Phonebanking: It’s Not as Scary as You Think

There are some important special elections coming up to fill the seats of members of Congress who left to serve in the Trump administration. We need to support candidates who’ve taken positions in line with our initiatives. Besides sending donations, we can make a big impact by phone banking – calling voters in their districts. Phone banking provides an opportunity to communicate and reinforce the candidate’s message with a large group of voters in a short amount of time. And it’s something you can do remotely.

Whether it’s your first rodeo or you’re a seasoned pro, phone banking can be tough. The anxiety of talking to strangers (some of whom might not be thrilled to talk with you) and the feeling of responsibility to your campaign and candidate can leave you feeling a little apprehensive about sitting down and dialing that first number.

Knowledge is power. Let’s put those fears to rest.

Who am I calling?

Campaigns get lists of voters to call from the political party and/or public voting records. That means you’ll be calling likely supporters who tend to vote regularly.
Admittedly, the lists aren’t perfect. In the rare event you get a voter who supports the opponent, all you need to do is say thank you and hang up; you don’t need to get into a debate. Occasionally, the voter will just hang up in your face. Don’t take it personally; it wasn’t anything you did. Just move on to the next call.

What do I say?

The campaign provides a script for you to follow. There are three types of calls:

ONE: Voter identification – Find out who supports your candidate. The script is quick and straightforward: Do you intend to vote for my candidate? You record the voter’s response, selecting from the categories provided. If they’re a strong supporter, there may be a follow-up question asking if they want to volunteer.

TWO: Persuasion – This is a call to someone who is undecided. Unless you’re an experienced phone banker, it’s unlikely you would be asked to make this type of call.

THREE: GOTV – Get Out the Vote. This is the type of call you make within a few days of the election to make sure your supporters follow through and vote. The script will lead you through a series of questions to ask that are designed to help the voter make a plan to get to the polls. That may sound silly, but it’s easy to get caught up in your daily routine and forget that it’s an election day.
Make sure you read the script out loud a few times before you start making calls. You want to sound like you’re talking, not reading. If you’re with another phone banker, it helps to do some role-playing to get used to responding. The more comfortable you are with the script, the more comfortable you’ll be when you’re talking to real voters.

How do I make it fun?

Seriously? Yes, it can be fun.

Do it with friends. No, it’s not a conference call. But you can get together while you make individual calls. Gather in a coffee shop or restaurant with WiFi; make a sip of that latte’ your incentive. Or meet in someone’s home and reward yourselves with pizza and beer when you’re done.

Make a game out of it. Put candy (jelly beans?) in a bowl, and ration out one piece for every five calls.

If you’re calling with a group, pass around a hotel call bell. Ring it a few times when you get five positive responses and then pass it along.

My top ten tips:

1. Set a goal for how long you’ll make calls. I stick to about three hours at a time, though I take time-outs to visit the bathroom or refresh my beverage. This helps you make a commitment to the task, but it also sets a limit – I can make it until then.

2. Allow five rings before you hang up.

3. Smile and dial. People can hear smiles. That’s because your facial expression changes both the way you feel and the way you sound. If you’re smiling, you’re going to feel better and sound more enthusiastic on the phone, and that will have a big effect on the conversations you have. Set up a small mirror to check yourself. (No, you’re not being vain.)

4. Don’t give people easy outs when you start the conversation. The answer to “Can I ask you a few questions?” or “Do you have a few minutes?” is almost always “NO.”

5. The script is a baseline. Your goal is to figure out which way someone’s considering voting. Be friendly, make it a conversation, and get the necessary information.

6. Avoid getting into a debate. You’re not going to convince that voter to change, and they’re just wasting your time. Say thank you and hang up.

7. Don’t badmouth other candidates unless they do first.

8. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Refer them to the candidate’s website. There may be a spot to record a note, and someone else will return the call.

9. Don’t stress over a call you think went badly. The good news is that that person doesn’t know you and you’ll never have to talk to them again. Think about what went wrong and how to do it better next time, but don’t dwell on it or beat yourself up. There are always other voters.

10. Okay, I ran out. Send me yours!