7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Public Testimony Before Boards, Commissions, and the Legislature

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With legislative bodies across the country preparing to convene for the upcoming 2019 legislative session, now is the time to prepare to engage in that process. One way to engage in this process is by providing comment or testimony at a public hearing. This method of engagement is one of the most simple and effective ways to communicate your position on an issue that affects your business, community, family, or industry.

However, many people have a fear of speaking in public or lack the basic skills to deliver an effective message. Below are 7 tips to help immediately improve your public testimony skills that you can use before elective officials and rulemakers.

1. Prepare an outline, not a script. If there is one way to ensure your elected officials’ eyes glaze over during your public comment, its to read your talking points or testimony word-for-word. Instead of writing a script, outline the all of the points that you like to cover and then simplify that list to the top 2-3 strongest points. Use these points as the basis for your testimony.

2. Practice. The process of speaking in public is terrifying for most. In fact, the fear of public speaking ranks higher than death for some people! Testifying in front of a panel elected officials can be absolutely terrifying, and practicing ahead of time can go a long way towards reducing this anxiety and fear. An important tip to remember when practicing is to limit your testimony to approximately two minutes or less. In special circumstances, legislative committees will allow for longer public comment, but this is usually an exception, not the rule. Using your outline, practice refining your public comment out loud and in front of the mirror, if possible.

3. Don’t practice too much. While practice can help polish your testimony, over-preparing can also have a negative impact on the delivery of your speech. The most common drawback to over-preparing is that the delivery of the comment starts to sound robotic. The goal is to practice, not memorize your lines or outline.

4. Identify Yourself. It’s the day of the hearing and you have your outline ready and have spent time practicing your testimony. This may sound silly, but in the heat of the moment it is easy to forget to identify yourself, the organization you represent (if any) and your position, if relevant, at the start of your testimony. I’ve seen it happen multiple times where the person forgets to identify themselves, makes their speech, and leaves the podium without any information as to who they are. Remember to identify yourself first.

5. Keep it Short and Sweet. Although this was covered above, it bears repeating that the average time for most public testimony is 2 minutes or less. On occasion, a board or committee will invite you to participate on a panel and in these instances, they may ask you to provide comments and be available for a period longer than 2 minutes. If you do not receive that invitation, keep it short and sweet.

6. Observe and Listen. Before and after your testimony, observe and listen to others testimony and the comments and questions from the committee members. It’s polite and can also be instructive on how and what the decision-makers are thinking about that particular issue. Actively listen by taking notes.

7. Relax and Enjoy. The opportunity to participate in the policy and rulemaking process is one that many people for a variety of reasons will never experience. Enjoy the opportunity to participate, and if you’re like 98% of people that fear public speaking, after you finish your testimony, give yourself a pat on the back. You overcame your fears and you did it.


If you have questions about the public comment process before public agencies, boards, commissions, and the legislature, please contact ashley@ampublicaffairs.com.

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