One of the many ways citizens can interact with their government is through giving testimony. Citizen engagement is important to the legislative process and engaging lawmakers can help you have an impact on the laws and policies that affect your life. Committees rely on citizens to offer different perspectives on the issues they’re considering.
While it can be nerve-wracking to sit before a state legislative committee or other legislative body, with good preparation and a strong argument you can effectively communicate your positions and advocate for your community.
Here are some tips to help you prepare and deliver your testimony.
Before the Hearing
Do your homework
- Read the hearing announcement carefully for times, dates, and locations.
- Make sure you know the registration and submission requirements for both oral and written testimony. If you don’t know, you can contact the committee’s staff. (Click here for PA state House Committees and here for PA state Senate committees.)
Do your research
- Research the issue as thoroughly as you can. Is there current law that addresses this issue or is this something new? If there is a bill proposed, what changes would it make to the law?
- Research the committee members, including the chairperson, and make sure you know how to pronounce their names. What, if any, are their current positions on this proposal?
- Who proposed the legislation or asked for a hearing? What is their background or interest in this?
Write your testimony
Whether you are giving oral testimony or submitting written comments, the outline will be the same: greet the committee, thank them for allowing you to testify, introduce yourself, state your argument, state what you want them to do (vote for/against the bill, amend the bill, etc), and thank them again.
- Clearly state your position. “I support” or “I oppose” followed by the bill number or the issue at hand.
- Develop 2-3 key points that you want to share with the committee.
- Make it factual and accurate. Use good information from reputable sources to build your argument.
- Keep your remarks simple and straightforward. Don’t use too much jargon or too much data. Use layperson’s terms to explain the issue.
- Make it brief. Limit your testimony to a single issue and keep it under the time limit for oral testimony or one to two pages for written testimony.
- Make it personal. Explain to the committee why you are speaking out on this issue. Are you an expert in this field? A community member directly impacted by this issue? Explain how the issue impacts you, your family, your community, your business, etc.
- Suggest positive ways to address the issue
- IMPORTANT: Practice, practice, practice! You don’t have to memorize your entire testimony, but you do want to know it well enough that you can look at the committee members as you speak. This will also help you make sure your testimony is within the time limit (usually 2-5 minutes…check the announcement or call ahead to make sure).
- If the committee requests that remarks be submitted before oral testimony, make sure that you do that promptly.
At the Hearing
- Business attire is standard and expected when you’re giving testimony. Think ‘job interview at a bank’. Double check the dress code if you’re unsure.
- Avoid wearing perfume or cologne, especially if you’re going to be in a small room.
Pay attention to the entire hearing.
- It can help you to know what other testifiers are saying. Don’t repeat what other speakers have said; if others have already made the points you want to make, acknowledge that and urge the committee to take the appropriate action.
Use formal titles and be respectful.
- Address the head of the committee (Mr. or Madam Chair or Chairperson).
- Don’t argue, yell, or be rude.
- Make sure to thank the committee for the opportunity to testify.
Deliver your remarks.
- Print out your remarks on paper. You don’t want a technical problem to derail your testimony.
- Speak clearly and at a normal rate. If you feel yourself rushing, take a beat to compose yourself and continue.
- Address the letter to the head of the committee
- “Mr./Madam Chair” or, if you’re addressing the Speaker of the House, “Mr./Madam Speaker”
- Thank the committee for the opportunity to submit testimony.
- Stay within the time limit and if you’re asked to stop talking, stop talking.
- Be prepared to answer questions.
- “I don’t know, I’ll have to get back to you on that” is a legitimate answer. Make sure you follow up with that information.
After the Hearing
- Be sure to follow up on any requests for information within a week.
- A hand-written thank-you note, even to legislators who hold opposing opinions, can be very effective in fostering a good working relationship with that legislator.
- If you spoke as a member of an organization or group, report back to them and let them know how it went.
For information on giving Communities of Interest redistricting testimony, click the button below.
Testimony Template (for oral or written testimony)
Testimony [in support of/in opposition to]:
[Bill Number] [Bill Title]
Dear Mr./Madam Chairperson and members of the [committee name]:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of/in opposition to [bill number].
My name is [your name] and I am [tell them who you are: citizen, expert in your field, concerned parent, someone directly affected by the proposal, etc. Identify any organizations you are representing and any official positions you hold].
This issue is important to me because [relate your personal reasons]. I [support/oppose bill number] because [give your 2-3 supporting facts/arguments].
I believe the best way to address this situation is to [suggest positive ways to address the issue].
I appreciate the opportunity to testify about this issue before this committee, and I look forward to your questions.