How to: Speak OUT



Writing A Letter 

…To the Editor of A Newspaper or Magazine 

  •  Clarity

Your letter should be relevant and in direct response to a recent item carried in that publication. Make sure to clearly identify your reference so that everyone knows what you are talking about. E.g.: Congratulations to your reporter, Jill Smith, for her excellent article on mental illness (March 18, Page A2—“No Place to Go.”)

  • Timeliness

Remember, time counts! The biggest mistake people make when responding to a news item is  taking too long to reply. The topic will only be “news” for a short while, so it’s VERY important to get your response in immediately. E-mail, fax, courier, or personal hand delivery should all be considered – regular mail is too slow.

  • Don’t Fuss

Don’t worry too much about small errors in grammar or spelling. It’s the editors’ job to fix these—and they will. On the other hand, even if you think your letter is absolutely perfect, you must be prepared to have it changed. Publishers always reserve the right to edit for brevity and clarity.

  • Use Some “I” Statements

It helps to add a personal touch. Using “I” statements helps the reader know why you took the time and trouble to write. E.g., “I usually enjoy John Jones’ column, but…”  or  “Ms. Smith’s article about homeless people with mental illness touched me deeply…” or  “As the father of a 35 year old son with schizophrenia…

  • Brevity
  1. Make it short! This isn’t as easy as it sounds, but you can learn to do it with practice.
  2. Take some time to check out the letters the paper usually publishes.
  3. Don’t waste your time sending something too long or complex. Busy editorial staff won’t read it.

A famous French literary figure (Mme. de Sevigny) once wrote to a friend, “Please

forgive this too long letter; I had no time to write a short.” It takes time and effort to write a short, clear letter. You may need to re-write your original letter 5, 6 or 7 times to make it short! Don’t be discouraged. This is the normal process.

  • Test Your “Product”

Ask as many people as possible (at least two) to read your finished letter. Even people who did not see the original article you’re referring to should be able to clearly understand your meaning. 

Good Luck!       

 Arranging a Meeting

…With Your MLA (Member of the BC Legislative Assembly)

MLA’s are local people elected by you and your neighbours to represent your community in Parliament. Your vote and your tax dollars are important to them – so your MLA will appreciate hearing about issues that concern you. They can be very helpful in advocating on behalf of people with schizophrenia and their families.

  • Call your MLA’s constituency office (check online or  blue page listings in phone book for the number.) Arrange a meeting date. Tell the staff about the issues you want to discuss.
  • Write a note or e-mail confirming the date, time, and place of the meeting. Also confirm the exact amount of time the meeting will last.
  • You can send ahead any material or brochures that might be necessary or helpful, along with a covering letter. If you do this, call to confirm that they have received it.
  • The ideal number for a lobby group is three people. One person can lead the delegation (preferably they will hold a title within your Branch —President, V.P., Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Chair, etc.) Another person should be responsible for taking notes at the meeting and keeping an eye on the time. This “timekeeper” will need to be assertive enough to keep everyone focused and on topic. This is to ensure that at least half the allotted time is used for getting direct answers from your MLA.
  • Role-play for your meeting ahead of time. A practice session can help you organize important details. For example: Who will head the delegation? What issues will be discussed? Who will ask the questions? Who will keep time and take notes?
  • Try not to leave without some commitment to your issue(s). It may be an agreement to re-read your material and get back to you in a week with a response. It may be stated support for some of your concerns, but not all. It may be a direct “No, sorry, I can’t help.” Or, it may be complete agreement to take some specific action to champion your entire agenda. Don’t be surprised… this happens more often than you think. Remember, you do have a worthy cause!
  • Debrief Immediately after the meeting! Go for coffee together and evaluate what happened. This is important because lobbying politicians can be a disconcerting experience. By debriefing immediately, you can give each other support, identify the positive aspects of the meeting, and sort out any “mixed messages.” You can even plan how you might have done things better if you had another chance. This will help you in future meetings.
  • Within two days, write an email or letter thanking your MLA for taking time to meet with you. Put in writing your recollection of any agreements reached.