Tips for Testifying

Arrive early. If you do not wish to wait, be sure to show up at least a half hour early in order to sign up to testify for contentious issues. If you do not arrive early, it may be a long wait. In addition, the news media, especially TV or radio reporters, is present only for the first 20 minutes of the hearing – if you want to get your message out, sign up early.

Prepare. Usually there is a three-minute time limit. Prepare your presentation to include two or three key points. Practice or role-play your testimony.

Identify yourself. Begin by giving your name. Usually you must state your full address. If you are testifying for a group, state the name of the organization or group, briefly describe the group’s mission, and state how many members it has. Remember, that you have the most flexibility if you testify both on your own behalf and for your group.

Clearly state your position. Give a clear and concise description of your position on the issue, comprehensive plan amendment, or development regulation amendment.

Speak from your own experience, either personal or from your work. You do not need to be an expert to testify. Talk about how the policy in question affects you and people like you. Your experience and your informed opinions can be persuasive. Do be well informed and well organized. Formulated testimony is not as impressive and eloquent as speaking in your own words. If you are going to use audio-visual materials and do not want to hand out copies, check in advance on what kind of equipment is available for use in the hearing room.

Stick to the facts. Offer clear and well-documented comments. If you have the time to back up your information with citations to reliable sources, you can help counter the perception that activists speak out on these issues based solely on emotion. By making your comments clear, specific and on-point, you help to assure that decision makers will be required to give your concerns serious consideration and, at the very least, prepare responses that speak directly to your issues. It is best if you can provide copies of the sources of your facts to the decision makers.

Don’t read your testimony. The committee or council will listen to you and appreciate your testimony more if you tell it from the heart and not from a script. Your oral testimony does not have to be exactly the same as your written testimony. You are more likely to be listened to and quoted in the news if you don?t have your head buried in a page.

Prepare written testimony if you have time. Bring enough copies to distribute to all members of the Planning Commission, City Council, County Council or Commission, key staff, and the media. At the top of the page, put your name, your organization (if any) and how to get in touch with you. Putting your points “in the record” can be critical if you eventually need to appeal to a higher authority to overturn an unfavorable decision. Also, if you want data or a report to be part of the record, you should submit a copy with your testimony. Otherwise, it may not be available if you decided to appeal.

Request action and offer solutions. State exactly what you would like the Planning Commission, City Council, or County Council or Commission to do. Whether speaking to a specific or general approach to an issue, solutions or feasible alternatives are always well received.

Don’t just ask questions. Testimony that consists primarily of asking questions is ineffective. The purpose of a public hearing is to hear your comments. It is okay to ask a question, but it is better to ask staff the questions before the hearing.

Be respectful and courteous. Never blame anyone or make accusatory remarks.

Stay within the time limit. Time your testimony so that it will fit within the time limits. If you have a lot more to say, include it in your written testimony or ask someone else in your group to work it into his or her testimony. In case time runs out on you before you have a chance to finish your remarks, be sure to have a point that you can skip to in summation – the point you want to leave them with.

Thank the decisionmaker. Close your presentation by thanking the committee, board, commission, council or hearings examiner.

Offer to answer any questions. It is usually acceptable for legislators to interrupt the presenter to ask questions. Answer the questions 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. If possible, defer the question to another testifier who may have the information.

Listen to other testimony. Try not repeat exactly what a previous speaker has presented – this is why speaking from your own experience is so effective, because your experience is likely to be somewhat different.

Make notes on what your opponents say at the hearing, so that you can be ready to rebut their arguments or double-check their information for errors and inconsistencies.

Do not be alarmed if you are sworn in before you are allowed to testify. The purpose behind these requirements is not that the decision-makers distrust you, rather they are trying to emphasize the importance of the occasion. Just speak to what you know and you will be fine.