By Chris Micheli
An invaluable skill for a successful lobbyist is being able to provide effective committee testimony. There are a number of things you can do to be successful in your presentation to legislative committees.
The following are some general tips for your testimony:
Prepare: Be sure to prepare what you are planning to say because there is almost always a time limit for public statements or testimony, usually 2-3 minutes. The time limits may be more or less depending on the number of people who wish to speak. Know what to expect at the hearing.
Know your facts: Come prepared with documentation of any statistics or data that your present in your testimony.
State your position: When making a statement or testimony, clearly state the issue, your position on that issue, and what you would like the committee to do. It is helpful if you suggest solutions to the situation(s) or issue(s) you are speaking about. It is also helpful if you are courteous and professional to the committee and others during your statement or testimony.
Be concise: Since a hearing on a controversial matter may last for several hours, a concise presentation is helpful. A clearly presented argument can be very forceful.
Legislators usually make their decisions regarding how to vote on a bill prior to the committee hearing. Nonetheless, committee testimony can sway undecided votes and bring attention to your point of view. Factual and effective testimony also shows support for your position to legislators.
Knowing the system and respecting the committee’s format and rules will lend credibility to your position. Committee members hear many hours of testimony and often from the same lobbyists who are paid to present certain viewpoints. It is important to understand the system in order to make your point in the best manner possible. One goal is to make your perspective seem even more relevant to the committee members than the others who testified previously.
The chairperson of the committee can limit the number of witnesses for each side and limit how much time each person can speak. You may not be able to give the committee as much information verbally as you have prepared. Find out in advance if there will be any special order of bills or if testimony will be limited and, if so, how.
A committee may hear the bills in a predetermined order or go in order of when the bill’s author signed in. Know how the particular committee operates. At the committee hearing, the author will present his or her bill. The Chair will then call witnesses in support of the bill and then opposition witnesses.
As an initial matter, prepare your oral testimony in advance and be brief unless asked to elaborate. Do not read your written testimony. If you are asked to summarize your oral testimony, comply with the committee chair’s request. There may be a large number of bills scheduled and many testifiers.
As part of your preparation, it is important to review background information and develop your key message points. The better you know the issue or bill you are going to testify on, the more confident your presentation will be. Try and make your testimony relevant to the legislators and try to appeal to what may be of interest to the committee members.
In your presentation of testimony:
Be presentable, professional and moderate in appearance and conduct.
Address your comments and attention to committee members and not the audience. Address committee members by title and name, especially the chairperson. You should begin by saying “Madam Chair (or Mr. Chairman), members of the committee, my name is. . .”
In your introduction, state your name, your title and the organization(s) you represent; cite the importance of the issue; thank committee members for allowing you the opportunity to present your remarks.
Talk, do not read, if at all possible. Speak loud enough to be heard. Do not waste time.
Address these questions: Why is the proposal good or bad? What does it do? What are the fiscal implications? Where is the money to come from? Go to the heart of the matter at once.
Be aware of what others have already testified to and do not repeat testimony.
Do not be antagonistic. Avoid inflammatory comments, criticizing the committee or its members.
After you testify, remain in the hearing room for at least a few minutes so that you may answer any inquiries. Be prepared for questions — try to anticipate those likely to be asked and prepare accordingly. You should direct your answer to the Chair and then to committee members.
Do not be evasive in answering questions. Give direct and brief responses when you can. If you cannot answer, say so. Offer to look into the question and submit a statement at a later date.
Use your own words. Most people are more comfortable and effective when using clear, direct language. It often helps to create an outline of your testimony.
Be complete, but concise. Decision makers are generally inundated with information.
Decide upon your 3-5 key message points. Personalize your message and try to avoid jargon, acronyms, or too much data.
Appreciate the role of the committee and their needs and desires. Most decision-makers have short attention spans and so you have to keep your testimony short. Understand how committees operate, their style and protocols.
Be comfortable with the setting by becoming familiar with the physical layout of the committee hearing room.
It is often helpful to outline your testimony. These should be brief notes. But do not read those notes. Instead, those notes should remind you of the key points you plan to make in your committee testimony. In this way, you will be able to emphasize your key points. Your guide should be: What do you want the legislators to remember when you depart the hearing room?
For controversial matters, it may benefit the lobbyist to draft several questions that may be posed to you by committee members.
Remember to review your key points before you approach the dais. You do not want to memorize your testimony, but rather appear to be having a conversation with the legislators. Look directly at legislators and engage with them individually.
When you begin, first identify yourself and your organization, and note whether you are appearing in support or opposition to the measure.
Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.