Testifying on bills plays a huge role in the decision making process for legislators. It’s where they get to hear both sides of the issue from members of the public and experts alike. Even more influential, is when Legislators hear testimony from their constituents rather than the same ol’ lobbyists like me. I understand how nerve wracking this experience can be; I do this almost daily during a legislative session and there are still times when I get nervous. These tips are the basics to return to time after time and will help you make the most of your time testifying.
Do’s and Don’ts of Testifying
- Know your audience— It’s important to know a little bit about the members of the committee you’re speaking too. Not all of them will be agriculture buffs, so be prepared to answer questions.
- Focus on a single issue—Legislators are busy people. When you get their ear during a committee hearing or elsewhere, focus on one thing at a time.
- Start with a letter or a phone call—It always helps to introduce yourself and let them know you’ll be attending a hearing to testify and what bill you’ll be testifying on.
- Use FACTS, FIGURES and STATISTICS—Legislators really don’t care about hypotheticals. Be sure to bring the information backing up your statistics and make enough copies to hand out to the committee members.
- Use personal stories—Research shows elected officials care about what happens to their constituents. Personal stories make legislation real and demonstrate the true impacts their decision making has on your life and livelihood.
- Use proper procedure when addressing a committee—When you approach the podium, always open by introducing yourself, spelling your name, who you represent (it could be just yourself), and some very brief background information. If you’re asked a question, remember that all communication must go through the chair.
- Follow up—We can’t simply testify in a committee hearing and then wash our hands of the bill (I wish it were that simple!). Following up with members of the committee is crucial to getting towards your desired outcome. You can follow up via phone, email or in person if possible. Legislators appreciate this and it gives them another opportunity to ask questions about the bill.
- Thank them—Legislators play a key, often thankless, role in our state’s government. Please never miss an opportunity to thank them for their time and for listening to your opinions—even if they don’t agree with you!
- Make enemies—Committee hearings aren’t the time for emotionally driven or politicized comments. You should always be professional and respectful when delivering testimony.
- Refer to bills just by numbers—Your legislators will see hundreds and hundreds of bills throughout the legislative session, so be sure to know the bill title and reference it when speaking with or writing to your legislator.
- Mislead—Again, it’s about being professional and respectful. Remember, whatever you say in a committee hearing is public record.
- Use Acronyms—Like we said above, not every legislator is going to be an agriculture buff. Be sure to refer to names in their entirety.
- Overwhelm—Too much information can actually harm the effectiveness of your testimony. Keep your testimony to no more than a few minutes. Focus on 1-3 key points and be concise and clear in your presentation. If you need to write it out, that’s just fine!
Remember--testifying doesn’t have to be intimidating. With just a few tips and suggested practices, you can be effective at communicating with our elected officials and helping them understand the issues impacting our industry.