) and Carol Pitts (former State Legislator). Some notes I took during that panel:
- The people who come prepared are the winners
- Being involved is key – get started at the local level and make changes there
- Every single person on the panel said the skills they learned in food service/admin were extremely helpful to them being successful as elected officials
- The bottom line is economic vitality and the well-being of your community
- If it will carve into budget obligations, then no one will support it
- If your community is healthy, your economy will be healthy, too. If you have a healthy community, you have economic vitality and you can bring in other companies if the community is appealing to live in.
- Don’t underestimate the young people
- Don’t forget to praise your elected official
- Never give up. Never stop trying to persuade someone until the vote has been completed.
- Create the framework to make the message relevant to the person you’re speaking with
- Make it personal, know it well, and believe completely in what you’re trying to promote and you’ll find the words
- Everyone goes into office for all the right reasons
This was followed by our workshops which were split by level of expertise. The Academy members seasoned in advocacy went to a panel titled “Show Me the Money!” while us newbies went to a panel titled “Advocacy…It’s All About Messaging.” I’m not joking in the slightest when I say I took three pages of notes for this talk – there was a lot of information to process. The talk was from Kathleen Zelman. Some key points from this talk were:
- Follow-up! Things fall off the table. You’ll have 80-90% success if you follow up.
- Be ready to deliver your message in any circumstance. You may have to “walk and talk.”
- All practitioners must also be effective communicators. Not only do you create an impression of yourself, you create an impression of all RDs.
- Have a message map to assist in creating talking points relating to the issue you want to promote
- Key it simple, preferably to three key messages. Concepts in threes are more interesting. Speech writers insert pauses at intervals of three.
- Tell a story, but make sure it has all the elements of a good story – quick, concise, compelling, memorable, evocative imagery and language, realistic, relevant, and has a surprise or inspiration
- The checklist for this talk was: short memorable soundbites, be persuasive, do your homework, practice a natural delivery, positive body language and professional look, make it fun and friendly, personalize it, tell stories, props never hurt, and don’t forget to smile.
Then it was lunch, which, since it was Monday, was vegetarian in honor of Meatless Monday which is now ten years old. At this lunch, I also got to go up on stage because I won the Public Policy Workshop Video Contest and I got a snazzy glass award. Everyone seemed to enjoy my video and there was some slight giggling as many of the Missouri Academy members kept running up to take pictures. See, I hadn’t told many of them about the award – just two, my fellow VA intern and my local PPC. So it was a complete surprise to the rest of the Missouri group. After lunch was the Concurrent Sessions and we had a choice between attending “Consumer and Community Issues that Impact Food and Nutrition” or “Policy Issues that Impact the Profession.” I chose to go to the policy issues talk which seemed to focus a lot on nutrition informatics. Which was perfectly fine with me, since I am a member of that CoI and I hope to take the 10×10 course after becoming an RD. If you aren’t a member of the Nutrition Informatics CoI, I highly recommend joining.
Then we all got back together for a nice talk about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects RDs. The phrase “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu” really resonated with me as a highlight of the talk. RDs need to do the footwork to find out if insurance in your area will cover visits to the RD and, if they are covered, to publicize it. RDs need to be aware of the ins and outs of insurance as it pertains to the dietetics profession. As more and more patients will ask about the Affordable Care Act and as the different parts of the ACA go into effect, it becomes critical that RDs are familiar with the ACA.
The evening wrapped up with an inspirational “Go, get ’em!” speech from the Academy president and we all went to bed that night excited for Day 3, which was the day we “hit the Hill.”
This was the day we charged the Hill! The morning started off with some networking and chatting, since some RDs had asked me for my video so I was trying to make sure everyone who wanted a copy to take with them to their meetings had a copy. Plus, I took advantage of the “Morning Coffee with Academy Staff Experts” before meeting with the rest of the Missouri group and got to chat with a couple of people from the DC branch office of the Academy. The Missouri group reviewed our game plan for the day and then we all charged on over to the Metro and headed to the Capitol.
