Policy Matters Blog

The Power of the Elevator Speech

The buzz of Capitol Hill was electric. There were news organizations crowding the front lobby of the Longworth building, and news personalities with camera operators lined the hallway surrounding the Ways and Means committee meeting room (where the GOP was conferencing a candidate for the Speaker of the House). There were cubbies right outside of the room that had spots for each person's cell phone (as cell phones are not allowed in these meetings), and a person guarding them stood outside of the door. Every once and a while, a Congressional representative would walk out of the room, and as they entered the hallway, they would be surrounded by media asking questions about the House speakership and what steps were next for our country.

This was the mood as school psychologists from the NASP Government Professional Relations committee made their way to the Capitol to advocate for school-based mental health services for children. We came from various states representing all regions of the United States. We represent some blue, some red, and some purple states. We come from different political and socioeconomic backgrounds, but we unite for one mission: to advocate for the mental health needs of children in our nation and to help find ways to address the critical shortage of school psychologists in places where they are needed the most!

One of the ways in which we build our advocacy skills is to encourage school psychologists to have their elevator speech. This simply means being able to keep your asks simple (only three key points) and saying them to a decision-maker in less than the ride you take in an elevator. Effective messages have a problem statement, an action/solution identified, and benefits of taking action to persuade the decision-maker. We often joke that I, as the committee chair, am often chasing down decision makers to make sure they know about the mental health needs of children and what they can do in their positions to address these needs! I didn't realize how handy that would be on this Friday morning in October.

During one of the breaks from the Republican conference on speakership, I saw my representative, Congressman Dusty Johnson (SD), walking out of the meeting room. He was immediately surrounded by media, asking him questions about the House speakership and the progress being made to address the issue. I saw him and with the help of a little push from my GPR cochair, Dr. Julia Szarko, I started walking right next to him as he answered these questions. Once we got to the elevator doors, I made a quick decision to get into the elevator with him. I had my elevator speech opportunity! In the ride on the elevator, I thanked him for his service to our country, commented how crazy it was to see such a media presence on Capitol Hill, and began to share with him why I was in D.C. as a school psychologist from South Dakota. I shared with him my key three messages:

  1. One in five kids have a diagnosable mental health disorder;
  2. Of those kids who need services, a majority of those kids receive services in schools; and
  3. We have a critical shortage of school psychologists necessary to meet this need.

I spoke with him about how my university was awarded a federal Mental Health Professional Demonstration Grant to address the critical need of school psychologists in our state. What was so powerful about this quick conversation was, because I had previously had meetings with his staffers, he knew about our grant and how they were affecting the shortage of school psychologists in South Dakota! I urged his support for continued funding of these shortages grants, and I even had the opportunity to get a quick picture with him before he was swept away by another meeting.

Being able to share information quickly and accurately with invested parties about the needs of children and how we, as school psychologists, can meet those needs is a foundational advocacy skill that requires PRACTICE! I say all of this to you, whether you are new to advocacy or a seasoned pro, to help you understand that we are always in training to strengthen our advocacy skills. You can use the advocacy tips and prewritten key messages from NASP's Policy Playbook to craft your own elevator speech. You never know who might get into the elevator with you when you need to share the message.