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Testifying at a Public Hearing
Testifying at a public hearing is a great way to make your voice heard.
Public testimony is generally taken at the committee level during a public hearing.
Why public hearings matters:
1. Verbal testimony has an emotional impact, especially on elected officials who may not bother to read the written record.
2. Hearings are often covered by news reporters, and thus are an opportunity to get your message out to the public, not just the agency or committee.
3. The fact that you made the extra effort to come out in person sends an important message to the agency and the public regarding your level of commitment to the issue.
4. Agencies always under pressure to do the wrong thing appreciate some support to do the right thing.
The following are some tips to testify effectively:
- Prepare. Usually there is a time limit, such as three minutes at local hearings, Prepare your presentation to include two or three key points. Practice or role play your testimony. Prepare a written version of your testimony to submit.
- Arrive early. If you do not wish to wait, be sure to show up a half hour early in order to complete and turn in a sign up card. If you do not arrive early, prepare for a long wait if it is a contentious issue.
- Dress appropriately. A good impression can only help your message, not detract from it.
- Listen to other testimony. Make sure you do not repeat what a previous speaker has presented.
- Identify yourself. Begin by giving your name. Usually you must state your full address. It is better to testify as a private citizen. If you are testifying for a special interest group, state the name of the organization or group, briefly describe the group’s mission, and state how many members it has.
- Clearly state your position. Give a clear and concise description of your position on the issue or the bill.
- Personalize your testimony. Use your own words and describe personal experiences during the testimony without being melodramatic. Formulated testimony is not as impressive and eloquent as speaking in your own words. Describe or show through pictures how the issue affects you.
- Don’t read your testimony. The committee or council will listen to and appreciate your testimony more if you tell it from the heart and not from a script.
- Request action. State exactly what you would like the committee or sponsor to do.
- Offer solutions. Whether stating a specific or general approach to an issue, solutions or feasible alternatives are always well received. If you wish to convey amendments or revisions to legislation, provide your edited version of the bill. Never blame anyone or make accusatory remarks
- Thank the committee. Close your presentation by thanking the committee or council.
- Offer to answer any questions. It is usually acceptable for legislators to interrupt the presenter to ask questions. Answer the question and return to where you left off in your testimony. Be sure to answer questions honestly. If you do not know the answer, say so and, if possible, defer the question to another witness who may have the information.
- Submit your testimony in written format. Be sure to submit your testimony in written format or any other information supporting your message to the committee or council.
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