If you are asked to testify before a congressional committee or other policymaking body or public forum, a sound knowledge of your subject, some advance preparation, and the following guidelines can maximize the positive impact of your statement. Keep in mind that you will be asked to prepare both a written statement for the record and a short (usually five-minute) oral statement.
Below are some tips to help you prepare and deliver your testimony:
- Briefly Introduce Yourself
Tell who you are and give information about the program you are representing (i.e., how many people you represent, how many people you serve, successes you have had). Acknowledge your appreciation to the panel for considering the issue and inviting you as a witness. This should take no more than one or two paragraphs.
- State Your Goal and Outline Your Major Points
In a few sentences, tell the committee or panel what you hope to accomplish in your statement. Again, be brief.
- Talk About the Problem
Begin, for example, by discussing the problems that CTE is solving or can solve for the nation. This informs the decision-maker but also helps cast you in the role of a problem solver rather than one simply representing a vested self-interest. Discuss the national significance of the issue and try to relate it to your state and community. Even better, try to relate the problem to the states or districts of the legislators before whom you are testifying.
- Talk About Current Efforts to Resolve the Problem
Describe solutions that are being tried or considered. Has anything worked in various states or communities on an experimental or demonstration basis? Explain why the efforts are insufficient or how they can be improved.
- List Your Specific, Concise Recommendations
Focus on what Congress can do to help solve the problem at hand.
Delivering Your Oral Statement
When delivering your oral statement, pay attention to the following “do” and “don’t” lists.
- Remember that your elected representatives are people too. Although you maybe nervous, remember that these representatives are looking to you as the experts. Relax, remain calm, and speak like the expert you are.
- Personalize your testimony. While statistics are important, one way to assist elected officials (and get their attention) is to let them know how the issue affects their constituents.
- Make eye contact. Look at the legislators as you talk so that the material is delivered with your eyes. To facilitate eye contact: 1) separate your pages, removing clips and staples; 2) use large type and double-space your text, triple-spacing between paragraphs; 3) leave a two-inch margin at the bottom of the page so your head won’t have to tilt down too far; and 4) don’t carry a sentence over to the next page.
- Remember that there is a time limit for Congressional testimony. You do not want to find yourself in a position where your time has expired and you have not gotten to the point of your testimony. Before your scheduled time, ask who?, what the time limits are, and practice accordingly.
- Your hope should be that they will be interested enough in you and your subject to ask questions after you finish. Anticipate questions your testimony may prompt and have good answers in mind.
- Focus on the specific issue of the hearing. Make sure your comments are relevant.
- Follow up. Write a thank you note to each legislator present for the opportunity to testify, and provide additional information supporting your cause. Also, ask for support on your issue. Thank you letters published in the local papers are a great incentive to a legislator to invite you or your group to testify again.
- Do use your testimony in other arenas. If you are invited to testify before a group other than Congress, take it! Many of these guidelines can be tailored to fit testimony given to the state legislature, school board, county commissioner, chamber of commerce, or the state board of education.
- Don’t spend more time describing your own qualifications or your programs than you do the issue at hand. You were invited to testify because you are qualified. Use the time you are given to focus on the issue.
- Don’t assume that the panel or committee members are experts. Legislators vote daily on many issues – everything from water projects to space programs. While you do not want to talk down to them, (they probably know more than you think) you should not assume that they know all that you do about the issue at hand.
- Don’t try to tell them everything you know. Simplify, simplify, simplify!
- Don’t be shy. Remember, you’re important! You are the one who votes the legislators into office. But whether it’s to laud or lament, compliment or counsel, be tactful and polite.