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Take a stand: the do's and don't of testifying

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. Legislators have told us over and over again: when they hear testimony from their constituents rather than the same ol’ lobbyists, they sit up and listen.

Here's how you, the grassroots members of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, can nail your chance to take a stand.

Do’s and Don’ts of Testifying

Do:

  • 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. Here's a list of the committee chairs you need to know. 

  • 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. Here's how to prep the soil with your elected officials. 

  • 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.

  • Back them up with 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. Learn how to look up your legislator here. 


Don’t:

  • 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 too your legislator.

  • Mislead: Again, it’s about being professional and respectful.  Remember, whatever you say in a committee hearing is public record.

  • Use Acronyms: Again, 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 2-3 minutes and be concise and clear in your presentation.  If you need to write it out, that’s just fine!


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.

Join the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in Helena during our scheduled Calling on the Capitol Events:


Young Farmers & Ranchers Calling the Capitol: Jan. 24-25, 2017, open to all Young Farmers & Ranchers members

Council of Presidents Calling on the Capitol: March 7-8, open to county Farm Bureau presidents

Counties Calling on the Capitol: March 21-22, open to all Montana Farm Bureau members