Since we were a decently large group and we wanted to visit with as many Representatives as we could, we split up in the morning and visited our respective Representatives. My groups never actually got to meet the Representatives – we met with their Aides – but one of the other groups got to meet with a couple of Representatives. In every office, we made sure to talk about the three bills we were encouraging support for (Older Americans Act, Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, and Preventive Health Savings Act). Each group had a leader that did most of the talking, but everyone else had stories and facts to back things up. At each office, we made sure to talk up the key points on each bill, use some of the catchphrases, ask for support, and leave the handouts on the bills. And, of course, we always thanked them for their time and support.
The visits go fast. It really is a good idea to practice as a group and get your flow down just right. I got to see one of the more experienced RDs demonstrate really good bridging and redirect the conversation back to the bill when the aide we were talking with got a little defensive. I was really impressed with her technique and made a mental note to remember what she did and put it into practice if I’m ever in the same situation.
After our morning visits with the Representatives, we all got back together for lunch, discussion of how the meetings went, and things we wanted to make sure to do for the afternoon meetings with our Senators. (I also wish I could’ve taken pictures in the Senate cafeteria – they had healthy options!) We all attended both visits which meant we ended up in pretty big conference areas for both visits. Since there were so many of us at these Senate visits, not all of us got to talk. The Seante visits seemed a little more laid back than the morning visits with the Representatives. Again, we met with Aides, but the more experienced RDs in our delegation already knew the the Aides and one of the RDs knew one Aide personally, so the visits felt a little more relaxed than the morning visits.
After the visits, we all had some time before our flights so we posed for pictures and then took off exploring. (I really love some of our photos from this day.)
PPW didn’t fully end with the Hill visits, though. On the airport shuttle, everyone was there for PPW so we talked on the way to the airport. Then, while I was waiting for my flight, I spoke with another intern and heard about his experiences on the Hill. It was interesting to note that everyone approaches the visits to the Hill differently. How you talk with your elected officials definitely will vary based on experience, personality, and mood – both of you and of your elected official.
- Wear super comfy shoes. You’re walking everywhere. Make sure you break those shoes in before you head to DC.
- Practice, practice, practice! Your handshake, your outfits, your mannerisms, your talk as a group (if you’re with a group)… practice everything.
- Take business cards. You’ll want to give them to everyone. Take more than you think you’ll need or have a backup plan (like I did- running to Kinko’s) to get more.
- Know the bills.
- DC is awesome. I love it and it’s got a lot to do so you may want to research the current exhibits, shows, etc, before you go and spend an extra day or two there.
- Buy your metro pass before you go to DC. You can buy one online and have it sent before your trip. If you don’t buy it before you go to DC, buy it early in your trip. You don’t want to be in line for tickets/passes when you’re supposed to be meeting with an elected official.
- Make sure everyone in your group trades phone numbers before the trip.
- Carry a snack bar or some fruit with you. You may not have time between meetings to grab some food.
- Budget extra money for everything. DC has a pretty high cost of living and everything costs a little more. I had to print some things and wow, super expensive!
- Research your officials before you go. There’s no public wireless at the Capitol, so you’ll be using your data plan if you need to look something up on your phone.
- Seek funding for your trip to PPW everywhere! Your DPGs, your local association, your state association, the Academy on the national level, dietetics magazines- everywhere! Remember, most awards/funding opportunities go un-awarded since no one bothers to enter- which is sometimes just filling out a single form! Take the time to fill out those forms and enter those contests – you never know when it might pay off.
Definitely go to PPW if you get the chance. It’s a blast and absolutely inspiring.
For more pictures, check out the SLDA Google+ page and Twitter account. And of course, the Twitter accounts of four of the Missouri delegation – Jocelyn Smith, Kyleigh Kirbach, Lauren Landfried, and mine. And, yeah, Jocelyn was brand new to Twitter at PPW, but she started the very awesome “#NutritionPolicyRocks” hastag.