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Tips for testifying at a legislative hearing

Every bill in the Massachusetts legislature is assigned a hearing, where any citizen may express their opinion (The State House has a list of upcoming hearings and if you are on our Animal Action Team, we will let you know too and share on our webpage).

Testifying in front of a committee doesn’t have to be intimidating, and we hope these tips will give you a sense of what to expect. Here are some tips for effective testimony. Always feel free to contact us at advocacy@mspca.org and we can answer questions and provide more information about what we know about how specific committees are conducting their hearings.

Arrive early and sign up
Sign up sheets will be available in, or outside, the hearing room before testimonies begin — between a half hour or 10 minute prior to its start usually. Getting to the State House and through security can be time-consuming, so please plan ahead.

Type out and practice your testimony in the mirror
Testimonies are almost always capped at 3 minutes. For most people that is about 250-300 words. Practice what you’re going to say and make sure you are within your time limit. Many committee chairpeople will cut you off right at 3 minutes. It is unusual, but if a hearing is running long, they may even require testimony to be less than 3 minutes.

Bring written testimony with you
Written testimony is useful for the committee to remember your main points. If it is more than 2 pages, start with a summary on the first page. But DO NOT read directly from your written testimony for your oral testimony.

Introduce yourself
Be sure to mention any credentials you may have that are relevant to the bill. Share a personal story or anecdote about how the bill relates back to yourself or a loved one. Most legislators want to know how the legislation will affect their constituents, so keep it local!

Greet and thank the committee, announce which bill you are referring to, and state your position (support/oppose)
The committee is made up of people just like you and will appreciate passion and clarity. We will let you know which bills are before which committees ahead of time, so you can research the members, if you wish. In any case, it is a good idea to see if your state senator and/or state representative are on the committee. If so, also reach out to them beforehand to let them know you are testifying.

Focus on a few main points
Remember you only have three minutes so focus on the most important aspects of your argument. You can always say more in your written testimony.

Remain calm
Hearings can get heated, but don’t get worked up. Rely on what you have prepared and avoid name calling of testimonies you don’t agree with.

Don’t be repetitive
If someone has already brought up all your discussion points, you may simply state that you would like to emphasize so-and-so’s testimony and ask the committee to support/oppose the bill.

It is okay to not know everything
If the committee asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, just say so. No one expects you to know everything. Tell them you are unsure, but can look it up and get back to them through email. Let us know and we can help with follow up.

Dress for success
This is an official, professional setting. You don’t need to buy new clothes, but business or some form of business casual is common.

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