How to Testify at a Legislative Hearing

In some circumstances, you could be asked or volunteer to provide testimony about a piece of legislation about which you have expert knowledge or experience that may influence legislators' votes on the bill.  Here are some practical tips for how to provide testimony.

  • Be organized – Be able to support your position with either personal experience or facts. Connect with state or local organizations that are supporting your position; usually they can help you get ready and make sure everyone is on the same page. Family policy councils are a great resource to help you through this process. Find if there is a family policy council in your state and get contact information.
  • Be on time – Know where the building and meeting room are located before you get there. This information can usually be found on your state legislative website. See a listing of websites by state. If this information is not listed on the website, please contact your state legislature to get that information.
  • Be prepared for changes to hearing agendas– Committee agendas are typically posted outside the meeting room. Make sure the bill you are testifying on has not been removed from the agenda. Also keep in mind that the bills may not be heard in the order they are listed.  Also, committee hearings can run longer than the time allotted on the scheduled so be prepared to stay as long as needed to testify.
  • Be recognized as giving testimony – When you arrive at the hearing, be sure to sign in. There is typically a registration sheet available, but if not please check in with the administrator for that meeting. If you are attending the meeting but do not wish to testify, you usually won’t need to sign in.
  • Be respectful – A good way to start your testimony is to address the chairperson and the committee by saying “Chairman/woman _________, and members of the committee…”.  Also, be sure to thank the committee when you are finished with your testimony. Be courteous to everyone at the hearing including those with whom you disagree.
  • Be known – After acknowledging the committee, state your name, address and whether you support or oppose the legislation.
  • Be succinct – Please be respectful of everyone's time by keeping testimony brief and to the point. Many committees limit the amount of time you are allowed to speak and at times, due to the number of people testifying, they may not be able to give you a normal allotment of time. Be prepared to summarize your position in one minute if necessary.
  • Be ready to answer questions – Committee members may ask you questions about your testimony. Be prepared to articulate a defense for what you believe.
  • Be proactive – Know if the committee requires you to bring written copies of your testimony for committee members and bring that with you if required. Also, if you require special accommodation to testify, please contact the committee administrator or support staff at least one day prior to the hearing with your request.
  • Be flexible – If speaking before a committee seems too daunting to you, almost all states allow citizens to submit a written testimony without the oral presentation. If you wish to submit written testimony only, check with your state’s legislative website to find out details. Usually you will need to present multiple copies of your written testimony to the committee, but specific details vary by state and by committee. See a listing of state legislative websites.
  • And finally, relax. Legislators understand that you are not a professional lobbyist and therefore are not expecting perfection.

View a sample testimony.