There may come a time when you are called upon to present a position on a piece of legislation or proposed rules. How do you convince public officials that your opinion is vital to their pending decision? The following tips will help you present your views most effectively.
- Verify Time and Type of Testimony
Legislative committees have specific times assigned for their meetings. However, it is wise to call the office of the committee chairman a few days before your testimony to verify the time and location of the committee meeting. Also, be sure the committee is scheduled to hear the type of testimony you plan to provide (i.e. proponent, opponent, or interested party).
- Know the Committee
A listing of committee members and their districts is usually available on the state’s legislative website. Review this to familiarize yourself with legislators on the committee in the event you must address them by name during your testimony. Also, contact the committee staff to determine if a legislator has a personal history with your issue.
- Know Your Issue
Preparation is the key to any good presentation. Before testifying, thoroughly research your issue. Determine who supports your issue and the arguments that may be made by opponents. The more you know, the more persuasive your testimony will be for legislators.
- Format Your Written Testimony
This format is commonly used:
TESTIMONY OF __________________
In Support/Opposition of Issue
Name of Committee
Date of Presentation
Begin with an introduction – A good example is: “Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today. My name is (include your name, title, and the company you are representing).” You may want to include a brief description of your company or your qualifications.
State your position – “We support/oppose (issue or bill number) because . . .”
Back up your position – Use facts and examples.
- Arrive Early
Plan to arrive at least 1 hour before the committee is scheduled to convene. Once you are in the hearing room, obtain and complete a witness slip. These forms are usually found on or near the podium. They ask for your name, the organization you are representing, and the bill your testimony concerns. After completing the form, return it to the committee secretary. The chairman will call your name when it is your turn to testify.
- Provide Copies of Your Testimony
Many committee chairmen request that copies of testimony be provided for committee members. It is a good idea to contact the committee chairman’s office prior to testifying to inquire about the number of copies you should provide. You may also want to take extra copies for the press and interested parties attending the hearing.
- Make Testimony Short and Easy to Understand
Your testimony will be more helpful to legislators if you can explain the specifics of how the proposed bill will affect your business. Since committee members are often scheduled to hear several witnesses, concise and entertaining testimony is more likely to be remembered. Consider presenting an oral summary of your written testimony. Legislators can read your entire testimony if they need greater detail.
- Relax and Speak Slowly
As a witness, you may be nervous about addressing a legislative committee. Remember, you are the expert. Legislators must address many issues every day and they rely on people like you to educate them on how pending legislation will affect you.
- Be Prepared to Back Up Your Facts
Prepare to respond to at least three of the most difficult questions you might be asked. If you are unable to answer a question, indicate your willingness to find the answer and respond in subsequent correspondence. Remember to follow-up on this important commitment.
- Invite Questions From the Committee
When you are finished with your testimony, thank the chairman for the opportunity to testify and offer to answer any questions the committee members may have. When responding to questions, direct your answer through the chairman. For example, if Senator Smith asks you a question, you would respond: “Mr. Chairman, Senator Smith,” then state your answer.
- Assess the Hearing’s Success
In some states, committee members vote immediately after public testimony. For states that do not, consider the following questions to access how a hearing went:
Hearings are a great opportunity to show committee members that there is a strong factual basis for your position, that you represent a broad-based constituency, and that the bill does not solve a problem. When influential witnesses present good testimony, you are more likely to receive positive press coverage and motivate public support. Before the hearing, you should have an idea of who in the committee is voting in favor of the bill, who is opposed and who is on the fence. Most committee members should already have the basic facts of the bill, so the information presented in testimony oftentimes has less impact on legislators than the general mood of the hearing. While professional testimony is important, many states allow citizens to testify, and such testimony can be very influential. Most states also accept written testimony, just be sure to comply with the submission deadline. Legislators will often read the testimony while people are testifying, and sometimes it is used by legislative staff members and the media. Another good strategy is to work with legislators to prepare questions they can pose to your opponents. In hearings, the other side often makes erroneous statements only to have them go unchallenged by the committee members due to a lack of knowledge. If possible, slip notes to legislators pointing out inconsistencies and errors in their testimony.
Those who testify on behalf of an organization or government entity are often viewed as experts and are expected to be better-than-average public speakers. Consider the following questions when deciding who should testify: