Testifying and Speaking in Public
(For writing a “letter-to-the-editor.” information can be found here Chapter 33: Section 2. Writing Letters to the Editor)
There are a few basic rules for testifying before a government body that help you to convey your message in the three minutes allowed. You can also use them if you are going to be talking on behalf of an issue or proposed legislation to a group.
- In Connecticut you usually have only three minutes to testify before a legislative committee, so you want to be precise and to the point. Making every word count.
- The first rule is to tell who you are and what is your position on the topic (For or Against). (If it is for a bill you will also want to include the bill number and title).
- Next you want to state your position; why you are in favor or against the issue or bill. Now you tell your story, how have you been affected; did something happen to you or did you see something?
- If you are testifying before a legislative committee you should also include your town or voting district (Note: Your testimony will become a public record, so you might not want to give your full address, just the town or district where you live.).
- Lastly, you should sum up your argument and restate your position and what you want to happen (i.e. Pass the legislation.)
- You may begin with "Madam Chair, Mr. Chairman" (as appropriate) "and members of the committee."
- Identify the bill by name and number;
- Identify yourself and the organization you represent (if any);
- State your position for or against the issue/proposed bill;
- This section should be no more than 30 seconds long.
- How will the issue/bill effect you;
- Use factual information
- This section should be about 2 minutes long
- Sum up your position at the end;
- Restate you position;
- Thank the person/committee for the opportunity to speak;
- This section should be no more than 30 seconds long
DOs and DON’Ts of Public Hearings
- DO call the clerk’s office in advance to find out what the rules are for your committee (some committees are first come, first to testify, while others are a lottery system) and also the number of copies of your testimony that you will need to bring
- DO dress in business attire
- DO have the bill number and title on top of each page of your testimony.
- DO arrive around 8:00AM and sign-up to testify at the committees clerk’s office for the bill that you want to testify on. There will be other bills heard that day (You can arrive later but then you will be at the bottom of the list.).
- DO give your copies of your testimony to the clerk (You should already know the number of copies that you will need because you will have called the clerk.).
- DO practice and rehearse your spoken testimony before the hearing. Keep it under three minutes (See Testifying and Speaking in Public section above)
- DO realize that the hearing is a public document and it will be made public. So do not get too personal and are televised on CT-N
- DO speak politely and answer questions from the legislators if asked. If you do not know the answer to a question reply gracefully, “I will have to look into your question and get back to you” and make sure you do get back to them with the answer.
- DO thank them for letting you testify before you get up after your testimony
- DO be prepared to spend the entire day, possibly into the evening hours if you intend to speak (I was there once from 7:30AM until 7:30PM). They do have a cafeteria in the LOB that is open to around 3:00PM
- DO realize the legislators will be going in and out all day long. You might be testifying before only one or two legislators, but they may also be watching the hearing in their office on close circuit TV.
- DO realize there will be other bills not related to your bill that will be heard that day. The testimony will be in the order of the lottery or the sign-up sheet.
- DO realize that public officials and other legislators may speak at any time. So the public testimony may be halted to let them speak.
- DO be polite if you pass a legislator in the hall, ride down the elevator or sit near one at lunch time. Do not get into an argument with them on the elevator!
- Do walk quietly in and out of the room and do not let the door slam.
- Do use the main entrance (The door facing Broad St.) and plan on delays getting through the metal detectors. (The sky-walk is now closed to the public.)
- Do use the parking garage behind the LOB but it fills up fast. There is parking on the side streets but pay attention to the parking signs.
- DO NOT talk longer than your allotted time. When the bell rings finish up your thought and wait to see if the legislators have any questions for you.
- DO NOT name the names of the person(s) or the business(es) that discriminated against you. It makes it sound like you have a vendetta and is unprofessional
- DO NOT Clap, boo, or otherwise disrupt the hearing.
- DO NOT talk in the hearing room.
- DO NOT repeat previous testimony, if it has been said already just make a brief statement that you agree with earlier statement and iterate the key points
- Do NOT talk on your cell phone and turn off the ringer (texting is OK, you are not driving). If you have to use your cell phone – get up and quietly walk out of the hearing room into the lobby to use it.
- DO NOT eat or drink in the hearing room (water is OK if it is the original containers, but keep it discreet).
- DO NOT verbally attack any legislator and remember you are representing your side of the bill.
- DO NOT walk around the back to where the legislators are seated, you are not allowed to go back there without permission and you could be arrested.
There is more information about testifying and the General Assembly on their Citizen Guide webpage.
Public WiFi is available in all rooms in the LOB and the Capitol buildings.
You can not longer use the skywalk because of new security requirements, instead you must use the west entrance (the side facing Board St.) and go through the metal detector. So allow for the extra time to go through security because the lines can be long.
Courtesy of Diana